When the idea for the Eden Project was first conceived I was in my late teens, still living at home in Devon, and from the publicity behind it, the features on the news the pictures in the local papers it was clear that this was the most exciting thing to happen south of the Tamar since they invented the pasty. And we’d talk about plans to go and have a look once it was opened, but by the time the last plant was in the ground and Eden opened to visitors I was finishing university, leaving home, starting work a world and a few hundred miles away in London.
Mum and Dad went, my sister went, various members of the extended family visiting on holiday were taken down for a day trip but we never made it. It was high time for that to change. And to be honest having seen so much coverage from when it was new, with exposed clay walls and everything shiny new I was interested to see how it had changed 10 and a bit years on as well as excited to see how it felt as well as looked.
And the answer is that it’s deceptive. You can’t see Eden from the outside, it is well and truly hidden away, instead you drive down the winding approach, park the car, catch the park and ride bus, all in faith that there really is something more than a big empty clay pit at the end of it. Even when you get to the entrance you can only see a sliver of biome behind the buildings and it’s not until you go through and stand high up on the cliff edge that you get that first breathtaking view, with the terraces falling away below you and the sun shimmering off the biomes. It is quite amazing. And also smaller than I expected.
I thought it would feel absolutely huge, the biomes way away in the distance, but to be honest the first impression I had was that it was cosy. I remember the pictures of the giant trucks driving around in the bottom of the pit as it reached the end of its working life, looking like little matchbox toys against the vastness of the empty pit, but the foliage has flourished, the trees and bushes and hedges grown, and like a house that seems to have massive rooms until you move in and put all your furniture into the corners, the foliage has filled in the gaps and covered the pit with a thick quilt of green, bringing all the edges nearer.
And it makes that cosy feeling deceptive. From the top everything looks and feels nearer and smaller than it actually is. Even the biomes seem big but not that big, because you’re just seeing a side of them and not the curve up and away over the top. And it was only when we got to the Humid Tropics Biome that we could actually get a feel for how big it truly is. It is enormous. And the answer comes not so much in your noticing the enormity of it than the fact that you don’t notice it. When you first go in it’s all about the biome. For starters the temperature just shot up and you can see the ‘bubble wrap’ on the outside and the hexagons going up up and away and that’s what you look at. But then the plants take over, you spot bananas, and a stream and a little house and notice the birds the the insects and the amazing beautiful flowers and you find you’ve forgotten that you’re basically in a giant greenhouse.
It’s that that I think makes Eden so special, and sets it apart from the big glasshouses at Kew and Edinburgh, there you never forget that you’re in a glasshouse, but at Eden the biome becomes background and you’re just in a rainforest. A really hot rainforest. The heat is deceptive; when we first went in I thought it was warm but rather nice and then as we climbed it got hotter and hotter and hotter and I think it says everything that they have a cool room at the top in case the heat has got to you, and we took the children in there for a few minutes, especially Kitty who was really starting to feel the heat.
But it’s worth the climb, there’s a walkway out above the treetops at the very hot and you can see down the whole length of the forest, and get a sense of how big it really is. We climbed up to the waterfall, and rather enjoyed standing in the spray for a little while before wandering down, past the section on tropical agriculture which I loved, I had no idea what a cashew tree looked like, or a baobab, and having seen the latter makes it all the more impressive that someone once looked at it and thought “I bet that tastes nice!”.
H took the girls on ahead as by this point the heat was becoming too much for them and Pip, Dad and I next met up with them in the ice cream queue. I can forgive the excellent marketing by Eden in putting it right by the exit because it was completely delicious. I think between five of us we tried most of the flavours and there wasn’t one that we didn’t like, and the coconut and baobab was awesome.
The Mediterranean biome is smaller and whilst lovely it does have less of a wow factor than the rainforest, in part I think because having travelled in Spain, Italy and Greece it feels more familiar. It was also a little overrun with school groups at the time, and teenagers aren’t exactly known for being spacially aware of people smaller then themselves so we beat a hasty retreat before the girls got trampled again.
And while Dad went off to explore at a slightly faster pace than tiny feet can manage we headed down to the soft play in the Core to give the girls and Pip a little out breath and a chance to romp around at their own pace. With three children in tow we knew that we were never going to get to see all of Eden in one visit and so after we finished exploring the Core (and some great hands on machinery to turn!) we went to find the barefoot path. The girls love having “muddy feet”, they’re forever taking off their shoes and would always rather be barefoot, it’s the one personality trait that I can be absolutely certain comes straight from me. Unsurprisingly it was a massive hit; I lost count of how many times we walked it.
The day rattled away and suddenly it was time to head home, time to cross the Tamar again and go in search of a really great fish and chip supper.
But that’s not quite all from our Cornwall holiday; just for fun, I made a little film:
You can read all about the adventures at the start of the film in my Postcard from Pentire and Postcard from Fistral Beach