Wales is famous for its coal mining, which has been an important source of income throughout the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
One of the mines across the country is Big Pit. It was a working mine from 1860 until 1980, when it closed down and instead opened as a museum. Being a national museum means it’s completely free to go there and get a tour around the mine, which isn’t bad at all.
The gear I got for the tour of the mine was a helmet with a light on top and a belt with the battery for the lamp and a rebreather. The latter would filter the air, letting me breath for up to an hour, in case of an emergency where toxic gasses would fill up the mine. This collectively weighted about 5 kg.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring my camera down to the mine. All cameras, watches, phones, or any other items using a dry cell battery, could create methane and potentially contribute to an explosion, which is probably the last thing you’d want in a coal mine!
To get down to the mine we needed to go with a small lift, which basically look like a metal cage. I’ve seen these in movies several times, but to actually stand there with a bunch of people cramped together in a tight space, going down into the darkness, was pretty cool.
The mine is definitely not for people with problems being in small and dark rooms. In most of the rooms it’s completely dark and only the light on your helmet makes you able to see anything. Walking through the mines, we went through doors, which used to be opened and closed by children for 1 pence a day (it became my job to close the doors and the guide did promise me a penny by the end of the tour). We walked down steep and slippery steps where you have to duck to not hit your head (many in my group found the benefit of wearing a helmet).
We saw the alarm systems, the mining area where men would everyday hack their way into the walls and kids would collect the coal. We saw the stables where several horses lived and worked for years. Everything was showed and explained by a man who used to work at Big Pit, just like his father and grandfather did.
Going back up, we all got into the metal cage, turned off the lights in out helmets in order for our eyes to adjust to the natural light as we neared the surface.
I’ve visited mines before, but not like this. Here you could walk around, you could touch everything and really get to feel how it must have been being in these mines day in and day out.