Sunday, May 27, 2012
Greetings from Weardale.
The weather here this past week has been nothing short of spectacular by North Pennines standards. Sunny, cloudless days with temperatures up to 24C and a light breeze to keep it from getting hotter. This morning is looking to be much the same. I really don’t want to get use to this as I know this sort of thing is anomalous here. The rain will be back soon, no doubt, but we will enjoy this while it lasts. The local inhabitants have been reacting to the sun in typical British fashion – taking off as much clothing as modesty will allow and getting quickly sun-burnt. After several days of this, one sees a lot of red-skinned folks in the pub each evening.
This past week has been spent, for the most part, having a bit of a vacation before we open the mine tomorrow. In the past, Joan has been here while the mine is going and as a result has had little opportunity to relax and see the sights. This year we came a week early so as to remedy that. Not that we haven’t been taking care of advanced preparations at the mine as well. All our permits are in order, the compressor is scheduled for delivery tomorrow morning, and our first powder order is in. Hopefully, we can hit the ground running tomorrow. The only elusive item has been the location of the battery chargers for our cap lamps. Dave tells me that he doesn’t have them and I didn’t find them on our first visit to the mine on Thursday. Today we’ll make another stop there to rummage through the containers once again in hopes of turning them up.
One of my favorite places here in Weardale (other than the mine, that is) is a place called Slitt Wood along Middlehopeburn, just north of the village of Westgate, and on Friday we made our pilgrimage there. The lower portion of the burn in Middlehope is densely forested and the trail that leads through it is a great place to take a walk, particularly during the late spring. The burn is still running fairly high with water and numerous wildflowers are in bloom. The most abundant are some sort of wild garlic, which have clusters of white flowers on long stems. They grow profusely along the shadier portions of the burn and the smell they give off is wonderful.
As the wood gives way to open moorland one comes across the ruins of several old lead mines. The largest, known as the Slitt Mine, was a major lead producer during the first half of the 19th century, and the remains are some of the best preserved in the dale. A little further along the trail is the portal to White’s Level, which was the site of one of the earliest recorded finds of fluorite specimens in the area. This occurred in the fall of 1818 and specimens from this find can be found in many museum collections with older holdings, and even to this day, occasionally on the mineral specimen market. Today’s photo is of the view from White’s Level looking down the burn toward Slitt Wood. Very peaceful today, but the site of considerable activity about 150 years ago.
The week has also allowed us to catch up with local friends, and last night we had Helen and Barry over for dinner. Helen is an avid mine explorer and likely knows more about the mines and their minerals here in the North Pennines than anyone else. She has an incredible, self-collected collection of local minerals and getting to see it is quite an education for anyone interested in the subject. Joan cooked us an excellent salmon dinner and the evening was well-spent catching up on what has happened since we were here last.
Today, after finishing this dissertation, we’ll be off to the mine to continue our hunt for the battery chargers. This evening we have a concert at the Sage Center in Gateshead that Joan is quite eager for, and then we are off to work. High Ho, and all that!
Jesse & Crew
Middlehope burn seen from near White's Level on an unusual day.