Saturday, June 12, 2010

Greetings from Weardale.

Much of the weather this past week has been very non-summer-like, though I guess not so out of the ordinary for the North Pennines. Thursday was again cold and rainy, and by that time the quarry was getting to be quite the mud bath, both inside and outside the mine. Friday started off with heavy overcast, but by early afternoon the promised “patches of sun” began to arrive, and by late afternoon it became a lovely, if somewhat cool day here in Weardale. Last night, while watching the weather forecast on the telly at the pub, I came across another new term, “patches of dryness,” which we are predicted to have today. I assume this prediction is similar to that for yesterday, but slightly less optimistic. So far this morning we seem to be in a patch of both sun and dryness, at least for the moment.

Thursday at the mine was spent much as the previous day, mucking, drilling, collecting, and packing. After packing another blue bin with specimens for shipment home, I got suited up in our requisite bright orange water-proofs and spent much of the morning trying to make a dent in the pile of rock left in the NW crosscut after the previous day’s blast, while Brian continued with the same chore across the main tunnel. The crosscut on the west side, for some reason, has a much lower ceiling than the eastern one, which meant that the ceiling is about half a foot lower than the top of my head if I try to stand up straight. When you’re not use to it, shoveling rock while constantly bent over can be a truly joyous task, and something I would only recommend to those who feel the need for punishment over some past indiscretions. Regardless of whether yours truly fits that description, by lunch break, I seem to have shifted a fair pile of muck into the main tunnel, where the Eimco can finish the job. After spending a moment admiring my accomplishment, I glanced back into the crosscut and realized that I had only shifted about one third of the awaiting pile. Fortunately, Brian was looking for a change of venue, as he had noticed a rather dodgy rock dangling over his head in the east crosscut. After lunch, I happily let him carry on where I had been working, while I tried to secure the troublesome rock.

After dealing with the rock, I took the chance to do a bit of collecting in one of the alcoves along the crushed zone, while Dave drilled the face for the shot at day’s end. The rock drill is likely louder than a 1970s Who concert when seated in the front row, but aided by earplugs and the lure of that elusive perfect specimen, I managed to pass much of the afternoon without paying much notice to the nearby clattering. For my efforts, I got a lot of mud, many broken bits of fluorite, and a hand smacked by falling rock. I did come away with one nice miniature-sized specimen, so the exercise was not a complete loss.

With residue from three shots now awaiting removal, Friday was a full-blown mucking day at the face, so no collecting was possible Taking advantage of the improved weather, Byron got out the chainsaw, and he and I took turns butchering up the week’s accumulation of large fluorite-covered rocks. After warming up on the smaller pieces, we decided it was time to tackle the large one from early in the week. I kind-of felt like I was working in some sort of mineralogical abattoir as Byron and I discussed where to make the optimal cuts, but after all was done, we had a very nice, if still a bit large specimen, and a good number of others that will make decent wholesale pieces. Today’s photo is of the resulting piece, which will now be sent home for a final dressing.

Just about the time we had finished with this job, work in the mine came to an abrupt halt, as an electrical cable on the loco had shorted. Dave was able to remove the offending item and hopes he can find replacement parts today while on a shopping trip to Bishop Auckland. During the day a few visitors has arrived, including local collector/dealer Peter Briscoe and long time friend Lloyd Llewellyn. With the working schedule now disrupted by errant technology, we all knocked off work about an hour early and headed up dale. Peter had a look through some of the recently recovered specimens I have been cleaning at the cottage, and left behind some welcome cash in exchange for a few. Peter had to be off back down to Sheffield, but afterwards the rest of us adjourned to the pub for a couple pints and some tongue-wagging.

Today, with out patches of sun and dryness still about, I will be once again in my roll as tour guide and am taking the crew up to Alnwick for a visit to the castle (scene of some of the Harry Potter movies) and a stop at the marvelously large used bookstore that occupies the old train station.

Forward in all directions,


Jesse & Crew

A nice, but still large specimen after trimming.

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