31 July 2012

Turn a mine into a cave

Dripstone and flowstone everywhere! Pristinely white and with big crystals. When you see that, you're generally in a cave, but this time we found it in a mine. Amazing!

A fellow member of the Trevitchick society had several mine shafts in his back garden. The lucky guy! He hadn't been inside yet. But we was quite willing to give the PCG fanatics the opportunity to have a look instead. And he was willing to show us a few more on the land of some neighbour (who agreed with this, by the way).

The first shaft was both flooded and likely collapsed. That wasn't a winner. After having also seen the engine house of the first mining phase, the engine and boiler house and chimney of the second mining phase, endless amounts of overgrown waste tips and many roaming cats, and after a coffee (thanks!) we went to the shaft that was promising. It was surrounded by a thick layer of brambles and stinging nettles that normally kept people out, but we wrestled through. And soon Lionel (who else?) was dangling in the shaft. He had to do some extreme gardening; ivy had had free rein for decades, and we had to remove some big chunks of it, in order to avoid they would later fall on our heads. And then he was down!

Lionel battling vegetation while dangling in the shaft

Soon I was too. There were several levels leading away from the shaft! This was promising. Lionel went one way; I went the other. I found not only a dead frog and a dead mouse but also a dead end. And a tunnel sloping up, leading only back to the shaft. So on my side there wasn't much to see.

 Clambering back to the shaft brought me face to face with Hugh, who just came down the rope!

Then we tried Lionel's way. He had gone in and noticed the beautiful flowstones. Dripstone formations tend to be yellow, red and brown, and a bit chocolaty of structure, in mines; these were virginally white and made up of large crystals, like you normally see in caves. Very beautiful!

Me taking my kit off (as Dave pointed out) while not falling into the flooded winze.

After only a few metres we encountered a flooded winze. On the other side it didn't seem to go, but one is never sure until one checks; I clambered over the water, and saw I could had a chance of getting through. I was still wearing my climbing harness and all the dangly metal that comes with it; I had better get rid of that first. So still suspended above the water I got out of all that (not dropping anything vital into the water, luckily) and squeezed through. It only got more beautiful! There were the usual deads stacked up (rocks of mine waste, piled up to get them out of the way), and bits of wood that had fallen down the shaft, but all was caked in white icing.

The deads all coated in icing

Nice big crystals!

When I could stand up I saw a hole in the ceiling. Hmm! Should I go through? I noticed I could, so I did. And of course Lionel followed. It wasn't easy for him to squeeze his much broader shoulders through, but he managed. We saw that the level I had ended up in went back to above where Dave and Hugh were waiting. And then over their heads back to the shaft. We decided to go that way; that lessened the chance of us damaging the pretty crystals. And then we went back out.

Lionel tries to get through the squeeze

Nearer the shaft the icing was brown

There was a little shrew in the mine; we tried to bring it up with us, but it kept slipping from between our fingers...

Was that it? No! We then cleaned our kit, and walked through a tunnel that took a stream through the old mine terrain. Then we changed, had a look at two other shafts we may do in the near future, and at the other industrial relics associated with them such as engine houses, chimneys, and waterwheel pits. We then tried to upload the picture we had taken onto our host's computer, and had a look at a explosives plant that was, sensibly, located some distance away from the rest of the mine. And then it was time to head home! That had been quite some industrial archaeology in only one day...

30 July 2012

Leisure on Bodmin

The email just read "There is to be a five hour guided walk on the archaeology of the area of Bodmin Moor North West of North Hill. This Saturday 28th July, meet at 1000 just West of North Bowda Farm, SX 2450 7740." Lionel, who had sent it, had been characteristically concise. The walk was organised by the Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project. I thought it might be fun!

Hugh thought so too, so on a Saturday morning we drove over s mall country road, and knew we had reached our destination when we saw many parked cars, and a horde of white heads. Archeological walks (and talks) tend to be attended by the somewhat elder fraction of the population. We joined them.

