Who knew that going underground could be so fun and interesting. I broke away from my castle hopping around Cardiff, Wales to visit the coal mine known as The Big Pit in Blaenavon, Wales.
This is a free attraction, but I would have paid. It was that good.
To go underground into the tunnels that were once worked, you have to remove anything that has a battery off your person: camera, watches, cell phones. They put your belongings in a locker, so you don’t need to worry about them. Sorry no photographs taken below ground, but not catching on fire was a high priority of mine 😉
Next they fit you with a headlamp and belt that has oxygen just in case something goes wrong.
You then go down the elevator shaft 300 feet into the actual mine, for a fifty-minute tour. Your guide is an ex-miner who used to work this very mine. He knows all the ins and outs and weaves in own tales of his mining days. It’s cold down there, so bring a hoodie.
It all starts at the age of 6. The tunnel doors had to be kept closed, to contain a fire if one occurred. A boy would sit by the door with only candlelight and wait until he heard the men approaching. He would open the door for them, which blew out his only light source. This child spent his working hours mostly in darkness. We all turned off our headlamps. Being an adult in complete darkness in a tunnel deep underground was very unnerving; can you imagine being 6-years-old?
Being a miner at this pit was a harder job than at others. Until closing in 1980, they did everything the old fashion way. The men, and some women until women were banned, would lay on their side chipping away at the earth, seeking their paycheck. Beyond the dangers they might encounter, it was also wet with water that dripped continuously from above and the ground contained urine and feces; there was no toilet in the tunnels. These men and women were tough and they built an unbreakable bond with their co-workers.
Horses were used in the tunnels to pull carts. I did not expect this at all. The men didn’t like the horses in the tunnels, they were a hazard. At any moment the horse could get out of control, but, they were used anyway. The poor creatures were kept underground, only to be let out to pasture when the men had a couple of weeks vacation. The horses went topside in the elevator; to keep them calm, they were blindfolded. Above ground, they were let free to roam the pasture. When the men returned to work, the pit ponies did not want to be caught, they knew their fate. To me this is animal cruelty at it’s finest. The colliery horses worked and lived in the dark until they were retired; then they were either adopted by a family who signed an agreement the animal would only be a lawn ornament, but usually, they would be disposed of to make glue.