Friday, 1 July 2011

The Electric Mountain and Slate Caverns

Saturday took us across the border into Wales for the day.  While the weather left a bit to be desired, the landscape was still breathtaking.
Endless shades of green...

Almost to Electric Mountain
Our first stop - the Electric Mountain - was nestled into the side (and the inside) of a mountain predominantly made up of slate.  Enormous steps were cut into the mountain face (a modern day practice we would learn about that afternoon at the Slate Caverns), and the facility sits sandwiched between two lakes, one above and one below.  It is the transfer of this water from one lake to the other that provides the amazing amounts of power Electric Mountain generates.

Electric Mountain
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs on the tour, but we were (yet again!) in hard hats as we (yet again!) headed underground.  We boarded a bus to head deep into the mountain and into the largest man-made cavern in the UK (nicknamed "The Cathedral" as St. Paul's Cathedral could fit inside this massive underground space).  We were lucky to visit on day when the facility was generating power, so we were able to see the mighty turbines spinning their generator shafts (which were the size of large tree trunks) at 500 revolutions a minute. 

Picture of the turbine pulled from the EM website

Following our tour of the Electric Mountain, we headed to the Slate Caverns.  This area of Wales is known for it's high quality slate and has been mining the rock for hundreds of years.  The Llechwedd Slate Caverns where we visited have a working quarry and our guide for the afternoon still works as a miner.

We began our tour with a self guided "deep-mine" exploration, which required a ride on a very steep incline trolley. 
Justin, Joel and Vishal squished into our tiny incline car
Again underground, we learned much about the life of a slate miner and had many opportunities to compare and contrast the process of obtaining slate with that of coal.  Most agreed that if forced to choose, the slate mine would be a slightly better option - although still amazingly challenging work.

Multi-colored hard hats this time!
After our deep mine tour we made our way to the Miners' Tramway.  Here we had a live guide who demonstrated the process of removing slate, talked further about the historical and contemporary uses for the material, explained the roles in the mine both past and present, and even gave us a go at using some of the old mining equipment.
On the tram

A dummy miner checking the roof for stability
Our day in Wales ended there and we climbed back on the bus, soggy and tired.  Sunday will be a free day for the students before our Monday trip to The Quarry Bank Mill.  That will mark our last day in the Midlands before heading to our more permanent summer home of Cambridge.

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