Starting with an idea: The Eden Project

The Eden Project has already reached mythic proportions. Conceived by a group of visionaries in the early ’90s, it has become, in 10 short years, a beacon of hope and inspiration around the world.

We travelled to The Eden Project by bus. If you arrive by public transit you get £4 off of the admission price. The bus drove through the small villages of Cornwall, into the middle of countryside, into the middle of an idea.

The Eden Project

“There’s no rule book for a successful future, so imagination, creativity and enterprise are needed to try to find new solutions” (from the Eden Project Guide).

The idea – “to create a place like nothing anyone had ever seen before; a place that explored human dependence on plants and the natural world; a place that demonstrated what could be done if people who wanted to make a difference got together.” Tim Smit

With funding from the Millennium Commission, and a variety of public and private sources, the Eden Project bought an old, steep sided clay pit, 60 metres deep, with no soil. They filled it with soil made from waste materials (seriously, they worked with Reading University to make soil from mine wastes, composted matter and worms), populated it with a huge diversity of plants (“the plants that changed the world”) and built structures and infrastructures that have resulted in an astonishing educational centre.

The Driftwood Horse by Heather Jansch

We were greeted by one of the most wonderful horse sculptures I have ever seen, made entirely from driftwood and capturing the grace and elegance that is the essence of a horse.

Once inside the grounds we worked our way through the zig zag path of the “Outside Biome, the one with the sky for the ceiling”.

Plants for a changing climate. An unusual succulent, living outside.

The plantings explore the crops used for food, fuel, medicine and materials. There is a whole section devoted to plants used in mythology. The project engages in “extreme gardening”, developing plants that will survive changing conditions, and, of particular importance for the Outside Biome, will develop strong roots to hold soil on slopes.

All of the displays combine stories with plants. Founder Tim Smits realized that “plants could be made far more interesting by weaving human stories around them, tales of adventure, emotion and derring-do” (from the Eden Project Guide). Everywhere we go there is information, stories and artwork.

The Weee Man by Paul Bonomini

The Weee Man is a giant sculpture created by Paul Bonomini made from all of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment that one person throws away in a lifetime. He weighs 3.3 tonnes.

There is an outside stage for performances. Bands from around the world play in huge outdoor concerts at Eden. In the winter it is converted into a magical ice rink.

The “Inside Biomes”, constructed in huge geodesic domes, are the Rainforest Biome and the Mediterranean Biome, each with its own climate, propagating and cultivating the plants from those regions.

Inside the Rainforest Biome it is heavy and hot. With an average temperature of 25° C and humidity of 90%, the signs warn us to make sure we have water with us and not to climb too high if we have a heart condition. The Biome is divided into regions: Tropical Islands, Malaysia, West Africa, and Tropical South Africa. There is information and displays on crops and cultivation as we pass by banana, rubber and coffee trees, spices and waterfalls. We’re introduced to “Architecture Sans Frontières”, a program that designs and builds shelters for people in disaster zones. It is overwhelmingly rich, dense and authentic.

We took a lunch break in “The Link” which joins the domes. The cafeteria-style café has a range of wonderful food made on site – earlier in the day we could watch people making the pizzas and bakery items at long wooden tables. Wooden slabs functioned as our plates/trays and we loaded them up with Greek salad and broccoli, leek and cheese torte. Signs told us to remember what we have taken to eat and to pay for it once we had finished. A trusting and gentle environment.

Plantings of colourful winter vegetables

The Mediterranean Biome is divided into the Mediterranean, South Africa and California. The air is cool and dry. We’re advised that the Biome doesn’t shield us from ultraviolet rays and that on sunny days we’ll need our sunscreen lotion. But it is autumn now, and I realized that the Biome is seasonal – we have not stepped into an artificial recreation of a hot Mediterranean day. Rather, it is autumn inside, as well as outside. This is not a recreation — it is a functioning environment.

A fish stew is cooking on the “outside” stoves. We see olive, lemon and orange trees, grape vines, a huge range of pepper plants. We smell sage and sweet scented plants used for perfumes.

Bacchus and the grape vines

There’s a great sculpture dedicated to a Bacchanalian feast. We don’t quite feel like joining in, but there are locally produced wines, should we feel like imbibing.

