30 June 2014

House as new!

I went, all nerdily, to the office on a Saturday. I stayed there for hours. Stuff to do... watch this space. But when I came back I was all startled; what was that! My house wasn't festooned with scaffolding! I mentioned here the rendering would be redone; when I posted that the scaffolding wasn't even up, but it would be, soon after. And after all these weeks I had become quite accustomed to it. Nice they removed it when I was not there! Must have been a lot of clunking around. And now it looks a lot better. Now I only have to lose the container and then all is back to normal! I like it.

28 June 2014

Lauharne: the last days

I was enjoying the fieldwork more and more. Once you've done the spiel of the things you say in the field and the lab a few times, it comes out a bit more easy and free-flowing, and there is more space for adding some nice snippets born out of your own experience. And they are long days; the time I started moved (due to the tide) from 4:45 to 8:30, and finishing time moved from 7PM to 9PM. But the students were all a pleasure to have around, and most were reasonably happy picking out sand-sized dead creatures for hours on end. And the few hours I would spend with the other staff would be really enjoyable too. And I even had a day off, but I was so zonked I didn't do much more than washing some clothes, entering all the data into excel, going for a run, and sleeping most of the afternoon. But I think I needed that! And after that nap I felt better, and I would stay rather fresh the rest of the time. So I was really warming to it!

In the field with the students. Here a marine biologist is about to teach me to distinguish between male and female crabs!

 I was warming in other ways too: finding out where int he environment your modern forams live is quite nice in itself, but only becomes properly relevant when you use that information to apply it to the fossil record. But then you first have to core that fossil record up. And on the Monday, that was exactly what we did! So that was my day off from the lab, and finally got some sun on my skin. It had been veritable summer weather the entire fieldwork, but I had pretty much always been inside at least between 12 and 7.

Samples in the oven, drying out for dry sieving and dry picking!

 My task on coring day, beside liberally applying sun cream, was to supervise the students describing the core. It was a slightly hybrid exercise; in the 1st year, the students learn core description the old-fashioned way, with drawing a column that represents the sediment, with all the official notation for the various lithologies and all that. I refuse to make them do that in the age of photography of the actual core, and software to draw up the columns. I NEVER make such a drawing in the field. And I use some sort of coding that is widely used in the geography community, but the staff didn't want to confuse the students with that. So the result might have been a bit ambivalent! But they'll be fine.

There were some other issues; two or three core catchers breaking, and one ball bearing of the jacking system falling apart, which inspired a bit of lying in the sun waiting for the problem to be fixed and the coring to resume. We cored two locations, and the students did geophysical measurements on the subsurface in between; later they'd join the whole shebang up. A nice day!

Students jacking a core barrel out of the ground, with a nice quarry as the backdrop

A core!

I had been afraid we'd have to work until after dinner many times, but that fear was unfounded. It happened one day, but that day we had dinner early, so I just popped out of the lab between 18:30 and 19:00, and we were still done at a reasonable hour. And I started to push the starting hour back; if you can be in the field an hour before low tide, how about two hours? Or three? And it turned out to be quite alright, so when dinner time returned to its normal position (~20:30) I was always ready in the lab by that time. Excellent!

And then the last day came and went. Every bit of kit the students were done with was immediately cleaned and put away. Before dinner my entire lab was packed up! That was nice. There was a bit of a hoo-ha that evening due to a student feeling unwell, but otherwise all went well. And the next day we packed up our personal stuff and cleaned out the chalets, and that was the end of the fieldwork! I had had a great time. And I think the students did too; just before we left they got asll of the staff that wasn't already gone together, spoke words of appreciation, and gave us a card, a box of beer, and flowers for Suzie. Such sweethearts! I think I'll be involved in a practical course in autumn, with a fair number of the same students. I look forward to that!

I did feel like I had been thrown into the deep, but it felt like I had managed to swim. And I learned a lot! So I do hope I'll get the chance to do at least (or maybe ideally) part of the fieldwork next year. The teaching part of my contract will have expired, but in most contracts there is a bit of flexibility. Would be nice to do this properly prepared! And that saves James having to do the full six 14-hour days on his own...

