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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 00:08 GMT
Opening millions of years of history
Phil Mackie and Graham Worton
The BBC's Phil Mackie and Graham Worton are lowered down the mines
The chance to travel through millions of years of history, step into mines over 200 years old and use the world's first underground inclined lift - all possible if a Black Country site is lucky enough to receive a 50m lottery grant.

Mines at Wren's Nest National Nature Reserve in Dudley are part of the bid for the Black Country Urban Park - a project competing against three others for the Big Lottery's Living Landmark Award.

The mines, formerly quarried for their limestone, stopped working in 1925 and the site was abandoned.

'Crystal clear water'

Graham Worton, the project's chief geologist, said visitors would pass through the millions of years of earth's history, layer by layer, on their descent through the rock's strata.

"When people get to the bottom, about 200ft below, they will enter the world of the miners which hasn't been seen for 200 years," he said.

Visitors can see 420 million years of history in the caverns

On reaching the bottom, people will be able to step through a cavern to the mine's underground canal basin - still awash with crystal clear water.

But engineers have also had to tackle the problem of how to transport people back up to the surface.

Roger Morgan, an engineer with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, said the answer is to build an underground station next to the basin, which will operate what is thought to be the world's first underground, inclined lift.

"The incline will be 34 degrees, it will be about 120m long and it will take 20 to 30 seconds to take people back to the surface.

"It will look like a capsule on the London Eye but will travel through a tunnel which is 6m in diameter."

Sifting for fossils

Scientists are looking forward to the prospect of finding more fossils while carrying out the works.

"The opportunity to shift several thousand tonnes of new rock and to sift through it for fossils - the scientists are jumping up and down," Mr Morgan said.

Wren's Nest cavern
Limestone was quarried at the old site
The project is just one of many which makes up the Black Country's lottery bid.

It faces tough competition from three other projects.

Connect2 is a UK-wide project that aims to improve local travel in 79 communities by creating new walking and cycling routes for everyday journeys.

The Edge represents the next evolution of the Eden Project in Cornwall, where communities will be able to share the ideas they have for improving their lives and surroundings.

Finally, Sherwood: The Living Legend aims to protect the fragile ecology of one of the world's most famous forests so it can be enjoyed by future generations.



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