Several very distinct regions characterise this part of South Wales. To the north run the valleys that were once an economic powerhouse based on coal mining and the iron industry. Much of the land that was once an industrial wasteland has been reclaimed bynature, with the help of sensitive human intervention, but there are still some monuments to the great industrial age remaining, chiefly at the Big Pit Mine and Blaenavon Ironworks. The regeneration has been aided by the fact that, even when industrial activity was at its most rampant, it was all concentrated on the valley floors, leaving the uplands always wild and beautiful.
To the south, the valleys of the Wye and Usk offer some truly glorious scenery, as well as the equally breath taking sight of Tintern Abbey. An inspiration equally for poets and artists, this abbey was at one time one of the richest in the country and the magnificent ruins beside the River Wye are still a stirring sight. This area, too, is one that saw much contest between the Welsh and the English, so not surprisingly there are numerous fortifications to be seen and explored. The Three Castles - White, Skenfrith and Grosmont - provided a valuable defence from their strong yet isolated positions, while most towns of note also had their own fortress.
Monmouthshire itself, for many years, was fought over politically. Was it an English county or a Welsh one? Henry VIII, in 1535,divided Wales into 12 counties and placed Monmouthshire in England. The waters were muddied even further when people began referring to the Principality of Wales and Monmouthshire. In 1974, when local government was reorganised, the matter was settled when Monmouthshire was legally placed in Wales.
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