When a lab turns back into a living room

26 June 2014

Laugharne: sisters doing it for themselves

The first day of the micropalaeontological work in the field started at 4:45AM and ended at 7PM. I was tired then. As one may expect. The next day, the tide was low about an hour later, and we had seen that the tide does not get too high for a while after low water, so that day we had a lie-in and didn't assemble until 6:15. Let's see if this group of students would do better than the previous one! James promised tea and biscuits for every student who would have picked 50 specimens by 3PM. It seemed to help a bit!

James explaining 137Cs dating in the field

When students had 100 specimens we would look through their sample, and give them some examples of forams they had many of. That way they could compare, and check which ones they had of these species. We had loads of documentation to help them with the others.

This time the first student had 100 was a lot earlier than the 5PM of the previous day. But unfortunately, he wasn't the quickest when it came to identifying them. He was even surprisingly fundamentalistic about it; if he had some wrong, he would rub out ALL his identifications and start afresh. That way he sometimes wrongly identified some the second way around that he had had right the first time; one could see this is not speeding things up. By the time the last student left it was 8PM, and dinner was imminent. Another 14 hour day! And that was the last day James and I would do it together. James had to go back, and prepare for the upcoming cruise. A lot of work and responsibility on my shoulders!

That next day I would have six students. That is very many! We only have five sieves and two hoses for sieving, and if they all have taxonomic questions at the same time they can sometimes have to wait a while. But I wasn't all alone! One of the PhD students offered to come with me. It helps a lot, especially when you have the students sieve, stain, clean, stain, clean again, filter, and spread out their samples; ideally, you have a pair of staff eyes on all of that, but it's a bit much. She was also good at helping the picking, but when it came to identification she sometimes had to refer back to me. I think this fieldwork was the only experience she had herself! But it was great she helped out.
 The until recently eroding marsh edge

The mood got a lot better in the afternoon, when I had expressed my surprise at the fact that no student had used their phone of tablet as a radio during the analysis. It's nicer with music! They didn't make me repeat that; soon one of them had his laptop out. And to my pleasant surprise he had a very old-fashioned taste. It started with Adam Ant, and included David Bowie, ABBA, the Clash, and whatnot. Very nice! We'll forgive him for the Wurzels. And it was great he also had Madness, but that is music which is hard to combine with microscope work.

One of the girls had done some foram work before, and she was the first to finish, unsurprisingly. One might imagine she didn't know how fast she should run away and start quaffing beer in the sun, but she didn't. She hung around, making tea and toast for the others! Doesn't that restore faith in humanity. And the chap who played the music also stayed until the last one was done. Aren't they lovely!

Finally, again at around 8PM, they were all done. My first day as the head supervisor was done! The day after I would have a day off (read: I would have to put the results of the earlier days into excel), the day after that I only would have two students, and the day after that we would be coring. And then two more days with 5 and 4 students, respectively, and then the micropal work was done! It would be a fairly heavy time. Especially with low water in the late morning; if you really can't get into the field before, say, ten, you can't start picking before something like 3PM, which means you can't get it done before dinner, and you have to come back afterwards. Which will be awful!

24 June 2014

Laugharne: the micropalaeontology

When you go sampling in an estuary you are dependent on the tides. If you want to sample the full stretch from high marsh to sand flat you need low tide, or at least something quite close to it. So what if low tide is at 5AM? You get to the marsh at 5AM. So on the first day of doing what I would be doing all week, I got up at 4AM. We would leave at 4:45.

James drove 4 students, Dave, and me as far as the road would take us. Dave is not only an appreciated underground companion but also the School of Ocean Sciences photographer (one may have noticed already he takes amazing underground shots) and he wanted to take advantage of the nice light of the early morning. When we walked to the salt marsh James stopped a few times to explain not only things related to the micropalaeontology we would engage in, but also all sorts of other things about the environment. And once in the field we made the students take a sample each. Even though James can talk at length about I suspect pretty much any Earth Scientific topic you could name, we were only in the field for an hour or two.

The good thing about setting off for the field at 4:45AM is you get to see the sun rise!

 James explaining stuff to the students, with Dave on standby for pictures

When we got back we didn't waste any time; these samples needed to be processed and put in the oven as soon as possible. So we got the students sieving and staining. When their samples were sieved we put them on filter papers, let them drain a bit, flatten them out on a saucer and then let them dry up in the oven. While the samples were roasting we were all off. I thought  a run would be in order! One of the students had mentioned something about running too, so I suggested we join forces. He was up for that.

