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Hen parties descend to new depths %categort

IT’S probably the world’s wierdest hen night hotspot – underground, freezing cold and seriously spooky.

Even booze is banned so the rave-up for the bride-to-be and her pals is over a steaming cuppa and a sarnie, pictured above Barrie Paul down the mine which is now a museum that welcomes hen parties for scary nights.

Yet dozens of crazy chicks are shunning a glitzy night on the town to give it a go.

What they want most of all is to be scared stiff by the ghosts of ancient miners who helped turn Teesside into the world’s biggest iron producer.

Hen parties are queuing up to ditch fluffy pink boppers and fairy wings to cuddle up cosy in anoraks and woolly hats for overnight psychic sessions in the dark depths of Skinningrove’s mining museum.

The Most Haunted hen nights are a smash hit idea from 43-year-old medium Angie Riley and sceptic husband Mark who run Abbey Ghost Hunters. They are cashing in on the boom in all things paranormal and reckon the mine is one of the most haunted places in Britain.

“There’s lots of activity down there,” said Mark from the ghostbuster’s base in Scarborough.

He and Angie don’t just get hen night requests from around the country, they are often down the mine investigating spirit activity with paranormal groups.

It may all be a puzzle to Barrie Pell, recruitment and training officer at the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum, but he’s happy to welcome the bizarre parties; “The more the merrier” is his philosophy as the Skinningrove tourist attraction hits some pretty important anniversary milestones.

It is 160 years since the opening of the mine with its underground Manhatten grid-iron pattern of 200 miles of tunnels. It’s 50 years since the place closed and 25 years since it was founded by the late Tom Leonard, the Evening Gazette’s long-time reporter in East Cleveland.

So it is good news that the heritage museum hit a record high of more than 6,000 visitors in its multi-celebration year.

Reluctantly sceptic Barrie who lives in Liverton, admits he has experienced the paranormal. Once in the six years since he arrived after taking redundancy from ICI.

“I can’t say what it was, but it was very strange. The hairs on my arms froze and a strange vision shot over my head. I looked for a rational explanation, but there wasn’t one.”

But Barrie and volunteer support worker Paul Unthank, 49, agree that Skinningrove is seen nationally as a seriously haunted place. “If you are that way inclined,” says Paul, studying history at Teesside University.

If it’s history he’s after, the mining museum is the place to be. This is where, in the 19th century, the potential of the chunks of ironstone found on the nearby beach was first recognised.

It sparked the Cleveland Klondyke iron rush which saw thousands flocking to find work and the industrial revolution which turned tiny Middlesbrough into an “Infant Hercules.”

The first ironstone was hauled out of the Skinningrove mine in 1847 and taken by huge Shire horses along a railway to a jetty where it was loaded onto a boat for Middlesbrough. The foundations of Teesside’s worldwide fame as an iron producer had been laid.

The area’s heritage lives on in Craig Hornby’s blockbuster film “A Century of Stone.” And at the mining museum’s discovery centre.

“We always need money,” said Barrie, who like the 40 volunteer guides and workers at the museum, loves the project.

“We don’t have a marketing budget so we have to do what we can to tell people we are here.”

In the school holidays the place is heaving with families, kids and groups. “We couldn’t take any more,” says Paul. But they really want off-peak visitors to keep the museum buzzing all the time.

“I think people in the area don’t know so much about us or the history of the place or ironstone mining in general,” said Barrie, of the mine which closed in 1958. Which is a pity because the tour which can take an enlightening 90 minutes is riveting. The human courage, strength and sheer brawn which won the ironstone is laid bare as the story unfolds. And behind it all are the women who slaved to keep the family show on the road and the kids who couldn’t wait to leave school at 12 to work there “as men.”

There were hundreds of deaths in the deep darkness of the 9ft seams lit by faint candle power as tubs filled with rock and gunpowder explosions killed and maimed the miners.

In the complete blackness of the dark room, the memories of a young miner who worked for just “pit pence” are played.

Marooned alone for his first 12 hour shift he is shocked at a rat scuttling over his feet. Gradually though it becomes his pet and trusted companion sharing his sandwich and nestling on his knee.

“It is probably the most powerful moment of the tour,” said Barrie.

Museum Facts

Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum is open Easter to October 31 for Halloween night; Monday to Friday 10.30am to 3.30pm. Saturdays and Sundays in August, 1-3.30pm.

Admission (including a guided tour) is £4 for adults, children £2, Family of two adults and two children £10.

For more information go to www.ironstonemuseum.co.uk or phone 01287 642877.

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