There are some things that humans have made in the name of science that are just amazing. One example is Biosphere 2 for climate change and space research in Arizona. Another is the Eden Project in Cornwall, England.
The Eden Project arose out of an idea from 1996. At a site in St Blazey, Cornwall, there was a clay pit that had been used for 160 but was no longer functioning. An innovative idea to transform the pit was put forward to transform the pit into a botanical garden. Not only that, the organisation would construct two biomes – one to house a rainforest and one for the Mediterranean biome. Five years later in 2001, the Eden Project was fully open to visitors.
What makes the Eden Project special?
In addition to the reclaimed land, the Eden project has a couple of claims to fame:
- The rainforest biome has the largest indoor rainforest in the world. It hosts plants from rainforests around the world in groups: South American, African, and Southeast Asian.
- It has the second-largest redwood forest in Europe.
- Geothermal energy powers the entire facility. Additionally, it supplies power to over 5000 homes in the region.
- Eden Project hosts Cornish and international culture events (e.g. the World Pasty Championships) to promote local culture and eco-awareness.
- Estimates put the contribution to the Cornish economy at over £1 billion.
- Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it hosted music concerts every summer (June/July). The line-up included many rock and pop icons: Ellie Goulding, Amy Winehouse, Muse and many others. The concerts are due to start again in 2022.
- It has the UK’s longest and fastest zip line.
Rather than having guided tours through the facility (which was possible before the pandemic), they developed an audio guide for your smartphone in cooperation with Candide. You can use the free WiFi to download the app and the audio guide, which will guide you as walk down into the old pit. It will tell you about the history, the idea behind the project and the work and research they perform.
For my grandmother’s Christmas present in 2021, I booked a trip to the Eden Project for mid-January 2022. We had amazing weather that was almost reminiscent of summer! It was quite a welcome surprise. The sun shone and we discarded our coats quickly in favour of light t-shirts.
You start by arriving in the parking lot (as you do in many places). You park in one of the lots named after fruit (e.g. Banana, Apple, Kiwi, Orange, etc.) and head to the visitors centre. It is free to park in the parking lots. You cannot park overnight.
Once you walk down to the visitor’s centre, which also has a café/restaurant and large shop, you show your pre-purchased ticket at the entrance and go through to the gardens. At the time ticket numbers were limited due to the pandemic. Now that the UK no longer has coronavirus restrictions, this may have changed.
The audio tour starts at the visitor’s centre. There are 10 points where you stop to listen to the next track as you descend into the large pit which holds the Eden Project. Listening to the history, information about constructing the park and biomes (which were the largest free-standing biomes in the world at the time) and gardening information breaks up the journey down. You also see amazing views of the entire complex. Even though you start a height above the domes, they are still impressive and imposing, taking up a lot of space.
As you wind down to the bottom of the pit, you are surrounded by various plants and information. During a trip in January, there are not nearly as many outdoor plants in their full glory as they would be in spring or summer. Subsequently there are also fewer people. Just because the plants are now flowering though does not mean there aren’t any. Many stay green during the winter in this climate too.
We made a beeline for the biomes. The biomes consist of several domes joined together. You can see more about the construction of the biomes here:
The biomes have a walkway between them, which has food and shops. We went past these and directly into the larger of the two biomes on the left: the rainforest.
I am not sure that words do justice to describe walking into the rainforest. You start on the lower level, which has winding paths. They lead you along a trail that takes you to the various types of rainforests and the plants that are there. There are over 1,000 species of plants in the biome and not all of them are plants. These birds happily scratch through the undergrowth in search of food:
The Eden Project not only focuses on plants and animals, but it also tells about humanity’s connection with the rainforest and the various cultures that have symbiotic relationships. You can find examples of Amazonian, African and Asian connections with the rainforests through signs, artwork and installations.
The trail eventually leads you to the second level of the biome, which is where the magic happens. For those who are disabled and unable to climb any steps, there is an alternative path that takes you back to the entrance. For anyone who can walk down a few stairs, the canopy walk is worth it.
The Rainforest Canopy Walk
The canopy walk consists of platforms, a hard walk and some bouncy bridges (optional). This is where you can see a lot of the features of the biome. Thre is a river that runs through the biome and this level takes you to the waterfall that keeps everything alive. There is also a mist bridge that you can walk through. Along the entire walk, you will more information, artwork and amazing views. Here are some examples:
A quick stop for lunch
My grandmother is not as mobile as she used to be. After the rainforest biome, she needed a bit of a break, so we decided to have lunch. There are many lunch options, but we liked the sound of the pizzas that were on offer, so we had one each:
The Mediterranean Biome
Unfortunately when I went there, they were re-doing most of the Mediterranean biome. While it was still somewhat presentable, it was not nearly as impressive as the rainforest biome. The biome is smaller and – true to the Mediterranean biome – the plant coverage is much less. There were many fruit trees, especially citrus, and nuts as well as olives and other foods you associate with Mediterranean cuisine. The Mediterranean biome was not defined as belonging to the Mediterranean sea – rather it was defined as areas that are similar to the Mediterranean climate, including South Africa, Western Australia and California.
There are also some modern art installations in the biome as well. Depending on your feelings toward modern art, you may enjoy them or they may detract from the experience.
Visiting the Eden Project
To visit the Eden Project, you need to book tickets in advance. Tickets currently (May 2022) costs £32.50 for adults at standard rates and £37.50 during peak days for an adult. There are also discounted tickets for students and children (age 0-4 is free). While this sounds expensive, it gives you a one-year pass to visit the complex. Once you have bought the ticket, you are now a member.
To visit again within 365 days of your first visit, you need to go back to the website and get a special “member ticket” for £0. You need to select the day/time you want to visit. This is to control visitor numbers so the park is not overcrowded.
Eden Project is open for entry from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and closes for the day at 6 p.m.
Here are some more photos from around the Eden Project:
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