 Sieving the samples

When he showed up he brought a friend. Nice! And Jaco, who is also an enthusiastic runner, had pointed me in the direction of some maybe more promising routes. And they were nice indeed! But I noticed the students weren't excessively fast. And you have to run a small distance along the main road, which I don't like very much; I wanted to go a bit faster than them on that stretch in order to not linger on the road. They had no problem with it. But when they arrived a bit later, all red-faced and panting, I think I had got me a bit of a reputation, and no more running mates.

After our run I had a sandwich, and reported back to the chalet. The samples were dry; James made the students dry-sieve them and separate the 250-500 micron fraction. He also made them sieve over 125 and 63 micron, but it never became clear to me why. And when they had their subsample the picking could begin! It was about 12.30.

The students weren't fast. And James had volunteered me to cook dinner that night. Early in the afternoon I went to the shop for groceries; I was going to draw the culinary level down by making pasta pesto. After the shopping I went back to the lab. At about 5PM the first student had picked the required 100 specimens, and could go and make a start identifying them. But I had to soon leave; by 7PM there should be food on the table! I left James to it.

Foraminifera analysis in action

At about 7 food was ready, and we could wait for everybody to come in. Around that time, James came staggering in. "I need a drink!" he proclaimed. Someone asked what kind of drink; there were several options. "I don't care! Just give me a drink!" he riposted. Oh dear. The students had needed 14 hours for the exercise, and we are not done until the last student is. So this would be a long fieldwork. And it would get worse; later James would leave, and I would have to do it all on my own. Oh dear!

23 June 2014

Laugharne - the start

I didn't really know what to expect. I was quite happy to just find out how and what when I got there. But I would be up for a bit of a shock.

Before I actually started working in Bangor, James phoned me; could I perhaps teach on a fieldwork in June? Of course I could; by then I would be employed in Bangor, so my time table would be determined by exactly this sort of thing. He said I would have to oversee students taking samples for foraminifera analysis along a surface transect, and analyse them; pretty much what I'd been doing in Plymouth on a larger scale. So it would be a fieldwork with little need for preparation. Sounded good! And I would get to know a cohort of students and quite many staff; bonus!

I hitched a ride with my office neighbour Jaco to south Wales. We had a half pint to celebrate. Not more than a half; I had been told I was expected to drive a nine-seater bus, and never had. I find big-arsed vehicles a bit of a challenge! But Jaco was willing to chaperone me on my first endeavour with it. And the guy who would cook dinner had forgotten some items; we could kill two birds with one stone. And it turned out to be easier than I had thought.

By the time we left we had been joined by all the other staff and students, including James; when we got back, we set up the lab, which turned out to be in the living room of the cottage we would share. Later we had dinner in a central cottage, cooked by one of the senior staff; on this field trip, the staff take turns cooking for their colleagues. It was all rather cosy. And most staff would turn out to be utter gastronomic heroes! And the next day would just be a day excursion in order to introduce the students to the general surroundings. The weather forecast was good. It started easy...

The chalet park we stayed

That first full day we would not leave until 9AM, so there was plenty of time for a run. One of the other staff had recommended a footpath, but it was one of those ankle-breaking specimens, and I ended up mainly running up and down the navigable bit. One has to make do!

The estuary, where I tried to run

Laugharne castle, past which we walked

When we later got moving, were all just driven around like elderly tourists. Drive a bit, get out, see a sight, get a talk, buy some ice cream, and go on. The morning was very calm and uneventful! The afternoon would be a bit more challenging; we would go into the actual estuary, which meant crossing many tidal creeks. And nobody expected all the students to be able to get there; there seems to always be at least one who is heavy, has small feet and/or wears inappropriate footwear. But they did well! One had to be dug out, and cut his foot on a shell, but it didn't get worse than that. It was quite enjoyable! And we all got a nice introduction into the estuary with its sediment, its tides, its glacial history, the shifting sands and all of that. But the next day stuff would start for real. I still had no idea what I would be up for...

The salt marsh seen from above

Negotiating a tidal creek 

 A student being dug out by his mates

22 June 2014


It was the day before we would leave on the Laugharne trip. And an old friend, Paul from Plymouth,  was in town! So I took some time off packing and preparing to go and have a pint with him. That same week I had also had lunch with one of my old York office mates; he was in town because he was one of the external examiners of the Marine Biology. A time where all roads seem to lead to Bangor! Very nice.

