Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Greetings from Weardale.

Well, here we are again, back in Weardale, the land that time forgot. Or maybe it just feels that way, considering I spend the rest of my year in a busy, crowded metropolis, and now find myself in one of the most rural and out of the way corners of Northern England. Just to give you a flavor of the place, the hot action here in St. John’s Chapel when I arrived last Saturday evening was a karaoke party at one of the village pubs (we have two, now!) to celebrate the end of the lambing season. Sheep are a big deal around here, and no, I didn’t sing. Actually, I didn’t even stick around for the festivities as the well rehearsed rules of international travel require that I fall asleep by around 8:30 – 9 pm and come wide awake around 3 am for the first week or so, until I become adjusted to the time change. Which is, of course, why I am sitting at my computer writing to you at 3 am.

Arrived in London last Thursday morning on the usual commuter flight from San Francisco, and met up with Ian and his wife Di. Aside from being able to visit a few of my favorite London pubs, Ian and I spent some time on Friday at the Natural History Museum, doing some research for a writing project we’ve been thinking about. It’s about fluorite, not beer, in case you were wondering.

Ian and I caught the train north to Durham on Saturday. On the ride to our summer residence our neighbor Roger, who kindly offered his services as a taxi driver, filled us in on all the local happenings and general village gossip, helping me to acclimatize myself to a summer of rural living. I won’t bore you with the gossip about people you likely have never heard of, but the big news is that the other pub in St. John’s Chapel – the Golden Lion – has new owners who have completely refurbished the place, and even offer evening meals. Pervious to this, if one did not feel like cooking after a hard day at the mine, your only option (aside from a pint and a bag of crisps at the Blue Bell) was to drive somewhere between 5-20 miles, depending on the quality of food you were looking for. Ian and I had an introductory fish & chips supper on Saturday, which was almost as good as the legendary Whitby Cod, once served at the now gone Mill Race Hotel in Wolsingham.

Sunday was largely taken up with a shopping trip to Hexham, which is one of the nearest sizeable towns, about 25 miles north of here. There are a few Co-Ops here in Weardale, and the one here in the village has recently been renovated and is actually now open on weekends and into the evening. The available selection of items is still somewhat limited, so if one wants to lay in a good stock of things a trip to a supermarket in the big city is required.

Yesterday was the official opening of the mine for the 2015 season. Ian sometimes gets camera-shy, and wouldn’t allow me to take a photo of him cutting the ribbon. However, the water line went back in without trouble, and while Dave began mucking out some of the mess we left at the end of last summer, the two of us promptly had at the main face of the pocket zone. The face was quite productive during the final days of last year’s mining and we had high hopes that it would continue. By the end of the day we had managed to collect several tubs of specimens, including what I hope are a couple nice plates of crystals. One usually needs to reserve judgment until these things are cleaned of their mud, so we will know more today.

While pursuing specimens in the pocket zone, one is often completely oblivious to just how much mud and water you can end up wearing in the process. Particularly when you’ve forgotten just how worn and full of holes your water-proof jacket and overalls were by the end of the previous season. Walking out of the mine into a strong wind and balmy temperatures of around 8C quickly reminded me that perhaps I should indulge in a new set this year. At least my wellies aren’t leaking. Yet.

One of the other leftover issues from last summer that we have dealt with is getting some of the tip rearranged so we can once again dump a load of rock and mud over the side of the landing and have gravity do the rest of the work. Last summer it was to the point that we needed to scrape a lot of the stuff down the tip by hand as the level of the muck pile had risen to the level of the landing. This is a lot of work, particularly for a bunch of old farts like us, so a few weeks ago Dave had a local fellow with an excavator come in and rearrange a good portion of the dump. A photo of the new arrangement is today’s illustration. Hopefully we will now be able to dump without trouble – other than the occasional need to retrieve a tub that has decided it also wants to go over the side.

Welcome back to Weardale, stay tuned for more.


Jesse & Ian

Our newly restyled pile of rock.

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