When the door is pushed aside, the outdoor air immediately is drawn in towards the depths of the mine. It is cold and damp in the dark mountain, which is illuminated only by the small torch in my hand.
This is not the beginning of a horror story, but rather a description of your entry into Taberg, which is home to several hundred bats – and the so-called Mountain Lady.
“This is a unique place to visit,” says Hans Fransson, chairman of the Association of Taberg Mine Guides. He is fascinated by bats and does everything he can to make visitors share his enthusiasm. “I also work as a guide at the nature centre at Store Mosse National Park. It is great fun to serve as a guide for two subjects. It’s an awesome feeling to always be able to relate something that the visitors probably have never heard.”
The bloodsucking bat
The largest bat in the world is the flying fox, which has a 1.8-metre wingspan and weighs one kilo. But don’t worry. It is found in warmer countries outside Europe’s borders and moreover is a vegetarian. Of more than 1,000 species, there actually are only three that live on blood, and they hang out in South America.
“There are relatively few that are involved with that anyway,” Hans explains. “They set about on sleeping cattle, often taking their place in the queue.” At home in Sweden, each bat eats several thousand insects per night. “But if they get a juicy night butterfly in their stomach, there won’t be so many,” Hans jokes. “Bats are so beneficial. Expressed in monetary terms, it amounts to enormous sums that can be saved when they eat thousands of noxious insects. “So now people are thinking differently in several places. That it was stupid to exterminate them. Bats are protected by law and the Natterer's bat is on the Red List of Threatened Species. We have lots of them, which is a really great feeling.”
There are 1,250 bat species in the world, whereas there are only 19 in Sweden and six species in Taberg during the winter. The mine receives 5,000 visitors every year from the beginning of May until mid-October. Hans tips us off that one has the best chance of seeing bats fly around in the mine at the beginning and end of the season. In the middle of summer they usually move out from the mine and settle in building walls and attics. There are more than 10 guides involved in the Taberg Mine, and all have to answer a great many questions. “Many people have strange ideas about bats, which we try to change. They believe that they attack people, bite and are dangerous, when they really are harmless and beneficial.
The Mountain Lady
The mountain is made up of the heavy type of rock known as titanomagnetite-olivinite (try quickly saying that three times in a row!), which is heavier than gneiss and granite. Mining of the ore in Taberg began during the 15th century, and that was when the Mountain Lady moved into the mountain. “All mines and caves have a mountain lady keeping watch. Ours is in the habit of playing for us inside the mine chambers.”
During the 18th century the mountain supported many people in the vicinity. During World War II miners began destroying the mountain and creating passages. Every day a train loaded with material from the mountain departed for Germany. Previously the mountain was used as a factory site, and two craters were blasted into the sides of the summit to excavate useful and valuable material. This fell straight down the mountain, and at a later stage it was hauled out already crushed. “This was very clever, but of course it was not without risk. A number of accidents occurred.”
After the end of the 1950s everything was quiet at the mountain and mine. But in the 1970s there was a movement to grind down everything to exploit deposits of vanadinite, which is a valuable mineral, and use the residue to build up a new Taberg alongside the cavity. But the oil crisis saved Taberg because it made the cost of devastation too high, so the mountain was allowed to remain. And what a lucky thing that was!
The Association of Taberg Mine Guides, which conducts guided tours in the mine, was founded in 2007, and its activities have only increased since that time. “One of our projects was our geology room with types of rock from the area and photographs from the mine passages that are closed to the public. Another is as our museum, which is Sweden’s first bat museum. “Now we have also begun counting the bats by photographing them when they fly out and into the mountain. That is one thing that puts us on the map, but there’s also the mountain’s geology, wildlife and culture. There is a lot here.”
About 30 people are allowed to accompany the guides down in the mine on the public tours, but Hans promises that all visitors will get into the mine. “One day in July during our peak season, there happened to be 100 people standing here, so that evening there were three groups taking the tour.”