21 June 2014

Miles of adit

Whether I would be free the 14th, Phil wanted to know. Something good seemed to be up. I pointed out that that would be the last weekend before the Laugharne field trip; Dave immediately remarked I would need a bit of a spectacular underground send-off before that. So it was decided; I would go wherever it was we would be going that day!

Dave picked me up at 8, and we were in Mold by nine, which was the agreed time. There was nobody there; Dave decided to check his phone to see if maybe something had changed. And it had; he had a message, received the day before, that the time had changed to 10. Oh dear! When the others arrived they first wanted breakfast. It would be a day like that...

Before we went in we had to register our names and BCA numbers. And when we got in we soon reached a book in which we had to register again. This clearly was a mine that was being managed by people with too much time on their hands! But that did mean we could get to where we wanted to be. All was still a bit foggy to me; I was happy to just traipse along. But it had clocked with me what we would be doing was go down to the North Welsh answer to County Adit; a very long adit draining a plethora of mines. And I didn't know which one we would have as an aim, but every one would be new to me so I didn't care. But first we had to get there, and that wasn't a trifle; we thought it would be 15 ladders down. It turned out to be 23. So we went down wood ladders, steel ladders, original ladders and late addition ladders. Long ladders and short ones, steep and inclined ones. Ladders! Lots of them! And quite some false floors, hand lines, and whatnot in between them.

The adit, where we reached it

Finally we got to the adit. There were some carts in it. Very nice! But we had many miles to walk though it, so we didn't linger. We walked over the rail embankment next to the deeper, drainage bit, but most of the way the rails were submerged. And it is rather tiresome to walk through water that is deep and murky enough to not be able to see where you put your feet, but of which you know it hides many rock and bits of flushed-away embankment. But we made rather good progress.And I was amazed by the sheer number of wagons we passed along the way; they must have left countless many when the mines closed! Weird.

After an indeterminate amount of time and distance we took a right turn. That didn't make anything easier; most of the embankment was flushed away and we had to balance over the rails. But in the end it paid off; suddenly the walls and ceiling receded and and enormous chamber opened up. It had levels leading off in some directions, it had en enormous maypole leading into the ceiling, and it had a big lake. The latter turned out to be natural; the mine workings had accidentally breached this natural hole, and they had used it to their advantage. There were rails in the chamber that lead to a cart turning construction; they had chucked their mine waste into the lake for decades, without ever filling it up. That saved them having to cart it out!

We had some lunch there, and we took some pictures. I didn't take many, as even with my new headlight the space was way too big to light up. I assisted David instead. With amazing results!

 The big chamber, with of course again lots of wagons

The lake, with the cart turning machine on the left. It may not look big but this picture took some 10 separately lit exposures, which were stitched together afterwards, to end up like this. Pic by Dave

I also tried the maypole. It was a bit wobbly, but seemed secure enough. But when I came to where it was fixed to the wall I saw it was just tied to it with some clothing line. Oh dear! As I didn't think anyone would follow me I aborted the mission and went down again. And soon we went back. There were some cavities made in another calcareous bit of the underground we wanted to see, so we retraced our steps. And things only got worse as now we were wading against the stream. But it was worth it! We were greeted with yet more open spaces with the obligatory wagons, but these rooms were all man-made and rectangular. And spectacular to be in! And after some photography fun we split up; some of us went to the end and went back then while the rest already headed out. Then there was a lot of confusion, and then we just decided to catch up with the avant garde. It was rather hypnotic to walk these miles in the noise of the splashing water in the echoing tunnel. When I got to where we would turn off to get back to the ladders I saw my chance of scampering up first. Twenty-three ladders is a lot of you are stuck behind slow people!

 Nice scoopy wagon

Me in the biggest chamber. Pic by Dave

After we'd all emerged we finished the day with a curry in Mold. It was 11 when I got back. A long day, but quite a nice one!

17 June 2014

Down with a guest

I'm writing this in some sort of glorified caravan park in South Wales. I have spent the day traipsing around the Taf estuary with 26 students, and will be ready to do it all again tomorrow morning at 4:45. Yes, AM. My thoughts aren't really with what I did a week ago, but I feel bad about doing things in the wrong order (sorry Marieke!). So here I am, writing about last Thursday's underground trip.

