6:02pm Friday 25th May 2012
By Alison Sanders
ONE of Gwent's most iconic landmarks formed the backdrop for the start of the Olympic Torch relay in Torfaen today.
Blaenavon's Big Pit was the first stop in the borough and gave a warm send off to the 18 torch bearers.
Children from the new local school, Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary, provided the colour for the day by wearing the five colours of the Olympic rings.
Local school children also provided music using percussion in the lead up to the start of the relay while hundreds of people waited outside on the Gilchrist Thomas Industrial Estate, many flying flags and enjoying picnics, ready to cheer on the first torch bearer Ellie Coster.
It was a proud moment for the 16-year-old from Newport who started the relay in Torfaen after being nominated by her sister Shelley Jones.
Her smiles said it all as she climbed the steps of the pit head winding gear with the beautiful Blaenavon landscape behind her to pose for photographs.
The keen cyclist was chosen because of the support she offers to her disabled brother Ryan.
Other torch bearers included David Chaffey, from Ebbw Vale, who carried the flame through Blaenavon with the help of his guide dog Robyn.
Mr Chaffey, 28, lost his sight when he was seven and underwent a heart transplant in January last year.
He has helped raise money for organisations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind and St Johns Ambulance.
Mr Chaffey had to learn to walk again after his transplant weakened his muscles.
"It's an amazing feeling. I don't think I would be here without the transplant," he said.
Today was a particularly emotional day for torch bearer Eric Whitlock from New Inn who carried the flame through Pontypool town centre.
Mr Whitlock, 51, explained how he would be thinking about his father Michael Whitlock who is seriously ill in hospital.
He said: "Today is tinged with a bit of sadness because my Dad can't be here."
Mr Whitlock will be visiting his father tomorrow and taking the torch to show him.
Special guests were invited to the start of the relay in Blaenavon including former Wales boxing coach Tony Williams and Torfaen mayor Wayne Tomlinson.
Cllr Tomlinson said: "It's a remarkable once in a lifetime event for Torfaen one which will go down in history."
The manager of Big Pit, Peter Walker, added: "It's a day about the children - just look at their faces.
"It's fantastic for us as a site as well as it's massive coverage for us which will go all over the world."
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