Saturday, 31 August 2013

ICRC 2013 - Day 3 Saturday 31st August

Beautiful sunny day and very warm today in this lovely spot. Our bus left at 9.45am for our trip to the "Big Pit" Coal mine (so called because of the width of its shaft, 5.5 metres at its widest point, the biggest in the area when it was completed), near Caerphilly. The other bus took a second group to Cardiff and Cardiff Castle.
From the hill overlooking the Big Pit mine
The Big Pit mine was really interesting. Actually going down the pit shaft and being shown the various parts of the pit made the whole experience very authentic. We were given a safety helmet and a belt with a power pack for the light which attaches to the helmet. All possessions with a dry battery, phones, cameras, watches etc had to be left in safe keeping before going down the shaft in the cage for safety reasons. A slight spark from a battery connection could trigger an explosion. Now, in descending the 50 metre vertical shaft it helps if you don't mind close fellowship because 20 people in a smallish cage does make for a pressing experience!
Even the model horses looked real!
Once down we were then taken along the mine by an ex-miner who showed and explained various aspects of how the mine worked, the tools and equipment used, the horse stables and equipment, the signalling methods etc. In early times whole families worked for mine owners for little return and the children would operate doors at certain points along the length of the mine in total darkness. We were asked to switch off our helmet lights and when the guide switched his off he asked us to hold our hands in front of our face. We could not see anything! I was reminded of those verse in Exodus chapter 10, which describe the plague of darkness - "Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived."


We were then told about a disaster which occurred in 1913 and being down in a mine while being told made it all the more solemn as took in the details. The Senghenydd Colliery Disaster, also known as the Senghenydd Explosion, occurred in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, killing 439 miners. It is the worst mining accident in the United Kingdom, and one of the most serious globally in terms of loss of life. The demand for Welsh steam coal before World War I was enormous. Among other uses it fuelled the Royal Navy's huge fleet of steam battleships, dreadnoughts and cruisers, and was also used by foreign Navies allied to Britain and the British Empire. The explosion was probably started by methane gas being ignited, possibly by electric sparking from equipment such as electric bell signalling gear.

The initial explosion disturbed coal dust present on the floor, raising a cloud that then also ignited. The shock wave ahead of the explosion raised yet more coal dust, so that the explosion was effectively self-fuelling. Those miners not killed immediately by the fire and explosion would have died quickly from afterdamp, the noxious gases formed by combustion. These include lethal quantities of carbon monoxide, which kills very quickly, the victims being suffocated by lack of oxygen. This disaster led to new and safer methods of signalling, detection methods for methane gas and eventually to the Davy Lamp, still used to detect methane gas.

There are a number of exhibition buildings on the site containing all kinds of exhibits and the coffee shop was a welcome sight after emerging from the dark, damp and cold mine shaft!


Given the conditions in which miners had to work, the sharing of danger and disaster, a short visit down the Big Pit mine made it easy to see why mining communities had such strong bonds between families and individuals, some of which remain today. It also helps to explain why miners' unions looked after their members with such a fierce loyalty and went to such lengths to protect them and their jobs.

The Picket Caravan
No account of our Big Pit visit would be complete without a photo of the picket caravan, used no doubt during the miners' strike in the era of the Thatcher government. It could tell many a tale of scuffles, shouts of "scabs", police charges, Scargill speeches, endless cups of tea and coffee. It's appearance now as an exhibit is a somewhat sad statement of how the mining industry has all but disappeared leaving lives, relationships and communities changed forever. In its heyday Big Pit employed 1300 workers. Now there are none apart from those guiding visitors into its shafts.

Following this we proceeded to Caerphilly castle, the largest castle in Wales. It was begun in 1268 by Gilbert de Clare, known as "Gilbert the Red", possibly due to his red hair. The castle proved a very handy refuge for Edward II in 1326 as he fled from his wife Isabella and her companion, Roger Mortimer! It is surrounded by a series of moats and small islands and has a drawbridge. The south-east tower of the castle leans at a greater angle than the famous Tower of Pisa! It's difficult to do justice to this in a photo but it is really scary to look at!

The figure bottom left seen holding it up is not a hunky Welsh hero but a wooden substitute! The sheer bulk of these castle walls is amazing. Imagine how it must have been for those armies trying to storm these walls or attempt to penetrate them with medieval war engines! I saw no sign of the fabled Green Lady who is said to haunt the site! There were, however, a few pale men around, as by this time a number of us were feeling the need of replenishment at Cooper's Carvery where we were booked to have our evening meal.


We were joined there by the other bus which had returned from their trip to Cardiff and Cardiff Castle. The roast beef was good and roast turkey and ham were also available. A recent visitor to the Garrabost manse commented, however, that the Yorkshire Puddings "did not match up" and added "I was comparing them with Donna's!" Well, that's a good note on which to finish and a wee reminder to me of why I should be thankful!















3 comments:

  1. Good note to end on James "in prise of Donna"

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