One of our regulars; Paul, would have a visiting friend, who would come with us, but had no underground experience. No complicated ropework this time, evidently! So we picked a slate mine, which was a walk in. And a pretty one; it was, again, a beautiful day, and abandoned slate mines tend to be very decorative. And Paul's friend; Lexi, turned out to be very nice. We also had Mick, who had been working in London for many weeks and would return to that before the next trip, with us, which was evidently a rare pleasure these days. So with an excellent group of people we walked along the spoil heaps to the entrance.

The adit we came in seems to have an outburst flood preventive system like I've seen them before; a concrete half-dam, intended to mitigate but not stop abrupt floods. It was quite interesting to try to get over that! But after that there were no major impediments and soon we reached a nice chamber, where we did a group pic, unfortunately without Dave in it because he took it. And underground the timer won't work; that is, the timer does, but if the source of light runs away the picture is no success.

 Phil, Mick, Don, me, Lexi and Paul. Pic by David

After a while we went on, and explored several chambers, some of which were enormous. One had a fault in the ceiling; I had never seen something like this! It was an actual gap. Geology come alive.

A chain in one of the chambers; I don't know why they develop these saucer-shaped appendages when they rust, but that they do is very beautiful!

I managed to take a rather spooky selfie

The fault in the ceiling, in the form of an upside-down gully

We went into one side tunnel that was very very dodgy. I did go to the end, underneath the collapsing timbers, because I figured the next time I'd go there it may not be possible anymore. And from there we went to the end. There was a nice white line in the wall; it was another fault,with clayey fault gouge in it. Nice! One day I might use pictures like this in a lecture. Such structures don't survive in the outside world.

The fault in the wall, with the fault gouge oozing out

We went back. We hoped to find the most interesting part of the mine, but nobody seemed to be able to remember where it was. And while going back to where the group picture was taken, a rock Lexi stood on moved, and her foot did too but not the most of her body, and she thus twisted her knee. Very unpleasant! But she was undeterred, and witnessed the map-confusion in the first chamber undaunted. But then Phil had a brain wave, scampered into a side tunnel, and found what we had been looking for. A chamber with lots of structures in! In the old days, you would have been able to see daylight from it, but it had been dumped full of mine waste. But if you went into the next chamber and suicidally climbed up a big, unstable slate slope, you did end up at a hole in the wall through which you could look out. Madness! But except for Lexi (knee) and Paul (sympathy) we all did it. It was nice! But then it was time to get out.

One of the structures

Mick had been given another amazing cake (the only other time I'd met him he had brought an adit-shaped cake; he must have friends in patisserie places) but had thought it'd collapse if he kept it in his hot car, so he invited us to his place. He made us a cup of tea and served igloo-shaped Victoria Sponge. Nice! His place was quite a sight to behold as well. He is a roadie, and his house speaks loudly and morbidly of his profession. But it was midnight, and we had to move on. And on Saturday we'd be out again. Time for bed!

15 June 2014

Deceptive silence

Nothing is going on! The last message posted here dealt with cameras breaking and being repaired. And that was it then. It's five days since I posted it, and seven days since the events actually took place. Did nothing worth mentioning happen since? Not quite!

I have been preparing the teaching I'll have to do after summer. I have been preparing the cruise that comes before that. I've revised the manuscript we've been trying to get published for ages. The last update on this blog was that it was sent to Climate Dynamics. They did send it out for review, but rejected it after that anyway. We then sent it to Quaternary Science Reviews, who sent it out to review, and as it happens, they sent it to the same person that had rejected it earlier on, and he or she still didn't like it, even though we had largely addressed the issues raised. You may argue that one should address it all, but I disagree; reviewers are flawed, after all, and sometimes they just have the wrong side of the stick. So we got it back again, with lots of comments! I dealt with them (except some things my co-authors have to help me with, such as explanations of methods they've used) and sent it back to my co-authors to see if they have any further feedback. I hope it can be sent back soon. And that it finally gets accepted somewhere!

And then the student fieldwork in Laugharne is upon us. It'll be quite like a blend of the Ireland fieldwork I participated in and the practical course I taught back in my Plymouth days. It does not need much preparation; I'll basically be showing the students how to take surface samples and fossil samples for foraminifera analysis, and then the analysis itself. Done that to death! Should be a breeze. But it does take me away from my office for almost two weeks. And that will make any work on teaching or manuscripts or cruise preparation a lot harder! It will be long days anyway, and I won't have a desk, and I don't know about wifi. So it's a busy time! And hence I didn't blog much.

