As the tourism sector reopens in Wales, Breaking Travel News editor, Chris O’Toole, here visits the new Zip World Tower in Rhigos to find out how the attraction is contributing to the regeneration of the local area
Miners at the Tower Colliery were able to generate wealth from what lay beneath the ground of southern Wales for generations until the pit finally closed in 2008.
The site became the symbol for the miners’ resistance in the 1990s, after employees used redundancy pay-outs to buyout management and continue operations.
They went on to successfully run the pit, the oldest continuously working deep coal mine in the UK, for 15 years before reserves were finally exhausted a decade or more ago.
Today, Zip World is hoping to repeat the trick aboveground, reopening the long-dormant site as the latest in a series of adventure tourism attractions – Zip World Tower.
Set in the Rhigos mountain range with stunning views overlooking the Brecon Beacons, the location has been designed to create a lasting legacy amid the mining heritage.
Sean Taylor, founder of Zip World, said: “From slate caverns to quarry carting, Wales is home to some of the best outdoor adventure destinations in the world.
“It’s been a challenging time for the tourism sector over the past year but with the opening of Zip World Tower, we feel like it will only go from strength to strength.”
He added: “We have proven experience of preserving and regenerating iconic sites and, as a passionate Welshman, I couldn’t think of a better location than the South Wales Valleys to create a new legacy and grow our brand outside of north Wales for the first time.
“We have been overjoyed with the amazing reception from the local community and businesses, who we can’t thank enough for their continuing support - we feel at home already.”
Arriving to investigate the new facility, it is obvious the mining traditions have been preserved.
The Tower Colliery headstock still looms large, gazing out over the surrounding fields, while the star attraction – the Phoenix Zip Line – is named in honour of the miners who resurrected the business all those years ago.
There is also the Tower Coaster, a two-seater industrial-style toboggan on rails that is the only one of its kind in Europe.
Tyrone O’Sullivan, chairman of the Tower Colliery, said: “It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to usher in a new chapter in the Tower Colliery story, in a way that captures the industrial history of the site and gives the local community a boost too.
“We were really impressed with how Zip World reinvented a slate quarry into a thriving tourist attraction at the Penrhyn Quarry in north Wales and couldn’t think of a better way to sustain the legacy of this iconic site.”
An hour’s drive for either Cardiff or Swansea, the site was packed when we called in earlier this month.
Visitors are welcomed in groups of 32, kitted up with the latest equipment and shuttled up to the top of the mountain by minibus.
The whole process is quite involved, and can take around an hour, but it is certainly worth the wait.
The Phoenix itself, considered the fastest seated zip line in the world, consists of four parallel lines spread over two separate zip zones.
Riders are clipped onto the first line and asked to steady themselves for a few seconds before the gates are thrown open and they hurtle down over the mountains at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
It’s an exhilarating experience, but one that is open to visitors of all ages – one of my co-riders was hardly more than 12 years old, but he loved every second.
A quick trip to the top of the second tower, and there is chance to do it again, this time arriving back at base camp where a café and bar are waiting for the intrepid travellers.
David Samways, a former conveyor belt fitter at the coal mine whose grandson works as an instructor at Zip World Tower, said: “Like many others in this area, I feel a close connection to Tower Colliery.
“I spent much of my working life at the Tower Colliery where we constructed miles of conveyor belt to transport the coal.
“Seeing things come full circle with my grandson Jack securing a job at Zip World Tower feels amazing and I’m reminded yet again of what a special community this is.”
Mini thrill seekers can get their kicks at Zip World Tower too.
Big Red, the largest mobile zip in the world, is on offer at base, allowing children to ride alongside one another on a 270-foot line.
Zip World Tower has created around 50 jobs in the Rhigos area following its launch, while there are hopes of welcoming an estimated 100,000 visitors in its first year of operation.
On this evidence, they should have no problem reaching that milestone.
For more on the Zip World Tower or other Zip World locations across Wales, head over to the official website.