We walked up the hill. We saw the half-wild horses cavorting. We walked down to a stone circle: this would be most of the archeology we would see. And hear about. Most of it was just a stroll past (and through) streams, over hills, past ruined buildings, and past flowery swamps. It was a lovely, leisurely day!

The company

The horses were feisty; at least, some of them.

The stone circle

Sunny fields

Summer on Bodmin

Intrepid explorers: Hugh, Lionel, Lionel's friend John, and our guide, Angus

Two curious horses that made friends with many of us, including the Rottweiler. Just not me...

Charming abandoned farmhouse with ivy roof

28 July 2012

Research and/or communication

Science is a more than full time job. Science communication might be too. I want to shift the balance  in the direction of the latter, but that poses the problem that time spent on science communication is time not spent on generating science. So in a way, in order to be good at one you have to be shit at the other. I haven't really figured out the balance yet. And in these economic times it's not advisable to be shit at things. Difficult! But stay tuned; I'll keep trying. Next up should be a blog post on Greenlandic ice on the science blog! (And here it is!)

25 July 2012

On the beach

Technically speaking, this is a caving blog post. But we were underground with a fast-moving group, and I had forgotten to bring my tripod. These two factors lead to me not taking many pictures underground. And above ground, the scenery was stunning! So this blog post contains almost exclusively sunny, beachy pictures.

We wanted to visit some easy to reach mines; one of the guys was recovering from a broken arm, and didn't want to have to dangle from ropes. I thought we would just walk into to entrances, take a few pictures, and walk out again. But that was naive.

Were were only five, and a small dog; it has featured on this blog before. When we walked down to the beach to find the first entrance I was very glad I'd come. What a beautiful place! Especially in this weather. Unfortunately, the tide was too high to get to the entrance dry; I just decided to do it the wet way, and had some fun looking at the men trying to balance over the rocks, carrying the dog. We all made it!

This is how the coast greeted us

It's a steep path down.

When will the tide drop enough?

If you manage to clamber over the rock, with or without dog on your shoulders, you don't need to wait for the tide!

The mine entrance was inside a huge sea cave. The cave alone was worth visiting! And we hadn't seen nothing yet! The mine soon surprised us with a triple junction. And behind that triple junction more triple junctions. And places where you could climb up! Or slide down a hole! This was a veritable playground. I was a bit worried about the recently broken arm, but the chap was fine. We had a great time. Including the dog, who found all sorts of toys; a float in the sea cave, rocks everywhere, a stick in the entrance chamber, and even a 2 litre plastic bottle. Ever wondered how much noise a small dog makes when it plays football with a large empty bottle in an echoing space? No? Well, it is a lot!

The entrance, under an impressive cliff

Once inside the sea cave it's time to put a helmet on and start exploring!

Pretty colours

When we came out we had a sandwich in the sun. And then we went on to the second venue. We thought. It turned out we found a third; we passed small entrance, and had a look, as we were there anyway. Immediately behind the entrance there was a flooded winze; that had stopped everybody so far. But if they're flooded they're not so scary; I managed to scurry through it. That triggered one of the guys: he managed ta walk along the narrow edge. I walked on, and found a much scarier winze further on; I didn't want to cross that without a rope. That did it: now everybody wanted to see. The rope was first used to get everybody past the first winze, and then for ascending some climb. And completely ignored for the winze, that we all crossed like that. Shortly after the winze, the level came to a dead end, but we had had fun.

The dog has a Zen moment during lunch

Now it was really time to go to the, eh, second venue. This one had its entrance on a scree slope; not so scenic, and not so comfortable, but it was a pretty little mine and I'm glad we visited it. We walked over a sandy beach to a path up the cliff; we stood out a bit amid the more traditionally (un-)clad beach guests; especially me, in my caving overall and my helmet still on. (It took the role of sun glasses!) The whole walk up was another feast of photo opportunities. I might start to like beaches! It had been a splendid day!