The house where Dylan Thomas lived in Laugharne

Did I do anything other than work? Yes, I supported my office mate in a pub quiz, and I went underground twice. I'll have to write about that later! It's bedtime now. And I have to stay fresh for all that stuff that is upon me! There are only two weeks between Laugharne and the cruise. Oh dear!

11 June 2014

More camera trouble

After I came home from the Rhosydd trip I noticed one of the brackets had fallen off my camera. This allowed the front panel to come off from the back; goodbye waterproofness! Making a bracket is a lot of hassle, and I didn't have much time, so I switched to my other camera. That worked rather well for two weeks. But on the third week already, it started to fog up from the inside. Not good! Luckily I had a spare. I sometimes get mocked for having so many cameras, but this shows why I do that. I don't have to do many undocumented trips just because my camera breaks down; I just grab the next! And then one weekend I have time I can try to fix the others, or replace them.

I also have a camera for nice weather. It's not waterproof. But some weeks ago it seemed to struggle to focus on my house. And when I tried to take a picture of the cathedral, the lens wouldn't come out! A third camera down! Oh dear. And the rest of the day, and the day after, it still wouldn't open. I think it's dead!

No shit, Sherlock.

This couldn't continue. My foggy camera had been drying on the kitchen table for a while. I cleaned and greased the seals of the battery compartment and of the plug door thingy. I really couldn't find my silicone sealant, so I ordered new. But maybe this does it. The replacement of the good weather camera was easy; I just went back to the one with the scratched lens. It does take pics, be it with a blurry bit in them. And that left the hard bit.

I had already taken my length of brass and my gas stove out of the moth balls. Now it was time to snap into action! Remembering how many half-made brackets I had broken I cut off three pieces. What would be the chance I would get it right in one go? And I also realised I had thrown away my makeshift anvil (a shoemaker's tripod) due to excessive house-moving. Oh dear! That certainly wouldn't make things easier. But I set to work.

 The garage littered with camera repair paraphernalia

I took my time. I'd broken too many already! But I flattened one side, sawed off excess brass, drilled a hole, and it was still going fine. Flattened the other end, drilled a hole, still OK! I tried it on; it was too small the way it was. I knew this was the hard bit! But I remembered how I had solved the black bike's problem by filing, and I decided to try that this time. Easier to do that precisely than bending! And lo and behold; it worked. I managed to get the little bolts in place! The camera was back on track! I was very happy. Bring on the nasty scratchy acid mines! I'm ready for them!

Look at that dapper new bracket! Filed to perfection!

10 June 2014

End of an era

I remember my first pair of hiking shoes. I had done all my girl guide-related hiking on soldier's boots. But then my father sold our house. He got a better price for it than he had anticipated, and let his daughters share in the profits. Nice! I bought a pair of Meindl Islands for it. I was 17. They served me for years.

Later I started wearing orthopaedic insoles. The Meindls weren't big enough for that, so I bought  a pair of Hanwag Yukons. I must have been in my early to mid twenties. And I still have them! They did lose, after a while, their waterproofness, and the inside of the heel wore out, so in 2008 I relegated them to leisure shoes rather than the ones for proper hikes. In their place I bought a pair of Hanwag Alaskas. These are still my hiking boots.

One day I was just sitting in my office chair and noticed something felt funny about my shoe. I took it off and had a look. The rubber sole was coming off! And what was worse; the layer between the footbed and the rubber sole was gone! It must have worn away without me noticing. (It did explain the funny sounds this shoe had been making!) But the sole was now hollow. That would be the end of the shoes!

Oh dear! Nothing there...

 And indeed... empty space!

I like having shoes that are not as clunky as my Alaskas but which are good for fieldworky things, or scrambling around looking for mines, or even just walking to work in the rain if I have had to leave my bike behind for some reason. So I immediately went into town to buy new boots in the first outdoor store I would be able to find. And now I can welcome a pair of Mammut Nova Advanced Lady GTXs in my collection. I hope I'll have fun with them! 

