Friday, August 2, 2013

Greetings from Weardale.

Yesterday was a fairly typical summer day here in the North Pennines. The day began overcast, still and humid, looking as though it might rain on us. The rain never seemed to quite get here, however, and by mid-day the breeze had come up and moved much of the cloud on, giving us a nice sunny summer day. By evening some dark clouds were gathering again, but still the rain held off. This morning the breeze is up and not a cloud in sight. This may change without notice, however.

Upon arriving at the mine Wednesday morning we found that the previous day’s blasts had done pretty much what we had hoped for, with only one bit of timber dislodged in the crosscut. The shot there had broken the rock nicely to the roof level we were hoping for and it looked like no more timbering would be required, other than putting the one stick back into place. The main face, which was fired at the same time now had a nice neat (well, sot of neat) pile of rock in the middle of the tunnel and all support timbers intact.

While Dave and crew started to day-long job of cleaning up the mess, I eased into it and spent a couple hours scrubbing the mud off about 12 soaking tubs of recently collected specimens. That accomplished, Ian and I headed up to the mine and found the crosscut partially mucked out, and Dave and Joe working at the main face with the Eimco. Hand mucking is hard work (particularly for us old farts), so Cal, Ian and I tuck turns through the day wielding the hack, shovel and wheelbarrow and by mid afternoon had much of the Bluebirds pocket cleaned out. By late afternoon I was able to get back into the pocket with the water hose and spent a bit of time washing the remaining mud and muck around the face and picking out single crystals and fragments of fluorite, which are numerous in the current flats.

Yesterday we were able to get back to collecting in the now more spacious pocket zone heading north from the end of the crosscut. Despite the interior redesign, collecting still involves kneeling or laying on one’s side in the mud and muck while spraying water (much of which invariably ends up going down the sleeve of one’s jacket) and digging at the rock. One can only do this for about 45 minutes without having to stand up, stretch, and allow blood circulation to return to one’s extremities. At least we’re no longer smacking our heads in the cavity ceiling when we try to do this.

The discrete layers of fluorite that gave us much of what we recovered from the pocket over the past few weeks have largely disappeared, and we were wondering of the pocket was pinching out on us. Despite the relative lack of fluorite visible at the face, the pocket continued to turn up specimens through the day. The most productive area currently appears to be on the west side of the pocket just back from the current face. As one sits (or lays) in the pocket, this is on the left side, which gives Cal, who is left handed, an obvious advantage over the rest of us. On the bright side, it gave Ian and me a chance to practice our ambidextrous tool-using skills, and by day’s end our combined efforts had yielded a good number of specimens, and several more bags of crystals and bits. One or two nice, if small things turned up, but for the most part the day’s take will make decent wholesale flats when cleaned and trimmed. At one point during the day’s digging Cal uncovered what looked like a rather impressive cluster of large twinned fluorite crystals, which unfortunately ended up coming apart into two or three pieced when finally extracted from the mud. I did get a nice photo of it in situ, which serves as the day’s illustration.

Jurgen Tron, a collector friend from Bavaria showed up mid-afternoon and joined us in our muddy collecting spot for a little bit. About 1730 everyone called the day quits and we headed back up dale to wash the mud off, have a quick pint, and finish up with an enchilada feast prepared by Kerith. Being a relatively warm evening, we were able to eat outside and were joined by neighbors Roger and Fiona along with Joy from the pub for a bit of cake in a belated celebration of Kerith’s birthday. The midges even stayed away until everyone was about finished!

Today will likely be another day of picking away at rock and mud in the crosscut for the three of us, while Dave plans to start another round of drilling and blasting at the main face.

Stay tuned for more…

Cheers, Jesse, Ian, Cal and Kerith

Fluorite in the mud.

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