Cornwall: The Eden Project

Cornwall, in the far south-west of England, is a stunningly beautiful area with a character all its own. Along the coastline, cliffs and caves, once the haunt of pirates and smugglers, are interspersed with long stretches of golden sand where surfers ride the waves that come rolling in off the Atlantic ocean. Inland, the countryside is richly verdant, dotted with quaint little villages, each with its own pub selling the local cider (a potent brew that has been the downfall of many an unwary tourist!) a bakery selling its own version of the famous pasty, and a tea room serving scones piled high with jam and clotted cream. The weather is the best in the UK, with long hot summers….

From the dust a seed may grow

One of the main industries in Cornwall is the extraction of china clay, a rare and precious mineral used in the production of fine porcelain. Since its discovery in the area in the eighteenth century it has been mined intensively, leaving a legacy of worked-out quarries as ugly scars on the landscape. In 1995, one of these sites became the location for the Eden Project. This ambitious scheme aimed to create an educational facility that would demonstrate man’s interaction with the world’s ecology, and be as environmentally responsible as possible. It sounds dry and perhaps dull; the final result is anything but! When it was completed in 2005 it was quite rightly hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. It is a stunning place.

The world in a bubble….

Enormous “bubbles” (they look like glass, but in fact they are a type of plastic) seem to float across the landscape. These form two “biomes”, each with a distinct climate. The largest area (fifty metres high) represents the rainforest. Plants here are from South America, West Africa and Malaysia. Walking between banks of lush vegetation with its constant drip, drip of water, beneath mahogany and banana trees that tower above your head, you hear birds singing in the branches and the rush and roar of the great waterfall in the distance. There is the flutter of exotic butterflies, the scurry of lizards; the pulsating croak of tree frogs. Here and there are little human touches – the suggestion of a village, with washing hung out on a line, a campfire.

A Noah’s Ark of the plant world

In the Mediterranean area, the atmosphere is much drier. Here, as you’d expect, the air is fragrant with the scents of oregano and thyme, and there are olive and citrus trees and grape vines. Terracotta pots of geraniums flower beside whitewashed walls, evoking every holiday you’ve ever had in Greece or Italy, but there is also tobacco and cotton, and rock tumbles with cacti growing through them, for plants here are from south-western America, South Africa and Chile as well.

I cannot help but think of Noah’s Ark as I walk through this magical place. It seems as if the British have hoarded one of every type of plant into the bubbles of love, a manner in which to start again lest the world should end. Do yourself a favor and escape back to nature in this wonderful man-made world…….



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