09 June 2014

Try another new mine

All caving clubs run the risk of ending up in a rut. Many people live in the same area for a long time, and so at some point, they'd have seen what there is to see. Or it may feel like that. But in North Wales, the subsurface is veritable Swiss cheese, and if you keep looking for holes in the ground you keep finding them. Like we did a month ago: one of the guys had found some indications of mining activity on Google Maps, and when we checked it out we found a lovely little mine. And we'd do it again! This time he had found references to a mine online, with references to where the entrances were. These were hidden in woodland, so we had to work by the coordinates. But that worked out well! We found pretty much everything we looked for. Some of that was not so exciting; about half what we found were trial adits, or collapsed. But that's to be expected. Some looked nice, but were gated. But one often finds that people go through a lot of effort to gate some entrances, and leave others open. The same here!

A well-gated entrance. A few tens of metres on, however, there was a open entrance!

Another gated entrance. This one was also  accessible from the other side!

We found one open entrance that lead back to one of the gated entrances. There were levels going off in several directions! No stoping though; what had been the use? We came out again, and tried levels higher up. And there we found the piece de resistance! An entrance that lead to a bit of stoping. Very nice! And a small level lead off to the side; this ended in an ore chute. Or a slide, in other words. I heard there were people down there! It looked slippery. And fragile. I went anyway. I believe if you join forces you always manage to get out of something as slippery and prone to collapse as this. So I went down!

The ore chute in question

I didn't know where the others had gone, so I stumbled off in a random direction. The water was deep! But I didn't care. I came back to a gate we had been looking at from the other side. I figured as much! Then I turned back, and found the others. There wasn't much else to see. So I decided to try to climb back up! I admit I liked the idea of trying to get up that chute before the heavier men gave it a go... and it sort of worked. Once I had managed to get to its top I slipped. I managed to whip my arms in all directions, and not only bang my elbow into a rock but also find something to hold on to. So I didn't slide back down! Fortunately. But I decided to stay put to see if anybody else needed help. 

They didn't, of course, and we were soon on our way back. On the way back one of the men took a few pictures which were better than I could, and then we were out. And we didn't linger; the midges were out! And we even managed to get a pint before we all went home. We have another mine in our oeuvre!

Me (notice the helmet below Phil) and Phil in the stope. Pic by Simon.

07 June 2014

Last Welsh class for a long time

When I made the jump from the beginners' course to the advanced (well, advanced-ish) Welsh course I was very chuffed and looked forward to learning lots. And the first lesson I sure did! The week after, though, I didn't; it was Easter. The week after that I enjoyed another useful session, but the week after that there was another bank holiday on the course day. The gods weren't having this, clearly. The next lesson was followed by two weeks off, due to the safety training and YET ANOTHER bank holiday (do these Brits ever work on a Monday?). I was getting frustrated! The document I found online, detailing grammar, surely helped, but I lacked exercise in making sentences. A grammar guide won't correct you if you get something wrong! Later I found an online exercise book that belonged with yet another grammar book. These were from 1907 - now we're talking! And closer inspection revealed it was a third edition; the first was from 1897! No cartoon characters and video games to make you practice daft nonsense. No. Put this list of words in the right mutation, which follows from these prepositions! That sort of thing. Humourless and systematic. Right up my street. But it still isn't the same as having a class, where you have conversations with people who are as uncertain of their stuff as you are, overseen by a tutor who answers any questions.

 The title page of the grammar book and a random page from the exercise book. Another advantage of such old material: no more copyrights!

After that two week break there was, finally, another class. But at the end of it the tutor mentioned next week would be the last one. Oh no! They will only start again mid september! Oh dear. I'll really need all the online resources I can find. I did find training material for GCSE's! That's still way above my level, but anything helps. And next week I'll propose we keep meeting up on Monday between 4 and 5, just to talk to each other. It won't be the same without the tutor, but it will surely help! In Norway we regularly had our "snakke norsk pause" (coffee breaks during which we tried to only speak Norwegian) and it did help. I hope the others will like the idea!

ps the last class was cancelled. The next two Mondays I'll be on fieldwork. We'll see if there is any Welsh coffee break stuff going on the Monday after!