The “Core” is the education, arts and events hub, from which the project operates school programs. “It isn’t just a building. It’s a metaphor”. The building design is based on a sunflower and at its centre is a 75-ton Cornish granite sculpture of a seed that “plants a symbol of hope, to grow ideas for the 21st century”.

We finish our day at the visitor centre that sells Eden grown plants and a wide range of responsibly made items and foods.

Tim and I were overwhelmed by all of this. The design, the inspiration, the scale. Every detail has been clearly thought through. There are on-going projects and calls to action, but everything is done in a gentle and respectful manner, because there is an understanding that change can only happen through collaboration.  www.edenproject.com

Willow Dream Catcher

Bodmin Moor

Moors dominate the landscape of so many English novels. But it seemed like the only words ever used to convey this foreign setting were “desolate” and “windswept”. As a Canadian, this didn’t give me a lot to go on. So when Tim suggested that we head out to the Bodmin Moor (featured in Daphne Du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”), I hoped I could add few more adjectives to the description and be better able to understand this mythic setting.

Because we are travelling without a car, our choices are dictated by the schedules and routes of trains and coaches. The town of Minions is a little over a half hour away by local bus and as it is right on the edge of Bodmin Moor it was a good place to start our moor adventure.

The town of Minions

Minons sits 1000 feet up from the sea level, so the bus ride from Looe was steep and twisty. The town was prosperous in 1863 when Captain Jack Clymo discovered a vein of copper ore. Over 4000 people were employed in the mines. But todayall that remains of the industry are over 20 derelict mines, dotting the moors. The town consists of two shops and small group of cottage homes.

The bus driver let us off with the reminder that there is only one bus out of Minions, coming through 4 hours later. And not to miss it, unless we wanted to spend the night in the moors.

The minute that we walked into Bodmin Moor, I realized that the first and best word to describe a moor was no other than “desolate”. And with the wind whipping our faces so hard that our words were snatched before they were heard, it was definitely “windswept”. Startlingly cold, spongy underfoot, with small tufts of gorse, it is the first place I have been in England that is totally open and flat. Your eyes play tricks on you. It is impossible to tell how far away or large the landmarks are. A 2-foot high marker can look like a distant tower. A slight roll in the foreground persuades you it is the edge of a non-existent river valley. I felt a slight panic at the idea of getting lost, and watched constantly for any markers I could see.

The Bodmin Moor has been a huge source of granite throughout human history. These days, it is primarily used for grazing ponies, sheep and cattle. The high area where we were hiking is dominated by “tors” (rocky peaks) and “clitter” (granite strewn slopes) and an exciting layering of history, both geological and human.

As we walked into the moor, the first thing we saw were the “Hurlers”, 3 Bronze Age stone circles, with 35 m diameters, grouped together.

The Hurlers

Legend has it that men were turned to stone for playing “hurlers”, a Cornish game, on the Sabbath. A ghastly fate – I am not sure that even as a rock I would want to have to stand out on the Moor for eternity.

From the Hurlers, we walked up to the Cheesewring atop Stowe’s Hill. This precarious looking pile of rocks is a natural formation from erosion during the ice age. They are astonishing natural “sculptures” of the granite. They are an unnerving presence in the landscape.

The Cheesewring. Note Tim in foreground, left, for scale.

If a man dreams of a great pile of stones in a nightmare, he would dream of such a pile as the Cheesewring.” Wilkie Collins.

We decided that it was time to find somewhere a bit out of the wind to eat our picnic lunch, so we headed to one of the derelict 19thcentury mines, and managed to find a corner in which to eat.

Derelict mine

Of course there wasn’t much protection when the rain started. Although it was really just a light misting, we decided that we wanted nothing more than a cup of tea and headed back to Minions to warm up.

We had a little over an hour before the bus, so we wanted to try to see Trethevy Quoit, about a mile away. We have a good ordinanace map, but not everything is marked so we followed directions from the proprietor at the tea shop at Minions. We left Minions at a brisk clip, passing “Long Tom”  or Longstone, a medieval wayside cross by the side of the road, and headed along the country lanes.

Long Tom

We were determined to get to Trethevy Quoit, but knew that we had to get back to “Commonmoor”, just outside of Minions, to catch the bus. But we weren’t entirely sure where either Trethevy Quoit or Commonmoor were, and it was starting to rain. Panic began to set in as we ran. “Just one more corner. Just around this bend?” And suddenly, behind a couple of quite ordinary houses, was this huge 9-foot high stone structure.

