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Sierra De Lújar Mines Spain, A Guided Tour of Old and Current Workings (04/06/18).

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Last year I had a taster look at the mines here with Charlie and it was a good jaunt, but with a view to coming back again this year I managed to get in touch with the mine manager and he was more than happy to show us around. We arrived at the mine at 09:30, half an hour early and went to the office to introduce ourselves - having arrived early was no problem, and it let Celso the mine manager to give us some background information on what they where doing at the mine, the layout and the processing of the ore. It turned out that they have a very well equipped laboratory for the assaying including a spectrometer. He then asked the dangerous question of how long we had? All day was the reply - good, then we can see lots of things, what are you interested in, do you want to see the working face…. ? At this point we realised that this was not going to be a standard visit. We let Ceslo know that we had our own helmets and he asked if we needed lights, no we have ours, ah even better let's go! He called over Raff the geologist that Charlie and I had met last year with a view to him coming along as well, as we had mentioned that it would be great to see the older workings. Raff was going to be taking samples from the older areas as they have been trying to find the reserves that were documented in the 1980's with no luck so far.

We went to our car and got kitted up and of we went in via the main adit. Just inside of this was the underground processing plant which consisted of the crusher, floatation separator, spiral separator and dryer. It was interesting to hear that the spiral separator was from the UK - Cornwall to be exact - well, so we still do make and export! Celso pointed out that there is no electricity at the mine site or water, meaning that they need to generate their own and also to bring in water from the river in the valley below. So, the plant was designed with this in mind to try and save costs. It turns out that the dryer for finished ore uses the exhaust gases from the generator and a large amount of water is recovered from the floating and washing cycles.

After looking at the plant, we made our way deeper in to the mine along the main level and got shown around the areas that were worked in the 1980's, mostly of which were exploration workings. Along the way we climbed via a rise into some even older workings. I can't remember the date, but by the looks of them they could have easily been over 100 years old or more. The workings became a little warren of small passages stacked with deads. Quite a few pick marks could be seen, and at one point I even spotted an old Bickford type fuse. Here Raff pointed out the mineral veins that were present, and it hit home about what Celso had been saying about the ore body - that it was relatively poor. Dropping back into the main level, we carried on and then started to descend a decline, this brought us finally to the first workings and we started to see some artefacts. We came across metal airpipes, some ventilation trunking and valves, wheels, old electrical motors, drill steels. At one point we came to some old tins that Raff said he remembered for sale from when he was a child in the 80's. Where the tins where, Celso pointed one of them out and told us that it was used as a hangover cure by the miners after drinking too much of the local wine - reading the label, it turned out to be sodium bi-carbonate! As we were being shown round Celso and Raff constantly were telling us about the history and how they mined in the past and how they do it now. The problems they have and what they want to do for the future with the mine. It was all extremely interesting and to be honest I am kicking myself for not taking a dictaphone as we can only recall a fraction of what they said. It turns out that in the 80's, the previous operators of the mine wanted to shut the mines down due to it not being profitable at the time, the government stopped them from doing this, and it almost felt like the operators just drove tunnels to do half attempted prospecting. Celso pointed out a number of times that he could not understand why there were no crosscut trials to try new ground. The records also show some very large reserves, but Celso and Raff are yet to find them. Having looked at the 1980's area we were then taken to an area of the mine that they first started working again (under the current operations). We were surprised to hear that the first bits of mining that they did was for galena and that it was done mostly with hired electric hand picks. This enabled to raise funds to further expand the operations. We saw their old bait area, complete with a forgotten jar of pickled peppers. Celso mentioned that after one day they came back and where they sat to eat and rest a massive flake of rock had come down. This whole area was a pretty big excavation and considering the method it had taken a great deal of work.

Having told Celso at the start that we would love to see older workings and any tools left we were next taken to an area that was worked in the 1950's. We went down another decline that was very steep, probably approaching around 45°. As we reached the bottom of the decline, we came to rails in the floor and coming out into the level, a tub greeted us. Extreme excitement! I think at this point Celso and Raff might have been wondering if we were loons of some sort as how could people get so worked up about old mines? Near the tub was a bucket and cup and Celso told us that the old miners used to collect water like this for drinking. However, he wasn't too sure about the quality of it as he knew that the old miners used to always complain that it made them even more thirsty. We stuck to our bottled water. Making our way further along the level we came to more artefacts - a pricker, an odd hand shovel for loading the tubs. This did not have a long handle as you would expect, but just consisted of the bottom shovel part with a set of handles on the edges. Further along we came to more railed sections - the first to be seen and a number of crosscuts and workings. At one point the level had what looked like a passing place around a pillar, but on closer examination we think that the loop was an ore dumping place as the 'passing' rails where over a chasm. Along the level here we found a fantastic geological example of the fluorspar ore in the wall. I've not mentioned it yet, but the spar found in Sierra De Lújar is not very crystalline and Raff mentioned that the largest cubes he had ever seen where around 2cm - but that is a rear find. Instead the spa is very granular and when you see it, it has dark stripes in it. Locally know as zebra ore. The wall showed a great example of it. Down a short crosscut we then came across an old explosives box, ticking all the boxes now.

