Port Talbot is an industrial town in Neath Port Talbot, South Wales. The town is built along the eastern rim of Swansea Bay in a narrow strip of coastal plain surrounding the River Afan estuary. The town grew out of the original small port and market town of Aberafan (Aberavon), which belonged to the medieval Lords of Afan. It built its wealth on the abundance of coal in the vicinity and on the abundant water available in the River Afan to power machinery and operate the docks.
The town got its present name from the Talbot family, who were patrons of Margam Abbey, an ancient Cistercian foundation, and who built Margam Castle, a Victorian mock Gothic residence, now partially restored and open to the public along with the surrounding Margam Park.
The Talbots saw the potential of the district as a site for an extensive ironworks, which opened in early 1831. Copper had been smelted at Neath since 1584, and there were tinworks and ironworks at Pontardawe. Emily Charlotte Talbot (1840-1918) set about creating a port and railway system and the Port Talbot Railway and Dock Company opened a dock at Port Talbot and the Llynfi Railway in 1897. By 1900, the dock was exporting over 500,000 tonnes of coal reaching a peak of over three million tonnes in 1923.
During the early twentieth century, the docks and a major steelworks attracted considerable investment, and this was followed by the siting of a chemical plant at Baglan Bay by British Petroleum. BP has now gone although the steelworks is still here it is now part of the Tata world wide company.
In the late 20th Century the town has seen a serious decline, caused by the withdrawal or cutting back of major employers, coupled with significant redundancies, but there has been a sense of change in the air ever since Michael Sheen focused the world's attention on Port Talbot with his three day community play and television programme, The Passion, in 2011.
Although an industrial town Port Talbot boasts two beaches: Aberavon Sands is situated along the edge of Swansea Bay between the River Afan and the River Neath; Margam Sands, popularly known as Morfa Beach, stretches from the harbour to the Afon Cynffig, close to the seaside resort of Porthcawl.
Other attractions nearby include Margam Castle and Country Park, the Margam Stones Museum, the Go Ape! High Wire Forest Adventure and last but not least the Afan Valley Forest Park.
The Afan Valley Forest Park, located in the hills behind the town and known locally as 'little Switzerland', is a major centre for walking and mountain biking in South Wales. Mountain bike trails including the Penhydd Trail, the Wall, the Whites Level and the Skyline Mountain Bike Trail add to the sense of adventure in the Forest Park.
Facilities within the park include a café, souvenir shop, and the south Wales Miners' museum. Glyncorrwg Ponds Visitor Centre, again within the Afan Valley, also offers mountain biking, as well as fishing and canoeing and a mountain biking centre has been built in Glyncorrwg at the end of one of the cycle paths.