It’s time for another journey beneath the surface of Britain to discover another cracking day out for people of all ages. The National Coal Mining Museum, not far from junction 38 of the M1, is awesome place to go – not least because it’s free to get in and even the brilliant underground tour only cost a few pounds. It’s one of 50 underground adventures in my Days Out Underground book. To order a signed copy, visit my website or drop me an email. Of course, it’s also available to buy in bookshops and online.
Caphouse Colliery may have produced its last coal in the 1980s, but the legacy of the mine lives on thanks to this quaint and charming museum that gives an insight into the life of miners and their families. At the heart of its success are the former miners who still make the daily journey down to the coal face. Today they descend 140 metres into the ground to guide tourists around the notoriously difficult working conditions rather than to blast coal from the bowels of the Earth. The humour and camaraderie shared between these guides – all decked out in their orange coal-mining gear, complete with hard hat and lamp light – is the really priceless quality of the underground tour here. It’s a friendly journey underground, made heart-warming and genuine because these are the real deal rather than history buffs who have brushed on their coal mining knowledge.
Tours to the coal face can be booked in advance, but most people sign up for the trip when they arrive. Head to the museum’s shop and you’ll be allocated a time. There can be up to 31 trips organised on busy days, so you’re unlikely to have to wait a long time. If you have 30-45 minutes, now’s the time to wander around the museum’s exhibits and soak in area’s mining history. Exhibits here explain the origins of mining at Caphouse and cover the highs and lows of mining through the years. The exhibition keeps returning to the theme of social struggle, a theme which has gone hand in hand with mining over the centuries.
It has to be experienced to be believed. Descending into the earth inside one of the cages used by the miners is a truly awesome experience. For the miners who work here, I couldn’t help thinking how strange it was that their former place of work had become a tourist attraction where people looked back to the fairly recent past. It’s not just about going underground, of course. All aspects of the job are covered in the museum and surrounding buildings, from the tradition of being in a brass band to the showers where they washed at the end of a shift. On your tour you’ll see how people mined in the days when kids went to work underground, right up to the modern machinery used in the final days before the pit closed.
I’d love to hear your experiences of travels underground – Do leave comments! And if you’d like a copy of the book, with 50 underground adventures and loads of amazing pictures, visit my website and order a signed copy or visit Amazon. My next travel guide – Around the Coast in 80 Days – is out next April and can be pre-ordered now.
Other nearby trips: