Deep, deep below the ground among the hills. Up through the haunted Winnat’s Pass and down, follow the land like a spill of wine. The green meets the blue as the hills touch the sky and sheep roam wherever they like. Here is the mouth of a cave. Enter the stone and step down into the earth and feel the linger of Romans who discovered this opening 2000 years before.
This is where the Blue John lies, and it lies nowhere else in the world. The Romans followed the trail of the blue and found cavern leading to cavern, all thick with the precious mineral. They made vases and bowls and carried them all the way back to Pompeii where they survived an eruption and were unearthed years later.
John Kirk and Joseph Hall worked the mines in the 1700s and they learned how to treat the stone and the delicate fungus that runs in needles and nodules and veins. By hand, always by hand, and careful not to shock the colour from the specimens, or it will turn white like a ghost of itself.
Today it is a show cave, and the miners themselves will show you around, take you down deep into their habitat, encourage you to touch the slime looking walls that are cool and smooth in their deceit, play a joke or two and turn out all the lights deep underground so you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and show you the small slip of a cave where they still mine in the winter. When the tourists slip away from the cold hills and only the sheep stray nearby, the guides take their tools and they crawl up into this small opening where tourists can never go, and they chisel carefully for the Blue John still.
When you emerge from the cave you can breathe the air of the hills and take in the greenery again, you can browse the gift shop or the workshop in the town and see the bowls and vases and ornamental jewellery the Blue John inhabits now. Freed from the cave and out in the world, rare and strange and complex in its movements.
You’ve followed an old river bed that hasn’t flown since the melting of the ice age and hasn’t been a river for 8000 years, You’ve followed the push of the Romans and John Kirk and Joseph Hall and the miners turned tour guides who spend their days beneath ground, emerging for short periods of time from the deep stone cave to look and look at the sheep slow on the hills, the bumps of fields and swells of hills that dip and fall and reach like the travelling of liquid, and the green meeting the blue.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) andOrange Balloon(2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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