It was Saturday, and we had the great pleasure of hosting some dear friends of mine from my school days for the weekend. We drove into the countryside to see as much as we could possibly see in just one day. The weather was expected to be bad but contrary to weather predictions we did not need the umbrellas. Its very nearly Summer, so I was told. Summer is said to arrive here on the 21st of June. Already it is very hot and the sun and lack of wind means we’ve had some welcome heat if not uncomfortable at times.
So what can one do when the weather gets too hot and you don’t have air conditioning? Many years ago, people living in or near Buxton would escape the heat by sheltering in the caves that were just 7 degree celcius. The same thing happened in the winter when they would go back to the caves to stay warm as the caves were still 7 degrees celcius. So it seems that the caves are independent from the weather outside, and will remain at a constant 7 degrees celcius all year long.
We found it quite natural then to keep with tradition. So we typed SK17 9DH and off we drove to the Poole Cavern, Green Lane, Buxton (Derbyshire, UK). The caves are operated by a charity so that your admission fees can be subject to giftaid if you are a UK taxpayer, meaning that the government will give 25% back to the charity. These caves are open 9.30am to 5pm daily over summer. The tours last about 45 minutes and are held throughout the entire day. A new tour starts every 20 minutes. Their system runs very smoothly and I was amazed at the large number of people at the caves. The admission fee as of June 2009 was £7.50 for adults and £6.00 for students and senior citizens. Our tour guide was a young lady who had a huge wealth of knowledge on the geology and history of the caves. I was amazed at how she could retell us all these facts and dates in her head without the use of notes, she was very impressive indeed. It made me wonder if she may be a Masters student in geology or history?
This part of the cave is fairly close to the entrance. You can see a whole lot of wooden posts sticking up in this above photo, and they are painted white. These posts represent the different places where archaeologists have made their discoveries over the years. There used to sit towards the right side a skull of a 19-20 year old woman. But for some reason the skull had been removed. That statement from the tour guide made everyone in the tour group silent. I wonder what everyone was thinking? Maybe they were having chills at the idea of a skeleton being there?
The caves were beautifully cool. Fortunately I had grabbed a cotton summer jacket with me so it was just perfect for me. In 1580 Mary Queen of Scots visited the caves. She was apparently taken with one pillar in particular towards the very back of the caves. She reportedly kissed that pillar and requested that it be named after her. So since then, the pillar at the back of the caves has been known as Mary Queen of Scots.
Every now and again, you can see some pipes in the caves that are left over from the gas lamps that were installed there when the tours first began. The growth rates of the stalagmites have been compared to annual layers around tree growth rings, according to research by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
A river passes through the cave. It does not get very high and does not flood. I had wondered if you could drink the water but we were told that its best not to. The water comes down from the paddocks above the caves where there are sheep and caves, and the things that get mixed in with the water may not be too good for us.
This black dish to the right of the photo is a petrifying dish that people used to place objects in the hope they will be covered by the calcite falling down from the caves that contains a lot of crystals. However this venture did not prove a success as they had trouble find anyone to purchase their products. So the dish remains empty today but a reminder of people’s activities from yesteryear.
The formations inside the caves vary in colour. Some are blue or grey and are formed by Manganese Dioxide that come from shale deposits in the area. Orange or red stains are caused from iron compounds and leaves of trees filtering through the rock. These red coloured stalagmites are known as poached eggs because of their similarity to an egg yolk. These particular stalagmites and stalactites grow much faster than the others, at almost 1cm per year. This increase in speed has been attributed to industry in the 18th century when they burnt lime on Grinlow just above the cave. The result of this process created a lot of fine lime powder. One novel thing we saw there was a stalagmite growing on a handrail, amazing isn’t how they continue growing even on top on new technology!
When the water drips down with calcium carbonate crystals at a slow speed then they will create a stalactite which is a solid platelet crystal. If the water drips down quickly however, they will form a hollow mass that is often referred to as a straw. If these drops leave the roof of the cave and fall onto the floor then they will create stalagmites. Now if the formations on the floor of the cave reach high enough that the meet up with the stalactite on the ceiling of the cave then they will create a pillar or column. As I mentioned above, the most famous coloumn of all is the one at the back of the cave named after Mary Queen of Scots.