Sunday, 12 December 2010

Rainbow's end... Geevor tin mine

Geevor mine and rainbow

I have always wanted to go down a mine. So when I announced this and B got excited, my fate was sealed. As I am in Cornwall, the mine in question was a tin mine and it is located on the coast just north of Lands End.  What I have learned about Cornwall is that it is like living on an island with a micro-climate that changes within minutes. This was one of those days when it changed from sunshine to hailstones with no warning. It suited my ever changing moods.

There is no longer tin mining in Cornwall - Geevor was finally closed in 1990 after a fight. It is now a designated World Heritage site - along with other mines in the area. The mine is a popular tourist attraction for families in summer but this time of year it attracts people who have more than a passing interest.

We were soon kitted out in hard hats and heading off for the "on the hour" underground tour with Mark. It was interesting to learn about the process used for extracting tin and other minerals from hard rock. It was strange to walk through spaces that would once have been ringing with the sound of machinery and mens' voices. Some of the heavy kit has been sold off  but what remains is lovingly cared for and the brass plaques gleam with polished pride. It was wet and cramped when we went underground and I was glad there was just the two of us with Mark as we could take our time.

We heard tales of what life was like hundreds of years ago when the men and boys had to walk miles to the workings(unpaid) and then risk their lives as they rhythmically chipped away at the hard rock to extract the tin. We also found out more about the traditional pastie. For these men, it was no delicacy but a nasty barley flour pastry with basic ingredients. The pasty needed to be tough enough to survive a drop in a pit so I guess it was not going to be very edible. The men would take a short break to eat - known as "mossel time" and may have eaten pasties with "afters" - a sweet portion created from hedgerow fruit or appless.

The "dry" area pulled me up and it is hard not to shed a tear here. The lockers, some with personal effects intact, the showers, a rusting vending machine and walls lined with portraits of hundreds of miners. The hastily scrawled graffiti, the silence, the chill of the wind as I found myself wanting to hear their voices.

There are signs to make sure that visitors respect this space and there are annual reunions for the men and their families. I am so glad I went to Geevor. One day there will probably be tin mining again in Cornwall but it will never be labour intensive like this. The days of communities built around industry are fading in Britain but thankfully the memories and experiences are being held for future generations.

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