Places To Go, Things To Do

The Big Pit

Boom! It’s National Museum Week 2019 so I’ve been thinking about the last museum I went to, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Y Pwll Mawr. I bloody loves museums I does. The best of them stir a little something in your soul, leave some new knowledge nestled in your brain and get my kids buzzing with the experience. The Big Pit delivers on all three.

The first time I visited, I was excited to get free entry with my Blue Peter badge (which I’ve sadly lost, do they do replacements?) in about 1990. Another time, aged about 18 with my 9 year old brother the day after watching How Green Was My Valley, he produced a white cotton handkerchief to mop his brow because that’s what they’d done in the film. A few weeks ago we took our own similarly aged children and it’s still a thrill to travel in that dark lift 300 feet underground, to stoop through the tunnels, to momentarily stand in darkness, feel the terror and thankfulness that life has changed.

One of the themes of Museum Week 2019 is #WomenInCulture and the vital role of women in the mining industry and mining communities is explored in the Pithead Baths exhibition. Women were only banned from working underground because the inspector was shocked at their state of undress. The work they did was so physically demanding that they were replaced with ponies. Ponies.

As a museum, the displays and experiences above ground have had a hell of a lot of work since becoming part of National Museums Wales, which gives so much more to explore than the 50 minutes down the pit, the shower block was especially effective with interactive bits. Plus, it’s been free to visit since 2001. FREE. (Think it’s £3 for parking though). It’s set in a unique industrial landscape, designated a World Heritage Site.The guys, real life miners, who lead the tours of the mine are essential, their wit, knowledge and warmth give visitors a flavour of the camaraderie and banter of the place.

That said, I’m not writing this wearing rose tinted glasses about the job of mining. My grandad, great grandad, great uncle, my dad’s cousins all worked in the mines of the South Wales valleys. My grandad hated it. “No son of mine is ever going to work down a mine.” The day he started working at the pits as a teenager, a body was brought up from underground (the deceased man is mentioned in part of the museum), so I can’t say I blame him and he worked his arse off to have a career in another sector.

I am, however, writing this sat in the second largest town in Wales that only sprung into existence on this scale because of the coal industry but I’m also writing this in a time when we’re looking for cleaner energy sources than fossil fuels. Museums are powerful when you can make those connections.

The Big Pit

For more info, opening hours, directions and all that, head here: museum.wales/bigpit/

Tim Peake's spacesuit and helmet on display at National Museum Cardiff. the light bounces off the top of the glass helmet and the dark background make it look like it's in space.
Places To Go, Things To Do

Tim Peake’s Spacecraft lands in Cardiff

I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a buzz in National Museum Cardiff as we experienced at  Tim Peake’s Spacecraft Family Day last weekend and we go there pretty frequently. It was alive with people of all ages getting excited about space.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama held a lunchtime concert featuring the Star Wars theme. Live music accompanied visitors journeying through the Evolution of Wales. Dizzy Pineapple glittered the faces of children at their stall. Cardiff Astronomic Society helped children and grown-ups to use their telescopes and share their passion. Did you know their observatory is in the Vale of Glamorgan’s very own National Trust site Dyffryn Gardens?

The most thrilling part of our whistle stop tour was seeing Tim Peake’s actual real life capsule that he hurtled back to Earth in FROM ACTUAL SPACE complete with genuine scorch marks. Looking like the result of a giant conker, a submarine and a bell merging in a mad science experiment,  the Soyuz capsule is accompanied by its colossal draped parachute.  Tim Peake’s spacesuit is on display too and the whole thing totally grabbed our imaginations. It’s free! You can see this for no pennies. There are space themed activities you can have a go at and you can step into a spacesuit for those essential selfies and boomerangs.

The Soyuz space capsule in whichTim Peake hurtled back to Earth from the ISS. Looking like a cubmarine crossed with a conker, this bell shaped capsule has a small circular window and scorch marks.
Tim Peake’s Soyuz Capsule

We zoomed through on the opening weekend partly because we were going to the Wales v Tonga match that day at the Principality Stadium but also because we have every intention of heading back another time or two to delve deeper into the exhibition and mooch more slowly on a quieter day.

There’s a Virtual Reality experience for teens and up as part of the exhibition which costs £6 per person and is narrated by the main man himself, Tim Peake. This VR adventure takes you on a 250 mile journey from the International Space Station back to Earth in a Soyuz capsule just like the one on display.

The exhibition is in Cardiff until 10th February 2019. It’s part of a national tour presented by Samsung and the Science Museum Group so make space in your diary to see it before it launches elsewhere.

For full details, head to the museum’s website: https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/10260/Tim-Peakes-Spacecraft/