Moments of terror and magic marked the achievement of another bucket list dream - and the end of 2022.
Visiting a Cornish tin mine has been on my bucket list for a few years now. I was inspired by artist John Scott Martin waxing lyrical about how colourful they are. I had been down a couple of coal mines that were interesting, but colourful? I had never considered that a mine might be anything but dark. I was intrigued.
There was no time to visit a mine as I walked the South West Coast Path in 2020, but every time an engine house loomed out of the mist, it reminded me of my unfulfilled dream.
When friends suggested that we join them on Cornwall Underground's mine exploration day, my excitement was palpable. Here was a chance to fulfil that dream!
On a dreary, drizzly day close to year's end (and Land's End), we sheltered from the Atlantic wind as we changed into our caving overalls and headed underground.
It was not long before the first moment of terror. The vertical mineshaft dropped into the depths below. A plank was balanced across two struts, with a very narrow ledge beyond. That was our route forward.
I didn't carry a camera. Luckily, Josephine did. That's my leg quivering in the background!
In Live Your Bucket List, I talk about overcoming your fears using logic, learning or practice. I took a few deep breaths and applied logic. If this plank was on the ground, I could easily walk along it without falling. And if the worst was to happen, the harness and safety rope would come into play. I might suffer a few bruises, but nothing more serious than that. A bit of positive self-talk - 'Julia, you've got this' - and I was on my way.
Later, as we traversed a via ferrata in diagonal switchbacks up a mined seam, I was at the back of the group and lost sight of the person in front. I could see the others above me, but could not see the route to reach them. I fought back a wave of panic and called to Matt, the qualified Mine Leader in charge. 'It's OK, Julia, there's only one way - just follow the safety rope. We're stopping to regroup in just a moment.'
The mine we visited in the afternoon was very different. For a start, we had to be lowered in. We exited the same way, which meant we had to climb. I watched Matt do an impressive imitation of Spider-Man as he showed us the hand- and footholds to aim for. When it was my turn to start climbing, my heart was thumping. This time, it was embarrassment and failure I was afraid of. Unhelpful thoughts crowded my mind.
What if I can't reach the handholds? What if I freeze on the rock face? What if I just can't make it - how will they get me out?
The only thing to do was drown out those thoughts with other, louder and more helpful, ones.
What can I reach? If I put my foot there, will it hold? How on earth do I push up with my legs at this angle? If I use the rockface behind me, will that help?
Hold by hold, shimmy by shimmy, I rose, talking out loud all the way.
The mines were as colourful and magical as I had hoped. Coppery deposits oozed from the rocks, dark green and shiny - and sometimes pastel green and soft as toothpaste. Something as black as squid ink coated some walls, contrasting with white guano-like stains. Shards of dainty gypsum crystals thrust from the hard granite, and drops of water glinted like diamonds in the light from our head torches.
Matt taught us about the history of the mines and helped us understand something of the experience of the miners who worked them. Josephine's enthusiasm for the minerals we were seeing and her knowledge of the geological processes at play were boundless.
The experience was wonderful - and made all the more so for the challenges it involved. I am starting the new year with a heart full of wonder - and the knowledge that I can overcome fear when I need to.
What are you going to do to stretch yourself this year? What fears will you need to overcome to achieve your dreams? Please let me know in the comments below.
Live Your Bucket List details a step-by-step approach you can take to ignite your dreams, face your fears and lead an extraordinary life. Start now - order yours today, wherever you usually buy your books from. Available as an ebook, paperback or audiobook.
Josephine's photographs are usually taken above ground. Check out her photography and books about Dartmoor and its geology here.
Trying to not look scared. Did it work?!