If you look closely you can see the entrance, in the shadow, about 1/3 from the left, more than halfway up the cliff, and the two little figures on the lower part of the scree slope

The charming cliff path we took to get back up

24 July 2012

No freedom for batteries

My car is 18 years old. It might burn oil, so I try to check the oil levels regularly. And that's a good thing! Looking for low oil levels, you might find other things worth knowing.

The last time I checked revealed a different defect on the car. The wire with which one opens the bonnet had  apparently rusted into place; trying to lift the lever resulted in this lever breaking off. Not good! And by sheer coincidence I had driven over a bumpy road too, thereby dislodging the exhaust, and pulled the rear view mirror off the windscreen. So instead of checking oil I went to the garage. And beside fixing the other issues, they lubricated the wire and replaced the lever. That should make checking for oil much easier!

Lubrication doesn't last, though; when trying to open the bonnet again the wire again resisted; I feared I would break off the new lever as well. I was about to meet Lionel so I decided to try again in his presence, as he is much more knowledgeable on cars than I am. He managed to open the bonnet without breaking the lever, opened the bonnet, and to my surprise said "your battery has slipped!" My battery slipped?

I looked too. The battery, which is supposed to be mounted on its little platform, was dangling in mid-air. Whatever had kept it mounted must have fallen off! I could imagine this could have ended badly. Toxic objects that can deliver powerful electric shocks should not move around freely. I'm glad we saw it before things went wrong.

One assumes these holes in the battery's platform are supposed to hold bolts of some sort... 
I didn't take a picture when we found it dangling, and I didn't want to re-enact the scene.

I happened to have a strap in my boot, and we provisionally fixed the battery in position. I think I have to make another trip to the garage... I can fix objects in position, but maybe I should let this be done by professionals. And then they can lubricate the bonnet wire again too!

21 July 2012

Walk before travel

A successful scientist rarely stays put at one place for a long time. Hugh had to travel again, and the day before his departure we thought we'd spend some quality time on Dartmoor. We found an ancient hillfort on the map, where neither of us had been before, so that became our destination. It had (as they do) amazing views!

You can't really tell from this picture it is taken inside an old hillfort, but just take it from me that it is. 

On the way back we were walking on a dirt track when suddenly a dark shape appeared in front of us. It was a rather sturdy bull, and he had this "none shall pass" look about him. And he probably just had that all the time, and he may well have been excessively well-meaning, but we didn't chance it and made a tiny little detour when he headed our way. From behind the field boundary we saw him rub against the vegetation and bellow mournfully - maybe he had hoped we would be willing to scratch his itch! Poor sod.

Should one risk this?

Gratuitous picture of thistle

As a bonus we also visited Brentor Church; a church balancing on a plug of basalt. Rumour has it the devil himself strongly objected to this development, and tried his best to sabotage its building, but when the locals invoked the services of Archangel Michael the prince of darkness had to admit

 Brentor church

And after all that, it was time for an Urquell!

20 July 2012

Madam Butterfly

When you have a big lecture theatre, it is a waste to only use it for teaching. Why not have people give lectures in the evening hours, on topics such as, for instance, American films? Or stage an entire opera production? Plymouth University evidently thinks along that line, and that's why I ended up in that lecture theatre, on my heels (again!), to watch a naive Japanese girl meet her doom. Nothing like bottomless despair! Hugh came in with modest expectations; he had seen the same opera in the Sydney Opera House, and that doesn't compare, of course. But we were quite happy with what we got! It was only a modestly sized orchestra, but it did the job, and the singers we fine too. Cio-Cio-San was played by a lady called Mariya Krywaniuk, and she sang excellently. I also had a soft spot for the baritone of the American consul. And we both regretted they sang in English, but for £25 per ticket you can't complain. And as we had a great night, we might want to try a more glamorous production in the purpose-built theatre as well, one day!

We were not allowed to take pictures during the performance, so I'll have to make do with the original poster

Medals for troglodytes

When the queen has something to celebrate, there is appreciation for rescuers! I'm not quite sure what the rationale is here; one would say you either appreciate your volunteers or you don't. And you don't only appreciate them when you've been in your current job for an X number of years. But this is England, and here many things aren't rational. So the queen had her diamond jubilee, and therefore the cave rescuers who had been in the team for 5 years or more got a medal. Illogical or not; I thought it would be a nice occasion, so I volunteered for being window-dressing for the ceremony. We non-receivers would give a demonstration of cave rescue for the audience!

