The Big Pit

Trip Start Dec 01, 2008
Trip End May 21, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Wales,
Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Big Pit, as its called, is the number one tourist attraction in Wales.  Not that Wales has a lot of tourist attractions to begin with.  It's also an UNESCO world heritage site.

Today, it is the remains of a major coal mine.  Coal mining used to be the main work in Wales.  It supported the country and kept it going.  However, it certainly didn't pay well and people worked in fairly bad conditions though things did improve over the years.  In the 1980s, the workers went on strike.  Now, I don't know a lot about Margaret Thatcher but the impression that this trip and just being in England has left me with is that she was one massive bitch.  Margaret Thatcher basically wanted to get coal from other countries where it was cheaper.  The Welsh went on strike for better pay and to protest taking the jobs over seas.  Margaret Thatcher then simply shut the mines down...all of them.  Overnight, she completely ruined a country (nation?) that is just now starting to recover.  In many areas, the entire population became unemployed overnight.  There simply were no other jobs.

Today, the Big Pit is a mine that has been opened up to tourists to show them what life was like in the mines and to show how important this heritage is to the Welsh people.  Nothing about the mine has been changed for tourism, however.  It is still classified as a working mine so we had to wear hard hats and carry an emergency gas mask thing.

I couldn't take any pictures down in the mine since you can't take anything in which has a battery.  It could explode if there are any gases down there!

The people who give the tours of these mines are the same people who used to work in them.  While some parts of the tour felt a bit scripted at first, as soon as they find out you are interested, they'll share a lot more with you.  Our guide was really interesting as he shared his personal life experiences of working in the mine.  His grandfather started working in the mines when he was 13 and his father started at the age of 16.  They worked every single day, including Christmas until around the 1950s when the workers went on strike for one week's holiday.

When the mine was first opened, there was no electricity.  Everything was done in the dark or by candle light.  The huge loads of coal were pushed down the tracks by the women and children.  Later on, they used horses.  At one time there were well over 100 horses who lived in the mines.  Once taken down, they never saw daylight again.  However, they were really well cared for.  As our guide told us, if a horse died in the mines, there was an inquiry and someone would get in trouble.  If a person died in the mines, it was just another day and one more hazard of the job.

It was really cool to go to a tourist site like this that was still very authentic.  Especially after going to the tunnels in Dover where the entire tunnel system had been worked over into this multi sensory experience.  Here, there's nothing fancy.  Electricity hasn't even been added so you have to use your headlamps to see.  And you get a first hand account of a job that most people would never dream of doing.  I still don't get how people did this day in and day out.  Many didn't see daylight for weeks as they worked during all the daylight hours.  It's also amazing at how primitive the industry seems.  You'd think, with all the other technology around 50 years ago, people wouldn't have to bend over with a pickaxe and chip away in order to supply us with coal.

Back above ground, we had a little too much fun playing in the gift shop.  Our tour guide for the week really loved finding things to take fun photos with and then forcing you to pose with them.  That's how I ended up holding tons of stuffed dragons (red dragons are on the Welsh flag) and with lots of Welsh flags on my head.

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