It was raining and distinctly cool. The paths would be wet and slippery; the views veiled by mist. Walking was off the agenda. We opted instead for a local attraction which offered at least some shelter and some more attractive temperatures: we had a day at the Eden Project.
The Eden Project opened in 2001, so it’s now 15 years old. Built in a disused claypit, it is the brainchild of dutch-born businessman Tim Smit, who together with his family was responsible for the restoration of The Lost Gardens of Heligan – somewhere else I’m really keen to see but not on a wet day like this one.
At the centre of the Eden Project are two vast structures housing biomes: collections of plants that have common characteristics because they share climate requirements. Eden has a rainforest and a Mediterranean biome.
Often I think I have no expectations until my expectations aren’t met: only then do I realise I was expecting something in the first place and that I haven’t got it. And that was the case with Eden. There was huge media coverage when the attraction opened but I’ve never felt pulled towards visiting. We went today because it’s so close to us and well – there should be better weather conditions inside the biomes than we’ve been experiencing here in Cornwall thus far this month.
What was I expecting? Animals. And birds. And maybe insects. This was foolish of me since the total focus of the project is on flora and not fauna. There are some birds in the rainforest biome. We only managed to spot a few roul-roul partridges, which were suitably exotic, just not quite enough.
I expected the rainforest to be hotter and more humid. The website suggests the rainforest dome ranges in temperature between 18 and 35 degrees. It was most definitely a great deal closer to 18 than 35. Perhaps our great English summer outside wasn’t helping. Can it really be that cool in a rainforest?
And I expected more flowers and bright colours, although again, once I’d stopped to think about a rainforest I recalled that under the canopy there is little light and relatively little colour. There was a lot of green. But there were fruits and flowers too. And when we visit again I shall be more prepared and know what to expect, which will make me more appreciative.
There are walkways which take you around at various levels. We reached the beginning of the stairs for the highest platform – literally just under the roof of the dome – just as it closed for staff breaks. I was quietly relieved. I suspect I would have chickened out anyway.
The Mediterranean biome was more familiar to me: covering, as you might expect, the Mediterranean regions and also South Africa and a swathe across America. There were more flowers here, and a lovely visual ‘talk’ about Bacchus and wine-making from a talented lady who gathered quite an audience for her performance.
Having thought about it, I think what was missing for me were sounds. These biomes needed a backdrop of natural sound, especially the rainforest. The tramping of many human feet, the hum of human conversation and the clicking of cameras didn’t add much to the experience. A howler monkey would have helped put me in the zone. To introduce a soundtrack might perhaps veer too far from the ethos and aims of the project, but it would have enhanced the experience for me.
Despite the rain we did cover more or less all of the grounds outside. I was keen to view the Cornish habitats; I hoped for some inspiration for the parts of our garden that we want to keep natural and local. And there was indeed inspiration. For some reason though, I took no photographs of it. Strange.
Perhaps my attention was taken by the weather…. And by Bernie’s impression of ‘Singing in the Rain’. This photograph will always make me smile. And remind me of a good day in good company when we refused to be cowed by the elements.
Eat your heart out, Gene Kelly!
As local residents, we got a fantastic deal for unlimited entry. Despite my apparent misgivings, I would definitely visit again. We also learned about the Eden Sessions: a summer of performances on the stage in the front of this photo.
While we were visiting, they were sound-testing for that evening’s show. (Which also didn’t help with the whole rainforest thing.) We were too late for this summer – missing the chance to catch Tom Jones! But next year, Eden, next year!