Visiting Cornwall in the UK: The Eden Project

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Tim Smit - visionary.

The Eden Project at Bodelva near St. Austell in Cornwall came into being because of the creative vision of one man. His name is Sir Tim Smit KBE (Knight of the British Empire) and it was his radical idea to create a living microcosm of endangered habitats that have become the now world-famous Eden Project.

He was awarded a knighthood in 2011 in recognition of his work at the Eden Project and the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Concerned about the rate of rainforest destruction Tim and his team decided to relocate a small section of the forest to an abandoned china clay pit in Cornwall in the UK. Here he hoped people would experience the magic of the rainforest for themselves and be inspired to help preserve this threatened world.

But first they had to provide the right conditions in which a transplanted forest could not just survive but actually thrive.

Looking up through the foliage in the Tropical biome
Looking up through the foliage in the Tropical biome | Source
A trading ship ... in the Tropical biome. My camera was beginning to steam up with the humidity. Great on a cold day ...
A trading ship ... in the Tropical biome. My camera was beginning to steam up with the humidity. Great on a cold day ... | Source
A Malaysian homestead in the Tropical biome.
A Malaysian homestead in the Tropical biome. | Source
A waterfall tumbles down through the jungle.
A waterfall tumbles down through the jungle. | Source
The walkway high up in the biome for looking down on the forest canopy. Not recommended if you have vertigo.
The walkway high up in the biome for looking down on the forest canopy. Not recommended if you have vertigo. | Source
A hot air balloon trapped in the forest far below.
A hot air balloon trapped in the forest far below. | Source
The serious message ...
The serious message ... | Source

Science fiction comes to Cornwall.

The space age solution to this problem was the Biomes, revolutionary bubbles that look like some sort of off-planet city from science fiction.

Sitting on the quarry floor like gigantic bubble-wrap, the Biomes took two and a half years to build before they could provide a safe environment for plants from both a tropical climate and a temperate one, which is flora usually more at home in a hot, dry Mediterranean climate.

Together these Biomes provide the optimum conditions for the plants from these two extremes of habitat, the wet and the dry, to flourish, all tended with constant and enthusiastic care by the Project's energetic gardening team.

The love and further preservation of all sorts of plants is the overwhelming theme of the Eden Project and indigenous plants are catered for in the gardens outside the Biomes.

This ‘outside’ garden, with its many 'rooms' of plants, both edible and decorative, is also full of large and surprising sculptures and secret places to sit and dream.

The Tropical Biome.

The most noticeable aspect on entering the Tropical Biome is the extreme warmth and dampness which exactly replicates the humidity of the rainforest.

Luxuriant vegetation ticks with dripping water as the path meanders between lush foliage heavy with exotic blooms and giant trees that tower overhead.

Now and then the forest gives way to a small clearing in which stand the transplanted homes of the rainforest inhabitants who appear to have just stepped out for a minute leaving colourful clothes drying on their washing lines.

Waterfalls come crashing down from the high 'mountain' sides of the quarry and plunge into half-hidden jungle pools crammed with water lilies.

In such a setting it is very easy to forget that you live on a small, damp island with a famously cool maritime climate rather than the steamy warmth of the Amazon rainforest.

Only the schoolchildren chattering by to fulfil their latest school project or the bizarre sight of blackbirds and sparrows flitting through the banana trees and coconut palms remind you where you really are.

For those who do not suffer from vertigo, a nervous disposition or an over-active imagination there is a suspended walkway leading to a viewing platform high in the roof of this Biome.

This platform affords a view of much of the tree canopy from above as well as the bizarre sight of a fully-inflated hot air balloon which appears to have come down in the 'largest rainforest in captivity'.

The Mediterranean Biome.

The Mediterranean Biome houses plants from the hot, dry regions of the world and as you wander between the twisted trunks of ancient olive trees and giant, spiky aloes or wonder at the strange spongy bark of the cork trees, it is very easy to lose yourself in the region.

There is much to experience here, from the taste of wine in a typical flower-decked Mediterranean courtyard to the different scents of the many herbs that flourish in such heat.

It is an easy, comfortable climate that has attracted man from the beginning of settled civilisation, as evidenced by the small, stone, beehive-shaped ox-stables that also sheltered shepherds from the Bronze Age right up to the 1700's.

Art amongst the planting.

The Mediterranean Biome continually plays upon the world of the senses with its wafting scents and offered tastes. This may well be very familiar to those of us who take our holidays in such a delightful climate but, as is usual with the Eden Project, there is a difference.

To complete the sensory experience with a visual delight the visitor becomes aware that, standing amidst the luxuriant vines, the olive groves and the vivid colours of the flowers, are the award winning sculptures of artist Tim Shaw.

Depicting a full-scale Bacchanalian revel, these vibrant and startling figures dancing wildly around Dionysus in his guise as a rearing bull, are Tim's tribute to the vine, the wine it produces … and the effects of that wine.

This Biome, in homage to both the plants of the Mediterranean and culture in general, has been laid out as a natural theatre to celebrate music, storytelling, sculpture, photography and dance and as such it supports a wide range of artists and makers, from the purely local to the famously international.

