Friday, July 20, 2007

Greetings from Weardale.

Wednesday everything returned to normal for the North Pennines this summer, it rained all day. Yesterday it held off until the evening but this morning the clouds are thick and dark, so I fear we are in for more. After Wednesday’s rain the waterfall into the quarry was rejuvenated and by yesterday the level of water in our ponds had risen considerably. The road into the quarry has also regained “mud bath” status. I must say, however, that having one’s own personal waterfall (though sadly lacking a koi pond at the bottom) is rather special, and is the subject of today’s photo. Niagara Falls it’s not, so I’m hoping we don’t get inundated by newly weds looking for the perfect honeymoon spot.

Due to the weather on Wednesday, I spent much of the time underground collecting at the main face with Byron. The face is incredibly altered and mineralized at the moment. The limestone has been completely replaced by an iron-rich gossen (known locally as ironstone), which is shot through with stringers of galena, massive blue-green fluorite and the occasional band of white calcite. The ironstone is typical of many of the Weardale ore deposits, which were originally rich in siderite and ankerite that was subsequently oxidized. During the 19th century this stuff was actually mined as iron ore and a small iron foundry business flourished in the region for a while. Ours is a bit vuggy, and these often contain some nice crystals of large green over purple fluorite. Sadly, the rock in the main vein, unlike the flats, is very dense and relatively unfractured. This makes collecting specimens from these pockets very difficult as they are firmly attached to the cavity walls. Still, after each shot is mucked from the face we will spend some time collecting, and have on occasion come up with some interesting specimens. What we managed to get this time was, for the most part, single crystals that had been detached from the cavity walls by the force of blasting. We did manage to collect a few clusters and matrix pieces, which had an attractive partial coating of white calcite.

Yesterday, as the rain held off for most of the day, was spent processing the backlog of specimens littering the mine. Cal spent a bit of time collecting at the face as Byron and I had the day before, but soon came to the conclusion that few specimens of any quality were to be had. After lunch (known as “bait” in these parts) Byron hauled out the hydraulic power unit and fired up the saw. Cal and I offered up our undoubtedly valuable opinions as to just how Byron should be carving up our larger bits, and as they emerged, carried them down for washing. By the end of the day the second container had become completely stuffed with specimens, which will now require a day of wrapping and binning so that we may repeat the process next week.

As there was no one collecting in the Rat Hole, Dave set to breaking up and lowering the floor of the cavity so we can have better access to the collecting face. Much more of this and the place will no longer deserve the name I’ve given it, but I’m sure no one will really mind. Peter spent the day on the working end of a shovel and wheel barrow, mucking out our second entrance tunnel. I’m not sure this is what he had in mind when he ask about a temporary job to earn some money for a school cricket trip, but he seemed to hold up well through it all.

Yesterday was Kerith’s birthday so we all headed to the Black Bull in Frosterley for a meal. It turned out also to be pub quiz night and despite my warning that most of the questions tend to be about British sports and pop culture (which we as Americans would be clueless to), Kerith couldn’t resist. As expected, we were likely the lowest scoring team in the place, but was fun none the less.

Today at the mine Dave will be drilling the main face in anticipation of shooting another round. If all goes well, we might get this all done in one day. Cal and I will likely be wrapping and binning specimens, and Byron will, no doubt, be back in the Rat Hole searching for our fame and fortune.

Until next time,

Jesse & Byron

Niagara of the North.

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