Friday, August 5, 2011

Greetings from Weardale,

Yesterday is rained almost the entire day, nicely replenishing all the dried out mud puddles in the quarry. Fortunately, we missed most of this as much of the day was spent underground creating our own muddy rain. The clouds broke by early evening and we had a nice sunset with a few ragged clouds blowing through. This morning the sun is out, but being in the North Pennines, I feel reasonably sure that this will change shortly.

The past two days have been largely spent collecting at the face. The productive area, now known as “Penny’s Pocket” (for friend Penny Williamson who was visiting when it was discovered last month) is a new section of flats exposed along the west side of the tunnel just back from the face. It is about 30 meters past the end of the Crushed Zone, which we worked last year and about 45 meters along the vein from the end of the Blue Bell Pocket, worked in 2008 – 2009. The new section of flats has produced some good material for us so far, but is very slow going as much of the rock has been cemented with late-stage calcite. Everything we get from this area is truly hard-won. The productive zone is also fairly high on the wall of the tunnel and so far much collecting has been done from a ladder.

By Thursday morning, the back of the pocket had reached the limit of anyone’s reach, so we decided to try and clear some rock away and create a shelf to stand on a few feet higher than the tunnel floor. A quick inspection of the spot told us that to do this we would need to move a very large rock, about 1.5 meters across, out of the way. Fortunately, it was perched n the wall and could be moved with pry-bars fairly easily. Unfortunately, it was large enough that it would most certainly take out some of our timbering if it fell the wrong direction. With the bad ground we have in this area, this could have caused quite a mess, so Dave quickly cross-braced the upright timbers to keep them in place and had at the rock with a long bar, which cooperated by falling out straight into the middle of the tunnel. Soon after, we had constructed the desired ledge along the side of the tunnel and were now within reach of the pocket. Dave, however, was now faced with the problem of how to remove a very large rock from the middle of the drift. I guess that’s what explosives are for.

During the afternoon I spent several hours digging at the pocket, but managed to get little more than a bag of crystal fragments as everything I uncovered seemed to crumble as it came out of the mud. Toward the end of the day what appeared to be the beginning of a decent plate showed up toward the ceiling of the pocket. Being the end of the day, we decided to leave it for the next morning. Jolyon Ralph (of Mindat fame) arrived for a visit during the day, so he, Ian and I went up to Langdon Beck for a pint and a cottage pie, while Cal and Kerith headed off to the Black Bull in Frosterley for pizza with some local friends.

Yesterday morning we began a renewed assault on the pocket, with all three taking turns in the pocket. The rock, though fractured and altered has been cemented back together with calcite in much of the pocket and requires much hammer and chisel work to remove. For a bunch that doesn’t such things on a daily basis, it was a physically exhausting day, but by mid-afternoon we had uncovered several very good plates of fluorite, and were feeling fairly satisfied with the day. About 1500 Ian and I finally stumbled down the ladder (through the pouring rain) for a late lunch break. At the time, Cal had suggested that we knock off early as everyone was pretty tired, but upon returning to the mine we found him hot in pursuit of yet another specimen. What at first looked like a nice 15 cm plate lodged in the mud at the top of the pocket zone turned out to be rather a bit larger. After about three hours of hammering, prying, washing out mud, and general grunting and swearing what emerged was a large plate, perhaps half a meter across, covered with gem twins. Stumbling out of the mine around 1830 with our prize, we found the sun had come out, making for a lovely evening. Today’s photo is of Ian posing with the specimen. Though thoroughly tired, wet and cold, it felt real nice to have had the best collecting day in a number of years.

Peter Lycberg was in the area on business and stopped by for a pint and supper and a bit of socializing. I am not sure that we were really great company, being completely knackered, but was an enjoyable finish to the day. Today we are planning to turn Dave loose at the face for another round of drilling and blasting, so maybe the muscles will get a little rest.


Jesse & Crew

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