Here, in this celebration of all things artistic, local writers have left a trail of words that can be followed, evocatively describing this habitat as you wander along its pathways.

An ancient, gnarled olive tree in the Mediterranean Biome.
An ancient, gnarled olive tree in the Mediterranean Biome. | Source
A Provencal 'borrie' or shepherds shelter ... a style of building that dates back to the Bronze Age.
A Provencal 'borrie' or shepherds shelter ... a style of building that dates back to the Bronze Age. | Source
Dionysys and his acolytes ...
Dionysys and his acolytes ... | Source
Poetry from a local writer.
Poetry from a local writer. | Source

The not-so-hidden message.

Reassuring as it is to enjoy the rainforest without the danger of snakes, insects and predatory big cats there is no doubting the message behind this ambitious enterprise.

The Eden Project is a place of fun with the hard-core mission to remind us of the unpalatable truth that the rainforest, the lungs of the earth, is under desperate threat.

As an educational charity, The Eden Project informs and teaches about conservation, sustainability and regeneration.

But it is also a place of hope and inspiration and, significantly, it teaches us just how powerful the wallet is as a weapon for change.

A shop with a difference.

As you might expect the shop at the Eden Project sells only ethical, sustainable or recycled objects.

This results in an eclectic mix ranging from surprisingly beautiful shopping bags made from bottle tops to den-making kits for kids and seed bombs for guerrilla gardeners.

The beauty of the items for sale is that you can feel good about buying them, they are not wasteful of resources and many of them actually help others.

Buying a brightly coloured necklace of Tagua nuts for instance actually helps towards supporting the 35,000 indigenous peoples who harvest the nuts.

Even the food takes responsibility.

The café is run on the lines of a canteen. You pick up a wooden trencher board, choose your locally sourced, organic, seasonal, fairly traded (well, what else?) bruschetta/bowl of soup/stew etc.etc and sit communally at a long wooden table.

When you have finished you go to the till and tell them what you have had and pay for it. It is quite simply taken on trust that you will be honest and pay for what you have eaten.

Such trust is strangely humbling and the staff say the system seems to work very well indeed.

How to learn about ecology without really trying

On the very simplest level the Eden Project is an interesting venue for a day out. Learning here is by a process of osmosis and is inevitable.

It is impossible not to learn things about our amazing planet and its plant life and marvel at what it is possible to do with plants which shouldn't really live in a British climate.

But, like an onion, there are many layers to this remarkable place.

Beyond the food, the art, the music, the shop, the 'making' workshops Eden's all-important educational aspect can offer still more.

Here it is possible to take a foundation course in sustainability and improving the carbon footprint of business, study for a certificate in Practical Horticulture or take a Masters Degree in Environmental Adaptation and Sustainable Engineering.

But Eden is not just a place for learning.

There is always something lively going on at the Eden Project. All year long the seasons and their customary festivals inspire entertainments of many kinds.

At Halloween there are evening lantern parades when local school children and artists collaborate to create elaborate and complex sculptures out of paper and wire which they light from inside with tealights.

And for most of the winter the bare trees are decorated with little blue lights, the small lake in the garden is frozen and covered with a marquee and ice skates are hired out so that we can all ice skate in comfort.

In Spring the outside gardens are ablaze with the jewel-like colours of flowering bulbs.

There is little doubt the Eden Project really has the honest remit of putting the environment first but it does this realistically, without ignoring the social needs of its visitors. No wonder it is called Eden, never has a place deserved it more.

As I have hardly scratched the surface of the Eden Project and its ever-changing cycle of events you can find more information on this link

Finding Eden on the planet ...

A markerEden Project, Bodelva, St Austell, Cornwall, UK -
Bodelva, Eden Project (E-bound), Par, Cornwall PL24, UK
[get directions]

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Comments 21 comments

Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

An informative and very enjoyable hub. Your pictures are great too, especially those inside the tropical biome - they look like they were taken in a real rainforest. The Eden Project is a fantastic place for an educational and enjoyable day out.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Bless you, Imogen for taking the time to stop by and comment.

As we are local we have a £5 entry pass to Eden for the year. You can't begin to believe how privileged we feel ...

Thanks for the compliment about the photos, my camera is not the best so I am relieved you found them intelligible.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Hi Angie - great photos, love the Eden Project, visited a number of times and thoroughly recommend to those who haven't had the chance.


Free2seethemoon profile image

Free2seethemoon 4 years ago from Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

Awesome hub, I hope to see more projects like this soon. Hmmm, now there's an idea....Voted up!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Yes, this is a marvellous place and you have written about it very well. I wish it were nearer so I could see it, but with petrol (gas) costing more than whisky now (so it seems) I won't afford it. I hadn't seen any press on the place for a while, good that you gave it some...Bob


writeronline 4 years ago

I really enjoyed this Angie, thanks for posting it. I'm also better educated than I was a few moments ago. I'd never heard of The Eden Project, but thanks to your relaxed and involving walk-through, incl the pics, I now feel like I've been there. What an amazing place it is!

