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Klodawa Salt Mine (20/05/11)

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Another visit to Poland, this time with my wife Sarah and young daughter Hannah who was going to meet my family over there for the first time. Pleasantries over - time to go down a mine, my cousin out of the blue said that he had located a near by working salt mine - some 70km away from him and he was going to take me for a look - that's what family holidays should be about.

A bit hap hazard - we just ended up turning up adlib and yes, had just missed the final tour - my cousin gave the spiel about me being over from England and that I was a mine explorer and that we could not come back again. A bit of umming and ahing and then a guy popped his head out of another room and said he was a guide as well and would take me down on our own. It turned out that he was a retired miner who had worked at the mine for 33 years and now was supplementing his income. I was more than happy. We filled in the paper work and I told him about my exploits in the UK, don't know what he made of the fact of going down old mines for fun, but he must have taken it on board as he then told me that we would miss the silly tourist bits (as in Dracula's grotto for the kids) and concentrate on the more technical aspects. A very smiley Mr Mike.

We made our way over to the head of the Michael Shaft and had to wait around for a while until the winch man came back up. Whilst waiting I had a look at the area around the shaft top and was told that this was not now used and was purely left in as part of the tourist sights. Originally the tubs came up via Michael Shaft and the salt was dumped down the chute in the far corner, they would wheel round, up the conveyer and back round to the other side of the shaft, ready for going down. Finally we heard a ring and the cage started coming up the shaft. The operator came out along with some miners and once they had come out we made our way in and down to the 650m level. The cage seemed to drop at a fast rate with wind whistling around us. Shortly the cage started to slow and I could see lights, then a stop and we were out. It was warm, 22°C warm.

My guide started explaining how the mine was worked with lots of technicalities thrown in, as well as giving geological and historical accounts, I probably got 80% of it - my technical Polish is not 100% up to scratch. The most surprising part was that the mine still used explosives for the mining of the salt, electric initiation to boot. I was too busy listening to the guide and snapping away to have asked how it is excavated, however from what I can gather, the face is blasted and then a big loader scoops it all up. There does not seem to be any big salt grinders eating away at the face, but they must use something on a smaller scale as all the tunnels in the salt look like that have been mechanically finished.

The first part of the tour consisted of making our way via a network of crosscuts and roadways to the first gallery, some 700m away. The 700m passed very quickly as I absorbed everything I saw. Along the way we stopped at a shrine, most mines in Poland have one, as it is a very religious country. It had many salt carvings of religious icons as well as a highly decorated statue of the Holy Mary - covered in various colours of salt crystals. Moving on I saw large levels going of in all directions, piping, cabling, twin rail tracks and even a shout to get out of the way as there was a loco coming. Can you imagine that in the UK? Finally we started to climb up a series of steps, which took us into the solid rock salt. Here there were carvings of the emblems of various Polish Salt mines and it all was brightly lit up in a red light. Next via a short crosscut we made our way to a set of steps leading down into the first gallery. From the top, I got my first glimpse of the size of the excavations - massive. Once at the bottom of the gallery, we made our way along looking at various exhibits: specimens of the various colours of the salt, an old table that had been recovered from a salt pool - now encrusted in square salt crystals and some scale models detailing how the salt was mined. At the end of the exhibits we went through a crosscut into another gallery, which was fully lit up. The size was impressive, approximately 20, x 20m and over 200m long. This particular gallery had a stage in it and was used for music concerts. Exiting via another crosscut we made our way along a salt tunnel into another gallery, this one had mechanical exhibits in it, including all the different types of rail truck used underground (various types of ore, ambulance / first aid, miner carriers etc…), old drilling machines, mills, and a selection of incline winch winders.

After this we again entered the network of crosscuts and roadways and started to make our way back, as we had to be out by 13:30 for the afternoon shot firing. It was at this point that we started to encounter miners returning from their shift, when various groups met they would greet each other with 'Strzec Boze', which means God protect / guard. I asked about the working face and whether it was possible to get to see that with a more detailed look at the mine, to my surprise the answer was a definite yes. Apparently if you book in advance they can organise a geologist and miner to take groups on a full technical tour, and they even have a hotel on the mine site - the 'Miners Home'. Watch this space. We entered the waiting cage, it then dropped down, and some of the miners entered the one above. Bits of salty grit rained down on us. All in, and then it was a ride back to the top. Oh, I forgot to mention - my rucksack was full of rock salt lumps and small crystals.