Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Why the Dark Places?

The other day I was looking at a photo on my favourite underground exploration site. It was of a notice someone had left underground, at the entrance to a particularly dodgy bit of tunnel. There'd been a fall, and people had attempted to build a pack wall to shore it up. This was about 200 yards underground. The notice, I can't remember it all, said something like:

“Proceed down this adit with extreme caution.

Don't touch the pack wall.

Don't make any noise.

Anything you do will result in probable death.

And beware of the mine trolls.”

I realised that I would probably have carried on along that tunnel, such is my desire to explore. But the bit about the mine trolls had me thinking. Because I always worry, when I'm the last man, at the rear of the party. Lights illuminating the figures ahead, deep, velvety blackness to the rear. I worry that something might come silently, quickly up behind me in the darkness, some nameless creature, stalking me, bringing me down with a bone shattering swipe and eating me alive. Meanwhile, my companions forge on ahead, oblivious to my silent screams. That's why I'm never keen to partake in the jolly “let's all stand perfectly still and turn our caplamps off to experience the darkness” thing. You never know.

Petra, my steadfast underground (and overground) partner, is never worried about the darkness. She says she finds it comforting and safe, so long as we are keeping very still, of course. Otherwise there might well be a repeat of the “Nigel scream” from the Archers as one of us plunges down a shaft into the nameless depths. She doesn't much like chambers with dodgy roofs in slate mines, or wooden stoping below in a copper mine, whereas I don't mind looking over at the abyss below, or climbing up a rock wall to get to something. But I'm glad of such a strong and calm presence with me. In fact, I couldn't do it without her.

Petra in chamber 2 of level B, Cwt-y-Bugail
However, we were in a mine recently, a lovely little lead working with delightful stopes and twisting, turning passages that led on for ages into the hillside, when Petra casually mentioned something that made my blood run cold. We were deep in the mine, wondering whether to descend down to a lower working, shining our lamps around and marvelling at the wonderful colours in the walls. A little way in to the mine, near the entrance to the adit, we'd found some bones. Well, pretty much a scattered, full skeleton of an adult sheep, picked clean. It hadn't been an easy adit to get into, and it was surrounded by a steep wall which had taken us some effort to climb.

Petra must have been ruminating on this, because she said “I wonder what the hell that creature was, to bring a sheep in here?”
Now, you know what I instantly thought, since you have an idea about my worst nightmare by now. A fox, we reasoned, couldn't carry a full sheep carcase over that wall and into the high entrance to the adit. A wild cat might. A big one. I saw a Puma a few times, when I lived on a farm in Ayrshire. It had escaped from a wildlife park and was surviving by eating our sheep. It wasn't a thing to be parried with. My old Dad gave it both barrels and we never saw it again, but I wouldn't like to meet one down a mine.
Or then again... it could be a mine troll.

A daylight chamber in Diffwys. The best kind, look at those rays!

Walls illuminated from the velvet darkness.


Thomas Webb said...

Thanks Muddler :) I wish I could go exploring with you guys.
I think we would be like two Costello's to Petra's Abbott.
~ Sir Grapefellow

Iain Robinson said...

I wish you could come with us too! I think it would inspire you to do some more of your amazing artwork...and I agree, we would be two Costello's...LOL!!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting musings, Iain!

I was similarly pondering recently as to who (what?) the bone collector was when I stumbled (literally) upon an eerie cache at the end of a short adit (http://geotopoi.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/slate-quarry-caseg-valley-gyrn-wigau/).

I was wondering about foxes, but perhaps, as you cryptozoologically suggest, I should have been thinking more ABCs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_cat), 'Black Dogs' (http://www.unknown-creatures.com/black-dogs.html), or some such other cryptid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptid)!

Petra said...

Hello geotopoi! It's Petra here, Iain is away at the mo'. Here be dragons! That's some cache of bones there! Looks an interesting quarry too. Hmmm, another one on the list to visit. But perhaps we should take our pop-guns!

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