The cold weather in Britain will see the gritters out on the road, but rather than making use of the traditional grit, gritters now spread rock salt. Rock salt itself is now mined in huge amounts, and such mines are located all around the world.
Brown in colour, rock salt bears more resemblance to grit than it does to table salt. In Roman times table salt itself was mined, and although modernisation now means machines do the work of manual miners, this just means that more salt is being mined than ever.
In Britain the majority of rock salt comes from County Antrim’s Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Company, Teesside’s Cleveland Potash, and Cheshire’s Winsford Rock Salt Mine. These mines go deep underground, and bore into salt deposits formed many millions of years ago. The salt deposits themselves were formed as the saltwater of ancient seas evaporated and became covered by the land. The three modern mines follow on from a long tradition of salt mining in Britain, and the remnants of this industry can be seen in many place names of today. The suffix, wich, as used in the likes of Droitwich and Nantwich was indicative of salt mining.
Despite increased production during the harshest of winters, Britain struggles to produce enough rock salt to grit all of the major roads, luckily though many countries do produce plenty of additional rock salt for Britain to buy.
In Europe Romania, Bulgaria, Germany, Austria Bosnia and Poland all have large deposits and mine rock salt for use all across Europe. North America also has some of the largest rock salt mines, in places such as Ontario, Louisiana and Detroit.
Many old salt mines, and some of the new functioning ones, are more than just mines though, and attract thousands of visitors each and every year. In Romania there are mines that are open to the public and show the history of salt mining over hundreds of years. The mines show pick marks from Roman days, but also show off the artistry of the miners. As the rock salt was mined, huge caverns were opened and were shaped by the miners. Statues and chapels were built out of the rock face itself.
One of the best salt mines for visitors is at Berchtesgaden, and although the area is more famous as a retreat for Nazi leaders, it also host one of the most spectacular of rock salt mines. The Bavarian salt mine now makes use of an underground train, and light shows to entice the visitor.
The huge caverns left by salt extraction have also found use as storage spaces, and although often used in times of conflict, even in peace time rock salt mines help store vital documents. .
The prevalence of ancient seas has ensured that many areas of the world have their own rock salt deposits, and when needed, these deposits can be mined, although often these mines stretch a mile underground.