As the summer holidays are in full swing in Scotland, this blog is travelling a bit further afield. Our journey today takes us to the other end of this island, the southwest of England.
I’m not quite sure how it’s possible, but I hadn’t heard of the Eden project until the day we visited. This is of course an inexcusable state of affairs, and I’m glad it’s been remedied! One of those rainy summer 2012 days, where even our waterproofs decided that enough is enough, we headed down to Cornwall from Devon, a 90 minute drive through headgerow country, thick fog and relentless rain. Even as we approached, I had no sense of the scale of this place, or indeed what exactly to expect. Which wasn’t helped by arriving in thick mist unable to make out more than our parking space.
For those who like me have not heard about the Eden project before, it celebrates the interdependency of people and plants and promotes sustainability and environmental awareness. It does this in many different ways, such as through having edible gardens, educational events, and exploring the often problematic history of harvesting a number of different plants for human use.
Upon our arrival, there was a bit of worry around the parking, what with being guided onto a car park which seemed rather a long way from the entrance. But our worries were uncalled for, there was an instant courtesy bus service to the entrance, where rather impressive crowds queued to get in. This was a week day and schools were still on in England, plus the Eden project does have large outside areas so wouldn’t be a natural rainy day excursion. My initial reaction was that I didn’t like the crowds, that this would have a negative impact on our experience. However, the crowds moved quickly and dispersed in the Eden project. While it was still busy at the food areas, it was impressive how efficiently people got served and how a simple food distribution system (same price for all food) actually worked wonders.
Once in the garden area and the rainforest Biome (which is all we managed in the day), the crowds were dispersed and we were able to explore at our pace and without feeling rushed or surrounded by people. There were so many little touches that meant it was a great experience for both adults and children. The kids loved exploring the Asian style rainforest house, with its moveable objects: kitchen items, decoration, bedding – all items that would be found in a real rainforest house, and what worked so well was that the children engaged with this environment, explored it and made it their own. Similarly the wooden play train with large wooden dominos that doubled as loose materials and food wares. There was lots of play to be had for all ages, the little ones moving them, the big ones playing dominoes or reading what food was represented.
The many massive statues made from recycled or waste materials were eye catching for any age and really sparked the kids’ imagination.
As to the biome, there was a lot of information displayed, in manageable chunks, interactive and lots of opportunity to touch and explore. There was lots of food for thought on how to harvest nature’s bounty in sustainable ways. The sustainability message continued through the food on offer (sourced locally and cooked on site, with great variety and deliciously tasty) and the massive shop.
The one thing I was a bit uneasy about was the way that commercial culture was embraced as long as it had a sustainability stamp on it. The shop had so many items on offer, and at the end it was about buying, rather than stopping and thinking whether not buying might be the more sustainable choice.
Of course, visiting the Eden project is no cheap thing. Entry is £23 full price for adults and children from 5 pay £10. This does give you an annual ticket, but that is not exactly much use to us. There are ways to reduce the price tag, booking online is one option. However the cost of getting in was recouped a bit by the tasty and healty, yet affordable food (and the 3pm mark down, when you were able to get your dinner for a pound). One visit of course is not enough and for repeat visits, the annual cost is justified.
The kids loved it, the adults loved it. We were impressed with the staff, the prompt service, the always friendly and enthusiastic approach. The gardens were mature and stunning, and personally I loved the way how living in other climate zones was brought alive for the kids (ahem, and adults in fact), and how principles of nature play and forest education were used effectively. There were many events on which we didn’t have the time to explore, the bottom line is that the Eden Project needs much more than a day’s visit.