Dave Cropp, Elspeth Fry, Hollie Kirk and myself visited Sentheim in Alsace, France, 23rd to 26th October. Our purposes in visiting Sentheim with our two LEADER co-coordinators from County Hall, were to learn how the centre operates in all ways and to explore the concept of geo-villages. We see the geo-village idea as a way in which local communities can discover, conserve and make known their local geology to aid the local economy by adding to the enjoyment of visitors. The trip was financed through European transnational co-operation funding (good if you can get it). We also visited the LEADER group for the area and received and gave presentations.
Sentheim is a small town of around 2000 situated in the Alsace region of France against the flanks of the Vosges Mountains that rise to 1424m. Nearest big town is Mulhouse, airport is at Basle (20min from Mulhouse by car). There is much local industry scattered across the very flat old rift valley between the Vosges and the Black Forest, as well as in the main towns. Potash mining was an important employer for 100 years from 1904. Wine growing, some of the highest quality in France, is carried out on a long narrow strip on the southerly facing slopes of the hills. Very beautiful villages and castles are scattered through the hills. Geologically very similar to our area in that there is the old filled in sunken braided river system with faults either side (as our East Malvern and Inkberrow faultlines) with hills, but on a grander scale and with somewhat generally younger rocks.
The centrepiece of geology is the wonderful museum established by two brothers 20 odd years ago and the whole operation very naturally uses the building as its HQ. Marvellous display of minerals, rocks and fossils downstairs; library, teaching space, more displays, computer and printer upstairs.
The centre is staffed by Stephanie, geologist and two other part time workers. There is one 5 km trail in most beautiful undulating countryside in the foothills of The Vosges. Several old quarries are to be seen, displaying Jurassic, Carboniferous Sandstone and Dolomite with some evidence of the intensive industrial workings that finished middle of last century. Fossils can be sought and there is one naturally formed cave to venture into.
The centre receives visits from school parties and the general public; they provide a leaflet and offer guided walks. All of these are charged for. It differs from Martley in that regular meetings are not held, rather more ad hoc events such as the recent one where the centre worked with important local vineyards, to explain how the localised geology affects the wine grown on it.
A unique evening was held in the company of Ingrid, a lady who tells mesmeric stories to old and young alike. These stories are aimed at teaching about geology in a simple, truthful but gripping style and were enjoyed by all, with much admiration for Ingrid’s dramatic skills.
We were fortunate to be taken by Stephanie and Monique to the area’s last closed potash mine, an industry that had 19 shafts at its peak and lasted for almost one hundred years from 1904. The potash, mined from deep in the graben between the Black Forest and the Vosges, the remains of very ancient dried out lakes full of minerals from surrounding mountains, gave great wealth to the area. We very much enjoyed meeting two ex-miners and the director’s secretary—all now retired of course and part of an active volunteer group managing the museum and visitors’ centre. It was a real privilege to meet these people, so proud were they of the mine and their part in it and that they had been able, through their own hard work, to keep a small part of it alive for visitors.
We would all recommend a visit to the area—for its top class wines, wonderful scenery, incredibly beautiful villages, local cuisine, national museums and oh yes, there are a few rocks too!
Find out more about the centre at http://www.geologie-alsace.fr