From the 1950's area we then returned to the main level with a view to going back out. Celso was telling us that they are trying to enlarge the level at the moment, but there is never enough time. All along the level the walls are covered with soot from vehicle exhausts and all over the place there are freshly chipped patches - the result of vehicle impacts. Looking back on ourselves you could see red /pink spray paint dabs, locating all the shot holes that have been drilled, but yet to be utilised.

Finally, at the surface, Celso suggested that we go further up the mountain to see the current working face. Can't say no to that. We got into his 4x4 and headed further up the track from the mine offices. We drove up and followed the route that Charlie and I took last year. We drove past the dogleg that we turned back at last time and just a bit further up from that we took a smaller track, that brought us to the current working area. Here we got out and entered an adit. A short way in we came to a workshop area with a generator running that was next to a drilling machine. They have the generators in the working parts of the mine near the entrances and most of the machinery is electrically powered. This avoids the need for having ventilation installed for the fumes. Celso and Raff explained that this had all been excavated for spar. Just past the generator was a large drop going further into the mine. I took some photos here but is was very difficult to convey the size of the chamber. We followed our guides and we started to drop down along a mini spiral decline where we started to hear the sound of machinery. Here was another very large chamber that was being extracted for spar. The surprising bit was that it was all being done with a small tracked rock breaker. The spar here was quite clearly purple in colour as you could see it all in the roof and walls, all in zebra stripes. We started to head back out, and along the way Celso showed us the top of the 450m shaft that goes through the mountain. This was in the process of being refurbished so that ore could be tipped straight down to the processing plant level. Back in the 4x4 be we headed back down stopping at a small adit with a metal door. This was a working from the 1920's. Celso dropped us and Raff here as he had to go back to the offices. We entered the level and it was more like what we are used to around Nenthead. Very straight with parts of it stone arched. At maybe 500m in we stopped and Raff pointed out a little rise. Climbing into this we got into the cramped workings from the 1920's. These where very similar to the ones we had been shown in the main level, small and full of stacked deads. Again, Raff pointed out the very small veins that had been mined here. Dropping back into the level we started to head back out, but I asked Raff how far the levels goes and was there anything else to see. At this point he mentioned that the level is actually used by the miners to access other working areas. This explained the fact that the floor was very flat and looked well trodden. We turned around and carried heading back in. Shortly was came to a walled up area with a metal surround. Raff explained that this was an old magazine. A little further past this we saw some steps heading down. This was the connection to the working area, however seeing more was not on the cards this time and we turned back. Karli at this point noticed some lights at the bottom of the steps and shortly a group of miners appeared heading for the surface after their shift. When we got back outside, Celso was waiting for us and we returned to the mine offices. At this point he told us that we can just go in the main level again and have a look around some more by ourselves - no problem.

Before going back in (still in shock) we stopped for a short while to have a very late lunch and chatted with Raff. Lunch was on a little balcony outside the mine offices with a fantastic view of the whole valley - doesn't get better than this. We let Raff know that we where going back in and we ended up looking at the processing plant in more detail. Finally, when we had our fill, we came back out and had a look around the workshops and the area outside. Going back into the offices we had bit of a clean up and said our good byes. Raff at this point got Google Earth up and started showing us abandoned mining sites in the area - there was a lot to go at. Maybe a mine exploration holiday is needed, but without the family?

When I found out that we could come to the mine, we where only expecting a quick tour. What we got was a full on explore (even Raff hadn't seen the 1950's workings) and show around. We spent over 6 hours at the site with most of it underground. If Carlsberg did working mine tours this is what it would be like. Celso and Raff went over and beyond to accommodate us and we are both very grateful for their hospitality. If you read this - MUCHAS GRACIAS!!! and we hope you enjoyed the gin.