05 June 2014

Watery explore

That flooded chamber in Rhosydd just looked too tempting. But I wasn't wearing a wetsuit at the time, and these underground chambers are deep, cold and not always easy to get out of. So not a good idea to chance it! But as soon as my wetsuit had been repaired and tested, I wanted to go and try them out. Fortunately, my colleague and fellow Thursday Nighter Dave was quite up for stuff like that. So the weekend after my dip in Cwm Idwal we headed for Rhosydd again. There were four of us: Thursday Nighters Dave and Paul, and Rich, who was visiting, and then me. We decided to head to it from the other direction than the previous time. I'm not quite sure why, but I was glad we did. We headed up a path of which we were not quite certain it lead to where we needed to be, but which offered amazing views on the beautiful valley. I knew it was; the path we were on was a bit below the old tramway to Croesor. It was a beautiful day! Rich decided to do most of the trip topless, and ended up sunburnt rather than the more likely hypothermic.

By a stroke of luck we ended up where we needed to be. Suddenly the ruins of Rhosydd's entrance appeared! It took me a while to recognise them, as the only other time I'd seen them it had been pouring with rain. So Rich zipped up, and Dave and I got into our wetsuits. Paul would stay dry. He was keener on taking pictures of us freezing our bums off than to join in! And soon after the long walk into the adit we got back to the flooded chamber. I there put on more clothes (in the form of neoprene gloves) while for some strange reason Dave and Rich started taking clothes off. It wasn't going to be warm water! But Rich didn't want to wear his oversuit, and Dave didn't want to wear wellies. Paul and Dave set up the camera, and then we were go! And cold it was!

It was easy to get out on the other side. Once there, we posed a bit for pictures. This was an unusual opportunity! And with Dave and Paul being professional and amateur photographers respectively, it was done well. Paul took several pictures of us in the opening, and also several of Dave shining his torch into the water. Dave later stitched these together with amazing result. See below!

Pic by Paul and Dave

The we went on. There was another chamber behind the one we had just crossed. Not all of it was flooded; there was even a short level going off to the side. Clearly, not many people had been here! No well-worn tracks. But not much in the way of artifacts. So time to move on; we made sure we could get back out once we got in, and then we were off again! The next one wasn't so easy to get out of. Dave had powered ahead, and was shouting at us it wasn't easy, but that there was a nice spike just out of reach. Did we have anything to lassoo around it? Soon he swam off with my belay belt. And that did the job; in a jiffy he was out!

The next room had a slope up, but there was nothing to see in it. Time to move on! Rich had started to shiver heavily; he was dressed only in a 2mm wetsuit with fleece sleeves and legs. Not enough! Dave's hands were cold by now; I was the only one with neoprene gloves. These things are worth their weight in gold on days like these! But we moved on. Next chamber! That one had a convenient rusty chain at its exit, which allowed us to clamber out. On the other side, there was no such thing. The men wanted to give up. Rich was close to hypothermia, and Dave was quitre alright but not too keen to jump into water he wouldn't be able to get out of. But I didn't want to give up now! I found a foothold, and was convinced Dave could pull me out were I not able to do that myself. We tried it; it worked! So I swam off. The chamber I lowered myself into had a bit of a funny shape; we couldn't see if anything lead on from there. So I wanted to investigate.

I swam around the corner. It stopped! No levels goin on, not above the water line, anyway. I clambered out of the water to have a higher viewpoint, but nothing to see. I could go back! I was glad we explored all the way to the end. Not good to get 80% of the way! And Dave had no problems pulling me back onto the shore. We started to make our way back again. By the time we got back to Paul Rich was half frozen. I was alright! But we got out soon, to bask in the sunshine.

Paul then revealed why, as he hadn't gone swimming, he had lugged such a heavy bag up the hill. All sorts of unusual photography kit came out! He had some fun with the ruins in the sun. And we then had a bit of a scamper too. A lot to see!

Amazing view onto the valley and the Cwmorthin tips in the distance from the Rhosydd tips

Rusty stuff and cottages

Rich looking happy

After a while we changed back to civilian gear and headed back to the cars. That took a while. A lot to see on the way! The Croesor entrance, for instance.

This is on the way back (hence the civilian  outfit). I'm standing on what I think is walls formerly supporting a winch which operated the incline below. Pic by Rich

We wondered if we could see the other Rhosydd entrances. And yes we could!

The ruins at the Croesor entrance

Some gratuitous thistles

By the time we were back at the cars we were hungry, so we headed for the nearest pub for food and a pint, to be enjoyed in the sun. A very good day altogether!