The Golden Valley: A Visual Biography of the Garw

Phil Cope
Publication Date: 
Monday, July 19, 2021
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The Golden Valley is a personal account in words and photographs of the Garw where Phil Cope has lived for thirty-five years. In it he explores the valley’s history: sparsely worked agriculture; boom-town coal exploitation; sudden, followed by gentle, post-industrial decline; attempts at re-invigoration through heritage and leisure; and now, existing in a post-covid world. This is a classic example of close-knit communities shattered by the removal of the thing that bound them together.

Cope photographs the entire valley between March 2019 and January 2021, to create a contemporary, twenty-first century record. The ancient Garw hilltops above the valley, sometimes snow-capped, with their tombs and lost settlements are present. As are the much more recent settlements of the coal villages with their terraces once occupied by colliers, the repurposed miners’ institutes, the shops and chapels, and the now almost obligatory public memorials to a lost industry (and, in some cases, lost lives).

The valley’s natural beauty – some might say returning natural beauty – is also present, from the minutiae of the lichen on its windswept trees to the river which has shaped the valley with its timeless flow. The centrality of nature and landscape to the current and future life of the valley are also recorded, the walks and bike trails, the sports fields and wind turbines.

The Garw Valley has its own particular character as this book records so richly and compassionately yet it shares with other valleys the sense of creating a haven between its steep sides. Most of all its story is also the story of all the valleys of the former south Wales coalfield: in the Golden Valley lie all the other valleys of Glamorgan and beyond.


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Review in Planet 246

Friday, October 14, 2022

“I'm told its a common phenomenon; growing up somewhere, yet never quite getting round to experiencing the qualities and attractions it boasts. I assumed this would never happen to me though, because until I went to university at eighteen, I lived in Pontycymer, a village in the Garw valley. What could I possible have missed after nearly twenty years in a small, isolated, tight-knit community...? Quite a lot it turns out... [The Golden Valley] is a real eyebrow-raiser of a book, even if you are, like me, intimately familiar with the valley. Because Cope has uncovered more about it than I'd ever thought possible... The text covers a dizzying range of subjects, touching on history, geology, archaeology, social science, art and culture, botany, architecture, environmentalism, and more... While Cope’s enthusiasm for the valley is apparent throughout... this is by no means a hagiography... He avoids the surprisingly common approach of romanticising the coal industry and mining, by forcefully emphasising the cost of it, both in terms of the damage to nature and the loss of human lives... Cope doesn’t shy away from... his impressive resolve to show the valley how it is, not how we'd like it to be. That's perhaps the most intriguing quality of The Golden Valley; it is a book featuring many different contradictions and juxtapositions, with detailed explanations of events and individuals from hundreds, even thousands, of years ago regularly sitting side by side with photographs taken within the last two years... Ultimately, The Golden Valley is a captivating and stimulating book, in equal parts intriguing, bittersweet, and hopeful.” – Dean Burnett

Review by Elouise Hobbs | Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Photographer Phil Cope manages to capture a deeply personal account of this Welsh former coalfield valley: bringing to life the past, present and future from the view of a man who has lived in the area for the past three decades. Captured largely during the pandemic, though photos span from March 2019 to January 2021, the book perfectly captures how, despite seismic shifts happening around the world, the valley remains largely unaffected.

Despite capturing a very modern view of the valley, scars of the past are clearly etched into each image – from the popularisation of coal mining to the post-industrial decline and the new ventures into tourism through walking and bike trails to the wind turbines and sports fields. It is in some ways jarring to see the transformation of the land: from snow-topped mountain tombs of long-lost settlements to more recent coal villages filled with repurposed terraces; miners’ institutes to modern shops and chapels.

Ultimately, this book captures not only the story of the Golden Valley, but of valleys across south Wales. Defined by the communities who have occupied the land over the centuries, the beautiful imagery and stories help people to better understand Valleys life.

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