From Nuits St Georges to the Lewarde mine
As a kid my task was to go down the cellar - a grand one complete with secret passages - and choose the wine for the evening meal. 'Nuits St Georges should go well with the steak' I would declare. My father had a grand cellar, earned from his electroplating business. He specialized in plating pit props for the UK mining industry, a technique he devised which meant the pit props could be reused rather than disposed of.
So my first night out on my route back to England from the Pyrenees was in the small town of Nuits St Georges - picture perfect in a neat trim way. From Burgundy I raced north to the mining museum at Lewarde - a little extra international research for my J.S.Haldane bio. My guidebook suggested it took you more into the period of Germinal than is in fact so: the mine only started operating in 1930, and is a recreation. Visitors wear helmets and enter a lift to rattle down the shaft but in fact the journey is only down one floor. I 'went down' a similar one in Wales. Much the best mining museum I know of is 'The Big Pit' in Wales, though in a more modest way, when you truly do go down a mine and capture some sense of how it once was.
But I did see those pit props today - I plated one or two myself when working a summer in my father's factory. So an oddly memorable excursion in one of the less picturesque parts of France.