The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a group of retired and semi-retired people who wish to pursue their hobbies or interests.
Recently, some of the Soar Valley U3A went down the East Leake gypsum mine and found that it really is as big as they say it is. It stretches for miles and miles.
After a serious health and safety talk – a mine is a dangerous place – we drove down the entrance tunnel and on into the ‘main highway’ towards Costock and Rempstone, one of the many different seams that is currently being mined.
It really is a different and fascinating world. Vast caverns stretch on and on, illuminated by the lights of our jeeps and the glow of our safety lamps.
If I were very rich I would try to make a zombie film down there, for to the uninitiated, it is an eerie, spooky and fascinating place.
Underground, the machinery claws at the rock in perfectly straight lines, but leaves thick walls still standing.
These walls hold up the ceiling and prevent any collapse. The seam is then mined in a crisis-cross fashion leaving behind a perfectly-crafted shape much like a honeycomb, but instead of honey, it is gypsum that has been extracted.
Gypsum is, in chemical terms, Calcium Sulphate. It is created by the evaporation of a vast sea, which once covered this area and is what is left behind, along with the mud.
It is this mixture that gives the rock a brown colour in which the gleaming lines of white gypsum crystals can be seen. Crystals that glow and reflect in the light.
Our thanks go to all at the mine who helped to make our journey so interesting and fun. We enjoyed ourselves.
By Adrian Cambden