Last year I had taken Nicola to visit the Eden Project for the first time, and the admission charge entitles you to a years worth of access on the same ticket. Well, we were determined to get our money’s worth so we made a point of fitting a visit in during this years trip. After all, I had paid a fair bit of heed to Britains industrial past, I suppose it's only fair to pay some attention to its green future.
The Eden Project is famous throughout England, and probably ought to be a little better known worldwide. It holds a dual appeal; you either go there to indulge your ecological awareness and feed your passion for horticulture, or, for me, appreciate it as an incredible piece of architecture and revel in the sense of scale.
Built in a former china clay pit near St Austell, Eden Project has been developing for over a decade, but is in a constant state of evolution.
I went to Kew Gardens as a kid, and found it boring. And the enormous greenhouses were too hot, sweaty and horrible. I hated it, and I like to think that this wasn’t caused by my pre-teen attention span being too limited. The displays were too regimented, we walked into the greenhouses in big queues, looked at plants, then other plants, all displayed in a line and all looking the bloody same, all the while getting hotter and hotter, and desperate for a coke and some crisps.
It’s the way I remember things being displayed that put me off, and also caused the irrational fear of garden centres that I’ve only recently conquered. Flowers were pretty enough, but they never seemed relevant to me. I’ve never owned a garden, either, though I hope to soon. So when I first heard of the Eden Project a decade ago, with its millions of plants to look at, I had a sudden attack of killer disinterest. It sounded like a place I would be dragged to, rather than taken to.
I remember perking up a fair bit even in the car park, before we got anywhere near the main site. This wasn’t a big square of land to park cars in, it was landscaped, had different levels and had a winding access road. It was, well, more interesting than a normal car park.
Then, as we began walking from the car, I noticed that the shelter we were walking beneath was a futuristic extruded aluminium and Perspex affair, a far cry from the boring wooden trellises of ornamental gardens everywhere. Cool; this place lives in the now, not the past. I felt relieved.
And soon, after queuing for only marginally too long, we entered the site proper and any lingering concern soon evaporated. The other side of the valley from where we stood was the alien looking Biosphere complex. If you’ve seen the terrible Bond film Die Another Day, you’ve seen it; It stood in as Gustav Graves Icelandic lair. It's made up of two huge, translucent geodesic domes, joined by a low level bridge and was built using all manner of extraordinarily advanced and expensive techniques.
Today I found that it still has as much impact on me as it did a decade ago. The Biospheres allow for climate controlled areas which recreate the living conditions for plants of various global regions. The left hand dome is the most impressive of the two, and is dedicated to hot, rainforest areas. But it’s not just full of plants all displayed and looking pretty.
It works hard to encourage environmentally conscious living, but does so in a way that never comes across as preachy or patronising.
The massive success here is in making it feel relevant. You follow a path through the biome, about half an hours walk, and it takes you through themed areas recreating the growing conditions of plants from around the world, often putting them in context to show what they are used for and why they’re so important. If this place existed twenty years ago I would probably have grown up a lot more knowledgeable about the plant world.
The temperature and humidity varies as you walk the path, and after half an hour you’re in need of refreshment, which you can obtain in the slightly chaotic restaurant before venturing into the second biome. This one is a little more formal, and feels emptier, but it’s somewhat less overbearing heat-wise, as it concentrates on the Mediterranean and temperate regions. Again, plant product is put into context in terms of what it’s used for.
And, in a separate building, it all becomes a lot more relevant. The Hub, another modernistic mass to the right of the biomes, houses a display focused on material awareness, and seeks to educate rather than preach. It goes into as much or as little detail as you want, but in one particular display it demonstrates which natural plant products can be used in place of plastics in car manufacture.
Sticking with the automotive theme, this week there was a display of electric vehicles, the electric Smart, Peugeot iOn (Who'd have thought it; another project with an lower case “i” prefixing its name. How very zeitgeist) and Nissan Leaf were there, as was a one-off electric Land Rover Defender, which was pretty cool. The problem is, and I’m not going to go into it here, I’m still not even vaguely convinced that the electric car is the future at all. Nicola even brought it up today, the fact that it’s not cutting pollution per se, just decentralizing it and requiring that our power stations have higher outputs.