Trethevy Quoit is a Neolithic portal burial chamber. Originally covered by a mound, it consists of 5 standing stones, topped by a massive (20 ton) capstone. One of the supporting stones has fallen into the chamber, and the capstone has since slide onto an angle, but it is remarkably in tact. It is thought that the Quoit was used as a burial mound or portal to the other world.

Trethevy Quoit

It was worth the run and the panic. And clearly the luck of the ancients was with us because we were late for the bus, but the bus was also, unusually, late and we caught it with 2 minutes to spare.

Back in Looe, we capped our day of Neolithic adventures by a night at the Jolly Sailor pub, just down the street from our cottage. The Jolly Sailor is Looe’s oldest pub and has been going since 1516. A group of locals assembled with guitars, penny whistles, accordions and mandolins to sing songs of love, protest, sea faring and adventure. Singing along, pint in hand, we felt a bit of Cornwall had definitely entered into our souls.

On Vacation in Cornwall

As odd as it sounds, we decided to take a vacation from our vacation. We booked a cottage in Looe, a fishing village on the Cornish coast. Tim’s mission on this trip is to do a lot of walking on the coastal path and Looe, directly on the path, was advertised as a picture perfect English fishing village.

We left London via Paddington Station early on Saturday morning. The main train took 3 hours to get us to Liskard where we changed to a branch route to go to Looe.

The one car train to Looe
Tim at the train station in Liskard

The train to Looe was a tiny one-car train that went through leafy green woods, right beside a flowing stream. After 5 minutes of going forward, the train stopped and the driver left the front engine, walked through the train, and started driving in the other direction. We thought at first that he was heading back to Liskard, but apparently he was just going onto another track from a siding. Within another 10 minutes we were in Looe.

Looe is actually comprised of two villages – East Looe and West Looe – each wrapping around the small harbour. They were connected in 1411 when an estuary bridge was built. The current bridge was built in 1853. East Looe is the main commercial village filled with shops. West Looe is quieter and is primarily filled with accommodations.

Our cottage in West Looe is up a quiet, narrow, twisty street. It is a small two-story structure attached to a row house, and we enter below ground level. It is very dark (the bathroom is the sunniest room in the house) and has virtually no views out of any windows. But it is cozy and clean and private. It has a well-appointed kitchen, which is really the best feature as we are planning on cooking a lot of fresh fish.

The harbor is around the corner and to get to the shops in East Looe we can either walk around the harbor (about 5 minutes) or take a “ferry” (one man in a motor boat) for 40p (1 minute trip).

Looking across to East Looe

One of my favourite things on the West Looe side of the harbor is a dedication to “Nelson”, a distinctive, “one-eyed” Grey Seal who was well known along the Cornish coast for over 25 years.

The statue of "Nelson" in the harbour in West Looe.

He eventually “settled” on the rocks in Looe and the “Grand Old Man of the Sea” was apparently fed by local fishermen, villagers and visitors and was a great favourite of all.

After settling into Horton Cottage, we were anxious to walk about and get a sense of the town and points beyond. It was a warm and sunny Saturday, the tide was out and the beach was filled with families and laughter.

We walked a mile along the eastern coastal path to get our bearings, marveling at the rock formations and the quiet.

Rocks along the shore. Tim is in the centre of the picture for scale.

We hadn’t realized how much we missed vistas and fresh air.

Back in the village, we watched children set up around the edge of the harbor catching crabs just for the fun of it. They lowered little bait packages down into the water and then reeled them up covered in small (3 inch) crabs, which they put into buckets of fresh seawater. Inevitably, some crabs got away, and the kids squealed as they tried to catch them on the dock. The competition was in the number of crabs caught in any one lift (“Look, Look! I’ve got 5!!!). They were all released 15 minutes later.

Beside the dock, the tide was coming back in and so were the boats, laden with fish – John Dory, mackerel, lemon sole, crabs, halibut – to unload at the commercial market beside the dock. Looks like it has been a good day. Gulls cried overhead as we strolled lazily back to Horton Cottage.

Looking out to the beach at Looe