It was a bit strange to prepare for this: we had been told the dress code was "smart/very smart". We were also told to wear our team fleeces. How on Earth do  you combine that? I gave it a shot by wearing a dress that goes well with the team fleece colours. It looked like this: (apologies for the dirty mirror).

The glamour of the dress was further compromised by the very large bag I had to lug around; I had to, of course, bring my caving kit too. So when we arrived  at Kents Cavern, the venue for the night, I clic-clacced my heavy bag to the entrance, stared at by my colleagues who had never seen me look like this, and was told to immediately change. Oh, OK! So I dashed to the ladies' room and came out in a more reassuring outfit. Us non-medalists were sprinkled around in the cave: two here with a stretcher, two there with a Little Dragon, and Bernard and me somewhere with a Heyphone. The officials, team members and their guests would be lead past us in three groups. Bernard and I were supposed to demonstrate contact between scene of accident and surface. 

Me with the heyphone. The team even made sure they had a rescue overall for me; so far I'd been training in my own!

The heyphone was set up already. We tried to make contact, and Bernard (who was hidden somewhere, pretending to be at the surface) could hear me well, but I couldn't make out anything he said. And as the groups could start arriving any moment I did not want to faff with the antennae. So we ended up demonstrating that communications underground can be difficult!

Between groups 1 and 2 we did relocate the antennae, and that solved the problem. We were most illustrative! And we took turns being the surface. 

When the third group was gone we quickly packed up, had another attempt at the world record speed-changing, and got back to the cave entrance. I was just in time to hear some of the speech of the Lord Lieutenant who was awarding the medals. Many of our men got one, and I was vicariously proud. Several already had a medal from the golden jubilee!

All medallists, and the Lord Lieutenant. Blog readers will recognise Dave (far left) and probably fail to recognise Rick (far right); the latter shaved for the occasion...

Mike, founding member of the team, with his certificate!

When the medals had all changed hands it was time for some long service certificates. One of the team members had already served for 47 or 48 years! And he's still going strong. And the plan is to give out such certificates a bit more often (this had been the first time), and not wait for the queen to take initiative. I think that's a good plan! We're not needed very often, but if we are, those in need really benefit from a well-trained team. And a framed piece of paper might help make people feel appreciated for making that effort!

19 July 2012

Watch TV!

Work can wait! The pub can wait! The laundry can wait! Make sure you're at home watching TV, tomorrow at 8. That is, if you want to see a TV presenter dangling from a cliff. In May I blogged about helping a camera crew record shots for a programme on "Britain's secret treasures". It'll be broadcast tomorrow, on ITV1! And I presume the shots we were involved in will only make up a tiny fraction of the programme, but hey, it will be a nice fraction. And if you miss it: there's ITV player!

ps No idea if any of this works outside the UK...

18 July 2012

Rarely visited depths

I wanted to go underground. Hugh and Lionel wanted to dangle from a rope. Rick wanted to have a look in a mine he had only been down in 1996. And all of that combined well...

Rick brought us to a mine shaft that had blended into the forested background, and soon vanished into the depths. I wasn't too sure what would happen next; he shouted from below it turned out not to be the shaft he had had in mind! Would this one do? Answering that question required some mucking around in decaying organic debris, littered with frogs, that had all but clogged up a passage. But after some dirty work the passage was not only passable (as a passage should be) but also turned out to lead where we wanted to be. A narrow winze to the next level down! Rick had been down there before; no idea how he had done that, for we had to drill our own holes in order to get the anchoring point required to fix a rope. But for the rest of us this was new territory.

Drilling holes and putting in bolts is a bit of faff, but it would turn out worthwhile. The winze was a bit dodgy, so Hugh decided he would not risk having his inexperience cause any damage to mine or person. So the three of us vanished from sight, carefully lowering ourselves past the rickety structures. And off we were.

