Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Greetings from Weardale.

Here we are once again. Year number 15! Since our arrival it has been uniformly cold and wet. Ian and I drove up from London on Saturday and missed a torrential downpour by only a few hours. Many fields up the dale were flooded and in several places the main road was covered with rock and mud that had washed down from the surrounding hills. Upon arriving at our rental cottage in St. Johnís Chapel we found Harthope burn (the stream that runs through the village not far from us) a raging torrent. Roger tells us that a number of low-lying homes were flooded. Quite the welcome, but then, I realized a long time ago that one does not come to the North Pennines for the weather.

Sunday was largely spent on a trip to Hexham to pick up food and supplies for the cottage, and a few bits of warm clothing from an outdoor supply shop. Although the Stanhope Co-Op is able to supply us with basic needs, if one wants anything like a supermarket then a 45-minute drive to either Hexham or Barnard Castle is required. That accomplished, we spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on local news and gossip at the Blue Bell.

With the recent heavy rains, we were anticipating a bit of a mess at the mine. Upon arriving we found, as suspected, pond of water blocking the road through the quarry. As a result, we have so far had to park the hire car at the top of the track into the quarry and walk the remainder of the way in. Dave arrived a little while after, and as van has a higher clearance he able to drive it in. Once I got my wellies out of our storage shed I tried walking the flooded track. I got through without flooding them, but just barely. As the top of my wellies is higher than the lower lip of the car door, I guess itís a good thing I didnít try to drive in. Todayís photo is of Ian contemplating our obstacle.

Surprisingly, the rain had not washed a huge amount of mud and debris onto the landing in front of the mine door, so we were able to dig our way back in relatively quickly. Some years, this has not been the case. I think the fact that what had washed down was fresh and still water-saturated helped considerably, as once the mud and rock dries out it can set up like concrete. Once in, we were able to pull out and hook up the water line, which came to life with no serious leaks. An inspection of the mine revealed no collapses or other over-winter problems. With a little fiddling, we were able to get our generators started, and made sure there was a good charge on the batteries in the loco. So far, so good.

Our rented compressor was scheduled for delivery on Tuesday and I had been told by the woman I usually arrange things with that it would arrive around 10 am. I was still contemplating my first cup of coffee when, around 8:45 I got a call from a driver wondering where we wanted the compressor delivered to. A quick dash down the dale ensued and soon we had the compressor parked where I thought it should be. Unfortunately, Dave was not there to correct my assumptions and it ended up being about a meter to far from the air line connection for our length of hose to fit. As the van has a trailer hitch, this, normally, might not be much of a problem to correct. With all the mud currently in the quarry, the wheels on the compressor quickly sunk several inched into the muck, and getting it pulled out and backed into proper position with a small, front-wheel drive vehicle proved to be a several-hour task. At least we didnít get the van stuck in the mud!

By early afternoon we had all the air lines connected and fired up the compressor to check the system for any leaks. Everything seemed good, so first order of business was to pump the accumulated water out of a low-lying section of the tunnel. That finished, we decided to get a start on mucking out the face of the tunnel. Each autumn, when closing up the mine, we leave the debris from the final blast at the face, so the first order of business when reopening is to get it cleaned out so we can look for more freshly exposed fluorite. The process usually takes the better part of a day, but we figured we could get started and have a few tubs of muck out by the end of the day. This is where things started to go wrong. The best guess is that the end of the rail on the landing had settled slightly over winter, creating a small downhill slope at the end. We didnít notice this until a full tub of muck, rather than stopping where we wanted it, continued off the end of the track and down onto the tip. This means that now, rather than mucking the face this morning, we will be hoisting the tub and chassis back up to the landing with the cable winch and trying to get it put back together.

Welcome back to Weardale, stay tuned for more.


Jesse & Ian

A slight detour in the daily commute.

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