Thursday June 6, 2002

Good Morning:

It didn't quite get around to raining in a proper fashion yesterday, but it dripped all day. This morning looks like a repeat performance is in store, but I'm not necessarily counting on it. I think the BBC could really do away with their chatty weather forecasters and just announce: "It will rain today, then clear, or it might be the other way around. We'll let you know as soon as it happens."

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day at the Beamish Museum photo archives, looking for old photos of mining activity around Weardale. The Beamish Museum - for those of you who haven't been - is a rather unique museum of regional history, built around a working recreation of a mid-19th century coal-mining village. They also maintain extensive archives on many aspects of local history - photos, train schedules, insurance ledgers (a surprisingly good source of information about local businesses), and more. I am told that searching the photo archives use to involve thumbing through thousands of index cards containing descriptions of the photos by hand. They have succeeded in getting most of it on computer now, so it is very easy to search for and view images by geographical location and subject matter. Despite (or maybe because of this) I managed to spend four hours looking at old photos. I finally managed to get my selection down to a dozen or so, and filled out a request for copies. What one then gets in a week or so (for a fee, of course) are real photographic prints from negatives, not just a print from a digital computer image. Quite a resource.

One of the chaps there also showed me an old book they had acquired, which was writing by a miner from Wolsingham in the 1860's. The fellow and some friends had evidently been smitten by gold fever and put up their life savings for passage to the west coast of the US. The results of their quest were as one would expect - no one found any gold, and he returned to Weardale within a few years. The book appears to have been written both as a narrative of the adventure and to serve as a warning to any fellow countrymen who may be contemplating such a foolish venture. It was surprisingly well written too (what little I had time to read). Wish I could find a copy.

Drove back over the moors, which were completely socked in with ground fog, and stopped by the mine to check on the day's events. The gate was in and the rocks were out of the way, so we can now drive into the quarry through the western entrance - provided the place isn't flooded, which does happen on occasion. Found Byron busy chopping up some of the recently-collected larger specimens with the chainsaw, so I spent the next hour or so wrapping the produce.

Afterwards, we stopped in at the Mill Race to see if our Belgian collector friend Jacques had arrived. Mary said that he and a friend has stepped out for a walk, but they returned shortly and we spent a while chatting. I got to work on my French, and he his English. He also learned that it is difficult to find a good Bordeaux in Weardale, and that English beer is different from Belgian. This morning I am picking them up at the hotel for a day at the mine and a visit with Jonina here at the cottage. Jonina says that her weekly schedule calls for a shopping trip to Safeway this morning, so hopefully the fog has lifted on the moors.

Today's photo shows what our "gate" use to look like.

Cheers,

Jesse, Byron and Jonina



Our old and somewhat abused back gate.

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