Thursday, February 2, 2012

****Black Gold****

 What do Easington (England), Merthyr Tydfil (Wales), La Houve(France), La Camocha (Asturias) and Sant Corneli de Cercs (Catalonia) have in common?

Stumped? Well, the answer is coal mining and I recently had the opportunity to stay in the tiny village of Sant Corneli perched high in the Spanish Pyrenean foothills.  I have always had an enormous respect for the miners who sacrificed their health, and often their lives, to extract the black gold which fuelled the Industrial Revolution and am fascinated by the close knit communities that evolved around this most dangerous of occupations. To me, these communities epitomised the solidarity of working men and women and showed how mutual support and collaboration enabled these heroes of the industrial age to prevail under the most arduous conditions. 

To give you some perspective, San Corneli was part of a collection of local mining villages that, in total, had an astounding 700Kms of mine galleries – enough to stretch all the way across northern Spain as far as Burgos in the west. Of course there are no working mines left now – and perhaps this is no bad thing – but their legacy lives on and there is no better place to revisit the past than the Mining Exhibition in Sant Corneli village where the history of mining in these inaccessible mountains is charted in a way that gives a detailed insight into the lives of the miners and their families as they toiled and sweated in the dark and the dust as well as struggled for fairer employment conditions.
A visit to the exhibition is an absolute must if you are in the area and the “piece de resistance” at the end of your visit is a trip by mine-car into a 400 metre long gallery and, as you make your way back out on foot and view the various tableaux, you feel that you have travelled back in time.
Although a tiny village, San Corneli is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty and, despite its size, also boasts an excellent little hotel (Santa Barbara) and restaurant so an overnight stop or short break will allow you to appreciate the hospitality of the village, eat wonderful traditional Catalan food, visit the past and explore the area.

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