Where do we want to hang the rope from? Here!

Is the rock good enough?

It is - the hole can be drilled

Blowing the drill dust out of the hole

And fixing the rope to the bolt we put in. Done!

We found an impressive stope, alluring ladder ways, a flooded level, nice launders, and even the footprints of the original miners. These hobnail boot prints are unmistakable! Except for Rick and his companion, somewhere in the nineties, hardly anybody must have been there since the mine closed... quite a privilege to be there.

Imprints of hobnail boots!

Rick and me posing

We didn't linger too long; Hugh was waiting for us. With surprising easy we came up the dodgy winze, and only minutes later we had de-rigged and were on our way out. In the swampy squeeze I got yet another bonus: I was greeted by a newt! They might not be too rare, but they sure are rarely seen by me. And upon coming out we saw something rare again: the sun! An elusive companion this summer, so far. So we could end this lovely trip with a pint in the sun. Not at all bad!

16 July 2012

Kill or admire

I bought a basil plant in order to turn it into an ingredient for a salad. There was more basil to the plant (or rather, several plants) than I could eat; the fate of such basils is the window sill. They can double as decoration! And this one, and that was a first, defiantly burst into flower... Isn't there beauty in something like that? Repaying a life threat with fertility, optimism and prettiness?

13 July 2012

The wrong trousers

Before I left home I went through the  list in my head. Helmet: check. Belt: check. Gloves: check. Knee pads: check. And so on. I thought I had gone through everything.

Driving up the A38 I suddenly realised I hadn't gone through the entire list. I had forgotten my long johns! Oh no. Now what? I was wearing my quick-dry zip-off trousers. Should I wear these underground? But then I would perhaps get all wet and muddy, and have to go to the pub like that! And drive home all drenched! But  the other option was: being underground in a chafing boiler suit, with no padding or thermal insulation. And what is more important: being comfortable underground or above ground? Underground, of course! So I kept my trousers on.

Walking to Bunker's under a surprisingly blue sky

We first went into Bunker's cave. I had volunteered to become a leader for trips into that place, but first I wanted to be certain I knew the way. So I had seen its undeniable beauty before, but that was beside the point. I am now sure I can take people there! And the damage to the trouser situation was limited. Bunker's isn't very wet.

We didn't linger. There was more to see in the surroundings! So we extracted ourselves from this rather tight place, and went deeper into the woods, where there seemed to be a mine that had cut through a cave, resulting in some interesting cave/mine hybrid. Lionel managed to find it, and after clearing the entrance he slid in. He immediately shouted something about it being very wet. Oh dear...

I decided this was why I had come here. I slid in too. By that time Lionel was already up to his sensitive parts in the water; he made the sounds that tend to accompany such activity. It WAS deep! And it was cold! But it was rather pretty too. We waded to the end of both tunnels we found; one ends in a small cavern where there is a way up, but it's tricky. We decided against it. And came out again.

Two pictures from Bunker's; uncharacteristically, without aragonite crystals in them!

We had seen a hole in the hillside a bit higher up too: would these two holes connect? It was worth the try! So we crawled into the other hole too. This one, being higher, wasn't anywhere near as wet, but it was several times muddier. I was wondering if they would let me into the pub afterwards.

We established that, indeed, the the places connect, and on that note we decided it was beer O'clock and went back. The path lead past a rapid stream; I decided that was where I might get some of my social acceptability back. So I stepped into the water, started with taking one knee pad off, and holding it in the water. The whole stream immediately turned dark red. Oh dear. I would have to give myself a very rigorous clean before I could even contemplate the pub.

I washed off all my kit (that took a while!), and wrung my trousers out the best I could. They were still quite wet! But I decided to try the pub anyway. These trousers are black, and it isn't very conspicuous if they're wet. So I changed shirt and shoes and just walked in. Nobody noticed! So I enjoyed my pint. By the time I got home the trousers were almost dry. They let you get away with behaviour that's generally frowned upon! I'll keep them...