Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Greetings from Weardale.

So far, our spell of good weather has held on. The BBC was predicting rain by yesterday afternoon, but the day ended virtually cloudless and the last time I looked outside last night, the sky was full of stars. This morning begins overcast and cool, so perhaps the rain was just delayed a bit. This being the North Pennines, however, that much anything could happen, despite predictions.

Along with the stars, yesterday evening the hills were alive with the sound of sheep. It evidently has gotten to that time of the summer when the local farmers begin separating the lambs from their flocks in order to send them to market. It’s usually a fairly noisy affair with much bleating amongst all concerned. This morning all is quite again, so I will assume that their attention has once again returned to their primary task of eating grass. While discussing all this in the pub last night I learned that sheep are called lambs if they are less than one year old, hogget if between one and two years old, and mutton if older than two. A slight variation on the hogget stage is referred to as a “shearling,” meaning a lamb that has been through its first shearing. Ewes are also called “yaous” in these parts. All this is likely more than most of you ever wanted to know about sheep, but this is what one finds out when hanging out in a pub with farmers about.

Monday morning, after much thought, debate, and preparation, we finally got to the next stage in the Giant’s journey, which was lowering it down the tip from the mine. The rock, with its back trimmed of enough of the matrix limestone to render it somewhat portable was resting on its mini pallet and had been encased in bubble-wrap and our custom pillows made of heavy plastic bags filled with foam peanuts. All this was then wrapped in duct tape to hold everything in place. This assembly was then strapped to one of the doors from the outer gate to the mine with ratchet straps. A sheet of aluminium was then bent around the front of the door-frame to act like a toboggan as we lowered it all down the tip attached to a cable from our winch.

The incline of the tip is fairly steep and no one could really predict if this would work as planned. After assembling the entire thing, we decided that there was no sense dithering about, so Dave and Joe pushed it over the side with a couple of pry-bars, while I slowly let out the cable. In a matter of minutes, guided by Dave and Joe with their bars, it slid slowly, carefully and accurately toward the timber ramp we had constructed at the bottom to get it over the last few rocks lying about at the base. Once on the ramp, the pallet was unstrapped from the door and hoisted into the waiting van for transport to our storage shed. All was over in about an hour. Today’s photo is of the rock on its journey down the tip as seen from my vantage point as winch operator. This done, Dave, and Joe got to the day’s chore of mucking and timbering the face in anticipation of our next round of blasting, while the rest of us took the rock to the storage shed where Roger’s custom-made box was waiting.

Yesterday at the mine, Dave, Joe and Andrew continued with mucking, and during the afternoon Dave drilled and loaded the main face, firing the shot at day’s end. Both the face and cross-cut need to be shot before any further collecting can be done, so there has been no production from the mine since we found the roof pocket over the past weekend. Cal and Kerith are away for a couple days playing tourist in Edinburgh, so Ian and I are attending to other details about the mine, including playing host to the science editor from a major London-based newspaper who has had a life-long interest in minerals from this area. And no, it’s not one of the Murdoch tabloids like The Sun - I don’t think they have science editors at those sorts of papers.

With ship-out of our season’s harvest scheduled for Friday, much of the next two days will spent on packing and pallet construction for the last of our fluorite. Today’s first chore will be the final construction of the crate for The Giant. Once everything is away, Joan and Ian’s wife Di will be arriving for a bit of vacation and some goofing off.

Stay tuned for more…

Jesse, Ian, Cal & Kerith

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