on July 8, 2011
The Eden Project was our number one reason for visiting Cornwall. Dubbed 'the Eighth Wonder of the World', with its distinctive white domes, the Eden Project is Cornwall's best-known tourist attraction. But it's much more than just a big green theme park and visitors can expect to come away with a better understanding of the environment we live in. As they say at the Eden Project, 'we aim to reconnect people with their environments locally and globally'.Tim Smit conceived the Project in 1994. The site chosen was a former china clay pit; a huge crater, 60 metres deep, south-facing and sheltered, but with no soil and prone to flooding. In October 1998 building work got under way and the project opened to the public on 17th March 2001. By June 2001 the millionth visitor had passed through the gates. The biomes are the biggest conservatories in the world, split into a 'humid tropics biome' and a 'warm temperate Mediterranean biome'. They contain more than a thousand plant species, mist sprays and dramatic waterfalls. The bubbles consist of inflated hexagonal transparent 'plastic' windows with a life-span of more than 25 years. The panels are transparent to UV light and have a triple-membrane which provides them with excellent heat insulation properties.The Rainforest Biome is the larger of Eden's two covered biomes. 100 meters wide, 200 metres long and 55 metres high it is tall enough to hold trees from the tropical rainforests. It contains over 1,000 plant species including palms and bananas, rubber trees, rice, coffee, sugar, pineapples, bamboo, and flowering plants such as peace lilies, capsicum, and the lavender striped aubergine. The steeper slopes resemble the Steppes, the Prairies and Chile. The temperature in the Rainforest Biome ranges from 18 to 35°C. A network of misting sprays and a waterfall preserve humidity. Computers help regulate the climate, but it also relies on the natural properties of the environment such as the rear cliff wall which absorbs heat from the sun during the day and releases it at night. The plants themselves also help control the environment, releasing moisture to cool the air when it gets too warm.Themes in the humid tropics biome include Malaysia, West Africa, tropical South America and tropical islands. Rainforests have up to 60 inches of rain in a year, but in the tropical biome soil irrigation preserves soil moisture. It is possible to climb to a viewing platform high above the canopy of trees below. This we did in a temperature of 38°C and 70 per cent humidity. It wasn’t long before I resembled a wet rag with the sweat pouring off me. The view was worth it but definitely not recommended for anyone not physically fit. Eden's Mediterranean Biome is 65 metres wide, 135 metres long and 35 metres high. In this biome air temperature varies between 15° and 25°C in the summer and a minimum of 10°C in the winter. Summers are hot and dry, whereas winters are cool and wet. In its warm temperate climate, natural gardens bloom as in the Mediterranean, California and South Africa. In the controlled environment of the biomes there are insects, butterflies and some lizards. It also contains cork trees from the Mediterranean, an ancient knarled olive grove containing trees up to one hundred and fifty years old, the copper sculpture of a bull representing Dionysus and a vineyard. The size of the Biome is such that although it is indoors it feels very much like actually being in the Mediterranean.The out-of-doors site is a huge biome in its own right. Part of it contains plants found in our own British temperate climate. An apple orchard, plants unique to Cornwall, both native and introduced and thriving in the mild Cornish climate, a tea plantation, over 300,000 daffodil bulbs, in bloom from early March to May- bulb mania in all its glory. In July and August the joy that is the British Allotment. In late summer a dazzling display of sunflowers, and of lavender in rows- their scent wafting in the breeze. However no two visits are ever the same. Part of the enjoyment is seeing Eden change, not just through the Seasons, but over the years.The Eden Project is extensive, requiring much walking, often up and down sloping terraces. The land train that tours the steep part of the site has wheelchair spaces and staff to help. Although the Eden Project has been designed as 'wheelchair friendly' it must be accepted that in a project of this type and on this scale, that not all 35 acres can be accessed by wheelchair.The Eden Project exceeded our expectations and we may well go back again as it changes with the seasons. It is best to visit the Mediterranean Biome first to get acclimatised before visiting the Tropical Biome for the latter is truly an exhausting experience. We were glad to escape its clammy interior. Allow around four hours to fully enjoy the site.
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