Monday, June 8, 2009

Greetings from Weardale.

After several days of cold rain, I can actually see some sun out this morning. The breeze is up too, so if the rain holds off for a while things should dry out a bit. The forecast calls for more rain later in the week, but hopefully we’ll have enough of a break to get some of the outside chores done at the mine, such as sawing up some of the now numerous large specimens we’ve collected during the past week, and finishing the new section of stairs.

Saturday morning, Byron, Greg and I went in to the mine to do some more collecting at the main face. Actually, a lot of the time was spent getting some very large rocks out of the way in order to gain better access to the exposed fluorite veins. As a result of this, and several days active collecting, there is now a large accumulation of debris at the face. Hopefully, Dave will have time to clean this up today while everyone else is working at the stairs and the saw.

During the day, Byron managed to extract another very large limestone block that had a nice coating of fluorite crystals on the bottom. The block was so large that it could not be lifted out, so we had to wedge a wad of bubble wrap underneath it before dropping it from it’s place near the ceiling. Fortunately, it bounced off of the bubble wrap and flipped over, as hoped, landing fluorite-face up. It also did us the favor of fracturing into two pieces, which are just “large” rather than the original “too large to move.” Even so, no one was up to trying to carry either of them out, so they still await us up at the face this morning.

Greg spent a little time washing mud from the east side of the tunnel a little back from the face, and at one point I saw a few dark crystal shapes poking through a thick mud seam. Byron had decided it was time to break for lunch, but my poking at the potential specimen trumped his urge to eat, and after a few minutes of joint effort, had a very nice plate of dark green gem fluorite twins to show for it. Definitely the best piece of the season so far. The specimen came from the Jewel Box pocket area that was so nice to us in late 2007, and is typical of the best we got from there. I think I’ll spend some more time washing the walls in that area!

Down n the shed for lunch afterward, I noticed that Byron was actually shivering, and had gotten himself pretty wet from the morning’s collecting. Byron is one of these “suffer in silence” types and rarely complains about much. I didn’t get much argument, however, when I suggested that it was time to quit for the day and warm up.

Heading up dale, we stopped by Gemcraft in the Durham Dales Center in Stanhope to see John and Marie Land, who both happened to be there. They seem to be surviving with their shops, despite the recession, though are complaining that they’re having to stock a lot of cheap flashy jewelry as that’s what is selling for the most part. Byron had a number of Frosterley Marble (actually a black fossiliferous limestone that occurs in our quarry) cabochons that he had set in silver pendant mountings, which he left with them for sale, to considerable “ohs” and “ahs.”

Yesterday, being our traditional day off from the mine, Byron wanted to play tourist with his brother, so we drove up to Craigside, near Alnwick in Northumberland. Craigside was the home of the wealthy 19th century engineer/industrialist William Armstrong, and is somewhat of a showplace for various technologies that, while taken for granted these days, were quite new at the time. Among other things, it was the first electrified residence in the country and had it’s own hydroelectric generating station. There was also an early prototype of what went on to become the modern automatic dishwasher. I’m sure the scullery maids loved that thing! Today’s photo is of the residence and some of the gardens, with rhododendrons in full bloom.

Until next time,

Jesse & Byron

Rhododendrons at Craigside Manor.

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