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...

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