It's easy to be cynical (TBH, I think it's *wise* to be cynical), but the Eden Project cafe honesty system isn't the only example of how in general, people are inclined to do the right thing at a personal level 'even when no-one's watching'. Pity we can't say the same thing about corporations and governments, else that statistic in your pic about an area the size of the Eden Project disappearing every 10 seconds, might not apply.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Wow, wonderful comments ... thank you all for reading and especially for letting me know your thoughts on Eden.

@Judi - Eden is never static ... I was amazed at the changes when I went. It had been at least 6 years since I was last there and there was even more to see. Tim Smit is an exceptional man ... and it would appear that he only employs exceptional people to work with him. That is so edifying ...

@Free2seethemoon - thank you so much for the vote up ... I always treasure those. I am lucky I only live a few miles from the Eden Project so this was an easy hub to write.

@Diogenes - hiya Bob ... perhaps if you could convert your car to run on whisky? No, there are better uses for it. Thanks for your kind comment ... and yes, Eden did merit some publicity. It is a wonderland even in winter when they freeze the lake and put a roof on it so we can ice skate.

@WOL - thanks for pitching up to talk to me. The pics aren't the best - if I can ever afford a good camera I will replace them but they do give a flavour of Eden.

I prefer to try not to be cynical. As I see it cynics miss too much in life whilst they look for the catch to everything. I like to think of it as 'being aware' that there may be a catch ... it's not exactly being naive but I guess it is a fine distinction that exists only in my mind ... lol.

The cafe was a revelation ... it restored my faith in human nature. Perhaps there is a good person inside all of us who does step up to the bar when given the chance. Perhaps we can all be heroes ... hmm, perhaps I am getting a bit carried away :)


writeronline 4 years ago

Angie, I'm actually more like you, re 'cynical' v 'aware'. The example I think of about being honest even when no-one's looking, is the old-fashioned practice which continues today (admittedly in rural settings)of farmers etc selling vegetables, flowers, honey etc from an unattended stand by their letterbox, often invisible from the house. Just a price board, a container for the money, and the belief that people are inherently good.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Yes, WOL! I had forgotten about that ... despite buying my free range eggs and whatever else takes my fancy in the produce line from such a stall in the next village. It's a practise that appeals to my romantic nature as I like to think that it harks back to the 'good old days'.


MP50 4 years ago

This Hub is awesome Angie Jardine, I have visited Cornwall many times in my life, unfortunatly before the Eden project had been created.

Will add the Eden project to my list of must see places before I die. Hope to get there, voted useful, interesting and up.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi MP50 ... thanks for pitching up here and leaving such a kind comment.

Yes, you must add the Eden Project to your bucket list. I love GB and have visited many things in many places but I can truly say that I ain't seen nothing like this before ...

The beauty of it is I can schlep there any time, it's on my doorstep and us locals can get a yearly pass for only £5.


Matthew Kirk profile image

Matthew Kirk 4 years ago from Liverpool

I'm coming to Cornwall this summer then!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hiya Matthew - absolutely sure you'd love it.

You could do a Ray Mears and camp out in the tropical biome :)

Thanks for taking the time to pitch up and comment ...


cat66 4 years ago

what are the different habitats


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

The different habitats are the tropical zone … with all the plants that need constantly hot, damp conditions and the temperate zone which has hot, dry conditions. The plants (and wildlife) are very different for these two areas of the world.

The big biome in the centre (see top photo) is the ‘link’ biome that separates the two very different habitats. This is the human biome where the humans can be fed (the cafe) and also indulge their now-natural behaviour of shopping. :)


Lol 4 years ago

The eden project was amazzing but i thought i was going to die because it was so hot in there the only bit i did not go on was the platform at the top


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Ah well, you missed a treat there, Lol … but you do need a head for heights.

So glad you enjoyed it but you are right the humidity in the tropical biome is really something isn’t it? I don’t think I could live in the tropics ...


lemonkerdz profile image

lemonkerdz 3 years ago from TRUJILLO, PERU

Great Hub, i´m heading back to the UK this summer if there is a summer and i was thinking of what to do and places to go to. My brother went to the Eden project some years ago and raved about it.

This is on my "To visit list", thanks for the useful info.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi lemonkerdz (cool name) … thanks for the kind comment.

So glad the Eden Project is on your 'to do’ list - it is well worth a visit and surely we must have a summer this year (fingers crossed) - last year was such a wash out.

There are just so many places in Cornwall that you really must try and see whilst you are here. Charlestown is not far away and has tall (sailing) ships there in its harbour. Plus there is Port Isaac and Fowey and oh, just so many quaint places. Enjoy!


lemonkerdz profile image

lemonkerdz 3 years ago from TRUJILLO, PERU

Thanks Angie for your sugestions. We are from yorkshire and really would like to discover more of the south side of the country.

love the idea of the sailing ships. Wherever we go we always end up taking walks down to the ports to look at boats. plus Eden of course


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Good grief! You live in Cusco and are from Yorkshire?

I am from Yorkshire and I live in Cornwall … we seem to get everywhere, don’t we? Some of us to places more exotic than others :)

You may have trouble choosing what to visit in Cornwall - there is an awful lot to see. So - good luck with that then :)

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