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The National Coal Mining Museum is less of a museum and more of an experience. You’d be forgiven for thinking the mine is the main attraction, and whilst a tour of the colliery set 140m underground is undoubtedly a draw, you could very easily spend a day here without setting foot below ground.
I was lucky enough to visit on a sunny summer morning, which meant there was plenty for me to see and do before the mine tour I was booked on to (pre-booking is advised, only children aged 5+ allowed underground) began. The site is home to many original colliery buildings, some of which are over a hundred years old, and they have been well preserved to reflect the everyday conditions of a working miner’s life.
To keep the youngsters interested, the museum has a key team of ‘Living History’ volunteers, namely local folk who dress up as ordinary people from the past, and give an insight into what their lives would have been like through the ages. It’s a great way to engage the kids, and I could see plenty of children around me really paying attention to what was being said.
Animal lovers will appreciate a trip to see the Pit Ponies, a jolly bunch of horses whose contribution to the mining industry was integral up until as late as the 1990s. You can see how they lived, how they were cared for, and even adopt one (or all three as I will probably be doing!). Be sure to stop by the aviary and say hello to the canaries, a fluffy flock of tuneful chirpers essential to miner safety since the early 1900s.
I had a brief look around the exhibition section (I’ll be making a return visit to experience it properly) which is currently showcasing the 70th Anniversary of the Nationalisation of the coal industry, but I had to make a move so I could get ready for my big trip down t’pit!
After being kitted up with my hard hat and light by a real miner, it was time to board the lift and make the 459ft descent into the mine. No phones or electronic equipment are allowed underground for safety reasons, but this is something you really need to experience in person and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise! An ex-miner will expertly lead you through the pit whilst taking you on a journey through history, as you learn all about coal mining over the centuries.
TIP: Wrap up warm, you’ll be down there for around an hour and it’s pretty chilly at times!
Upon my return to the surface (hello sunlight!), it was definitely time for lunch. The on-site café is run by the White Rose Award-nominated Asparagus Green Catering, a company who pride themselves on locally sourced ingredients and who produce everything on-site. It didn’t disappoint! I also had my eye on at least two of the home-made cakes I spied, but there was still so much left to see.
A train ride to the Hope Pit section of the site (Caphouse is the main visitors’ area) opened my eyes to further activities on offer. In addition to a Blacksmith’s workshop, engine house, smaller museum and memorial garden, there is also a newly opened beach area for children to play in, as well as reed beds, bird hides and a wildlife-packed Nature Trail (dogs on leads welcome).
With a huge adventure playground opening on 1st August the National Coal Mining Museum is quite the destination. There’s so much to do, you can visit whatever the weather and always find something to occupy the family. Have I mentioned the best bit? It’s FREE! Donations are welcomed at various points but if you’re looking for somewhere educational and fun that isn’t going to break the bank, this is the place for you!
Open daily from 10am – 5pm, find more information about the National Coal Mining Museum by visiting their website; www.ncm.org.uk