All the way through my visit to the Eden Project, I was safe in the knowledge that I could burn hydrocarbons on my journey home. The Rover was waiting obediently in the car park, and this afternoon it would take us to Bay View Farm, a campsite on the cliffs facing Looe Island. AKA the the best campsite in the country.
Having reminded ourselves yesterday how much we loved Bay View Farm, we set off on foot today for a walk towards Seaton, a village nestling in the cliffs three miles east of Looe. I was quite looking forward to a nice little walk again, the St Ives walk on Sunday had been quite rewarding.
We should have looked at the Ordnance Survey map before we left the tent. The way the coast between us and our destination was drawn it was heavily decorated with tightly packed contour lines, indicating that the shortish walk would mean an awful lot of going up and down hills in a very short distance. A concentrated battle against the landscape.
A lot of the path was sheltered by dense woodland, which made for a beautiful setting but led to much of it being befouled with growth of lichen and moss. I lost traction underfoot on a number of occasions, each time managing to somehow throw my bulk in the opposite direction of the fall, restabilizing. Must have been fun to see me lurching around. Nicola, who’s far better balanced than I at the best of times, had hardly a problem.
When we got to Seaton there was nothing much there. A wide, sandy beach and holiday bungalows following the valley back from the shore. I suddenly remembered that a few years ago we’d written it off as being pointless to visit again. It hadn’t developed since.
Nevertheless we ate an agreeable burger each in a The Ship Inn and found that the tiny beach shop had a stock of eggs for sale. We bought half a dozen, despite their questionable provenance, and also an ice cream each. My Crunchie Blast was terrific, but Nics’ Wispa was full of ice crystals, the tell-tale of an ice cream that’s been defrosted and refrozen in a continuous cycle. We were probably the first customers there this week, though.
Still, there was a damn site more to do in Seaton than there was in Millendreath, the hamlet directly at the bottom of the hill from Bayview Farm. Millendreath had been the destination for my very first family holiday, in 1988. It had been a thriving little beach resort and holiday village, with a café, shop, bar and sports complex. Speedboats lined up on trailers, waiting for launch; water-skiing was a popular pursuit. Children ran amok, including me. I spent a lot of my time clambering up and down the cargo nets in the playground.
Today the cafe, bar and shop complex sits burnt and boarded. The sports complex, new in the late '80s, sits bust and broken. Weeds grow through the tennis court floors and I doubt anybody's launched a boat here for years. The holiday bungalows remain, now in private hands, some in better condition than ever. I was saddened, not just by the demise of the village, but the fact that nobody seems to have wanted to rescue it.
I didn't want to see it again, not if it looked like this.
In the evenings, when you're camping, your activities are pretty much dictated by the amount of daylight available, and we don't particularly bother fighting the failing light, we just let it take us. On a day like today, though, it's particularly pleasing to just sit there and watch the sunset over the distant hills.
On other evenings we found ourselves enjoying the sunset as seen from Looe itself. It's a most appealing town; small enough to be individual, but big enough to be useful. It went through a period where it felt like the holidaymaker had totally taken over, but on revisiting this year I was delighted to find the plastic buckets and spades in slightly shorter supply than I remembered them being.
And the harbour itself is as bustling as it ever was, with a thriving fishmarket still running and handling the fruit of the towns industrious fishermen, who's substantial trawlers go out bravely in all weathers. They have a trawler-race every year, which is always quite a spectacle. This week, though, we would have to make do with simply watching them come and go, and rise and drop on the tides.
It's a beautiful place, and one to which I will no doubt be drawn time and again. Its harbour and commanding bridge are notable assets, the evening lights play on the protected waters, disturbed occasionally by passing boats. I have spent many a minute with my camera, trying in vain to record the tranquility and atmosphere of an evening on the Looe quayside.
Pretty, ain't it?
Click here to read Part Five.
Click here to read Part Five.