It was a warm sunny morning in what was one of the hottest weeks we have had for some time and we arrived at the site to see a great pile of salt a few small buildings and a couple of unusual sheds. Not quite the operation we were expecting however we were to learn that the whole operation is underground and the final finished product is elevated to the surface stockpiles ready for sale.
We got kitted out with helmets, glasses, overalls, lights, emergency breathing apparatus and individual personal swipe tags, then proceeded to a small cage where we entered to take our trip below. It was quite quick the descent and cooler than the surface with a temperature of 14 degrees and we walked out into some pretty impressive passages and tunnels.The Cheshire rock salt is pink in colour due to a material called marl. It represents a small percentage of the salt but gives it its distinct colour. The marl was a material blown in when the vast salt water lakes were drying out. The salt layers building up over many years of flooding and drying cycles to form rock salt beds which are now worked today.
The area being worked is vast. 140 miles of tunnels and galleries up to 20 metres high under the Cheshire country side measuring about 6 square kilometres with 3 distinct levels of winnable salt. Our hosts were driving us around in an mini bus with lights all around so you can see the workings stretching out either side as they drove along the main access routes. We passed some very impressive machinery everything we expected to see above ground was all down here shovels, excavators, crushers, screens, conveyors offices workshops and further stockpiles of mined rock salt ready for processing.Being underground the process has no weather or seasonal issues and can work 24/7 all year round if needed with the extraction of the rock salt being done principally with two joy mining machines and some drilling and blasting as well. The joy mining machines basically cut into the mineral with large revolving cutting heads producing a crushed product out of the rear onto a walking conveyor unit following as the joy machine works its way forward into the seam. The semi crushed rock salt is then conveyed away to the crushing area near the lift shaft ready for processing and elevating to the surface stockpiles for sale.
The main problem is that we don't know what the winter will be. They could be hit with orders of half the amount or double with councils and roads taking priority, so for businesses needing packed salt sheer volumes, logistics and supply restrictions can be critical so careful planning is essential. You can store salt in bags indoors indefinitely and one thing is for sure you will need it sometime, so if you have room keep some safe.
I have been in some mines before but this is impressive. This has developed to safeguard our countries roads, highways and car parks without which we would have to import at greatly increased costs to businesses and councils alike.