From Upplands Väsby is just a short train ride to Uppsala and from Uppsala you can take the bus to Sala, so Honeybuns had a hankering to go see the famous silver mine at Sala. The mine is no longer in use, but there is a mining museum and you can go on guided tours in the mine. We signed up for the “Minors [sic] Path”, a tour outside the most easily accessible parts of the mine: Bring wellies and warm clothes.
From Sala station it’s a pleasant walk along a little creek running through a residential area to the entrance of the mine area. This turned out to be quite big and with a generous helping of tourist traps in the form of cafés and curio shops. We had a light lunch at the restaurant, looked through the mine museum and then assembled at the reception to await the guide, boots and borrowed hard hat on. The guide turned out to be a slip of a girl in 17th Century mining clothes, in complete command of the situation. She took us to a little brick house outside where we first got an introduction on how the mine had developed over time and were shown a map of its layout: There are four main shafts from which horizontal drifts follow the ore veins, opening into larger chambers at richer spots. The ore body goes at a slant, so in the middle ages the silver could be extracted directly at the surface, but as time went on, they had to dig deeper and deeper in a northerly direction. The deepest shaft, the Charles XI shaft, goes down to 318 m below ground level, but the deepest levels have filled with water, pumps keeping the mine passable only down to 155 m. Divers can go into the water-filled parts of the mine, but while exciting, it’s also very dangerous, so only a select few are allowed to do so.
Having explained all this, the guide opened a nondescript door behind which a staircase led down into the bowels of the Earth.
We started our descent. On entering the mine we were reminded that whistling and swearing was not allowed, so as not to anger the Mine Lady. Strangely enough nothing was said about how the Mine Lady does not allow any other women in the mine either.
It was, indeed, quite cold in the mine and my jumper did not quite keep the cold at bay. As we descended, every now and then we come to a level space where we could peer into adjoining large chambers, some with royal signatures from various kings who have inspected this, the foremost treasure of the realm. At one point the passage opened on the Queen Christina Shaft, the centre of the mine. I looked into the bottomless pit fading into black. A fine mist was constantly falling through the shaft.
At a depth of 55 m below ground we ended up in a large chamber with exits in all directions. It had been used as a concert hall, so had bleachers along the sides, but nowadays a chamber at 155 m was used instead. Here the easily accessible part with stairwells ended. We were handed torches and then struck out into a side passage. The wellies soon came in handy, the bottom of the passage was a muddy slurry with loose stones hidden, so we had to watch our steps.
After a while we had arrived at the deepest shaft. A fence kept us from going near it, but the guide suggested we throw a stone into it. I tossed a stone into the pit and we stood for what felt like a minute, listening to it bouncing off the walls—possibly it knocked other stones loose, because certainly it couldn’t have taken that long to fall even a hundred metres. We couldn’t hear it reach the bottom, the sound just faded out.
From here went a Decauville track further into the mine. The ceiling also became markedly lower, so throughout this section there was a constant syncopated rhythm of boots splashing through water and hard hats knocking into the ceiling.
We ended up in a passage where the floor was covered with pond of unknown depth. As none had walked in it the water was perfectly transparent. Someone asked if the water was drinkable. According to the guide it might be, but it was uncertain how much lead had leached into it.
And then we retraced our steps back to the large chamber where we had a little snack and then returned to the surface with a lift through the Knight Shaft. Honeybuns was very pleased with the experience and decreed that we would return, stay at the hostel and explore Sala in detail, so expect further reports.