18 December 2013

Birthday mine trip

More often than not, there's some Christmas celebration of sorts happening on my birthday. Last year it was the departmental Christmas lunch. it was a modest celebration, as I had already raised a glass at midnight. That lunch was a somewhat hung-over event for me...

This year it would be a Saturday. And the caving clubs would have their celebration on that day. It sounded like a special event. I thought it would be a good way of turning 38. During the day we would go underground, and then have a meal in the pub in which we always have a post-digging drink. We would be allowed to sleep on the floor, so nobody had to stay sober for a drive home. And we decided on an ironstone mine north of the North York Moors as the underground venue.

I started to feel birthdayish the day before. I was a bit dazed after a day of strenuous work, but so was Tom, and I managed to convince him to end the day with a pint in the village pub. That was good! And when I got home I found three birthday mailings on the doormat. Nice! And from 10PM the congratulations started to flow in online.

Then it was my actual birthday. I was picked up from home, and north we went. We were the last, so we quickly got into our kit and set off to the mine.

 At the entrance. Pic by Gary.

Chris, a relatively recent addition to the North York Moors caving club, but a already had a long underground history through other clubs, and who had organised this trip, had mentioned the mine suffers from bad air. But that was OK: he had a gas meter, so we could keep an eye on the oxygen levels and turn around when it got too iffy. I figured that would come in handy at the far recesses of the cave, but we were only some 50m from the entrance when it started beeping. Oh dear.

  Near the entrance. Pic by Gary.

We continued. The mine started as a tidy, brick-lined railway tunnel, but soon it started looking like a more conventional, rough-hewn mine level. The colours were nice, given that it was ironstone, but it was clear that the rock wasn't very solid, and whatever was on top of it was even worse. We didn't see much of the original ceiling; most of it had come down. But that was OK; it was a veritable maze of a place, so when one section looked iffy we just went elsewhere.

 Richard and me in riparian contemplation. Pic by Gary.

In some places we clambered over collapses, only to hear Chris shout "Oxygen at 15%! Back out!". And in others we tried to stop people from loitering under big, precariously loose ceiling slabs. But it was fun! And we all came out in good health. The only thing that didn't come out very well was Chris's trousers...

It was still early. We went to another mine; it announced itself through a great big hole where one part of the mine that had collapsed. We preferred to go in horizontally, a bit further on. This one had recently been flooded, and the water had deposited a thick layer of clay on the floor. Staggering through, inadvertently making a wealth of rude-sounding noises, and sometimes struggling to pull your feet out of the sucking mess was quite a lot of fun. 

Where have my boots gone? 

When we had reached dubious air and deep water we turned around. But this wasn't all yet! We also  looked inside a railway tunnel and a long culvert. The culvert was a good idea; it had thigh-deep clean water in it, which mitigated the effect of the previous mine. And after all that it was time for civilian clothes and a pint in the local pub. And then we would set off to Hutton, for the celebrations! I thought the day had already been quite good. Who else gets deep mud AND bad air AND thigh-deep water AND rickety ceilings on their birthday? In the company of muddy nutters? Not many! But this was only the beginning - the day would still be long!

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