The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog

Before - an old clay pit

After - the Eden Project

Eden Project domes

Eden Project

Very tame birds, they are there as an eco pest control, but...

There was a long wait to go up there, we decided we...

In the tropical dome

The huge cafe at the Eden Project


Devon and Cornwall photos – incl Clovelly and Eden

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We headed off to St Austell mid morning. It was a mission getting there with dodgy road signs (or lack of them!), the road atlas we borrowed from Avis helped. We should probably have taken the motorway after all, it would have been a lot quicker, but it was a very pretty drive through the back roads, with many reminders of home. In many places trees grew right over the road forming a tunnel. We filled up with petrol on the way, at Okehampton, £34 for the trip so far.

It is cool and wet when we arrive at the Eden Project around 1pm. Entry was £28.70 for two, we had discounted tickets, 40% off through 365tickets.com. We are pleased we are not here during the busy season, there are a lot of car parks, and some are quite some distance from the entrance, though it looks like there is a shuttle service available. As it is we are some distance from the entrance, at least the walk is all downhill.

The Eden project is built in an old Kaolinite quarry (clay pit), now unused after 160 years of operation, the before and after pictures are quite a contrast. It took 2 ½ years to build, and was opened in 2001. Large structures of adjoining domes dominate the old quarry floor, each dome emulating a natural biome that houses thousands of plant species.

Eden Project is billed as a charitable, social and environmental project, running the operation in the greenest way possible.

There is a small café at the entrance, so we have lunch first. We are surprised at the poor selection of food available, as there had been quite a write up about it, and this just didn’t fit. We put it down to the fact that the season is nearly finished, and that it is (just) past their busy lunch time. We sit at the tables where coffee plants grown in old disposable coffee cups. They also showed how they recycle old plastic cups (can’t remember what they did now!!). There is a demonstration on what would happen if plant life was removed from the planet, it is quite dramatic if you think about it, but then it needed to be to drive the message home.

At admissions they take our voucher and we are offered a guide for £6, we are told it is the only guide available. We cannot be buying all these books, as much as we would like to it is too much to be carrying. Cynthea suggested a rental scheme., e.g. pay the full price and get a refund of half if you return the guidebook. It would be good for backpackers who want the information but don’t want to cart it around afterwards. A scheme like this would fit in with their reduce-reuse-recycle commitments, but they didn’t seem impressed. Once through we find free maps, more than adequate for what we needed, but they weren’t mentioned at the admissions desk… hmmmm…

There is a train to bring you back up the steep hillside, and as it is pouring with rain and we decide to catch the train to the bottom of the quarry. It is a sheltered ride and it is free, we have about ten minutes wait for the next trip.

We have a good view of the complex from the train, we see the planted landscapes and vegetable gardens, and sculptures of a giant bee and towering robot, created from old electrical appliances.

When we get off the rain is easing, and we head into first dome where we see a massive café. Now that is more like the description we had read. There are long tables with bench seats for the customers, there are plenty of those, the place is packed, and coffee mugs hang from rails above. Everything is prepared in full view on long stainless steel benches. Ingredients are grown on site, or sourced as local as possible, using only seasonal produce. Food goes straight to a self serve bench.

We wish we had been told about this when we first arrived, the food selection is amazing. Three different menus are available during the day, and we make a note to come back for afternoon tea.

The 55m high tropical dome covers around 1.5 ha, phew, certainly is warm and humid. Banana trees and coffee plants are bearing fruit (used in the café), rubber trees and giant bamboo are also plentiful, there are plenty of reminders of hone here. There is a bit of a queue for the walkway suspended at the top of the 50m dome, so we give it a miss. Not sure that we would have coped that well with it though, it is very wobbly, and the walkway is transparent, as you look up can see feet making their way across. There are small, colourful birds running around the undergrowth to keep bugs under control. They are very tame, and will come right up to people for food. Tony gets a handful of earth and leaves but the bread and biscuits offered by others are more tempting to the birds.

The Mediterranean dome is on the opposite side of the café, a little smaller than the tropical one, only 35m high, and about half the area. It looks so familiar here too. Tea, lavender, hops, cacti and olives are among the plants thriving here.

We have and early tea back at café, it is near closing so food reduced to clear, and some is given away (their no waste policy). We are given a pasty and stuffed aubergine to take away for later on, but on hindsight we should have eaten the aubergine first at the café, it was a bit sloppy by the time we had it. We feasted on wonderful salads, new potatoes, and a carrot and beetroot cake.

It is still a bit cool and damp as we walked to the end of the quarry and took a lift to the top where we browsed the gift shop. Bread from their bakery was half price, and we picked up a lovely loaf for £1. We bought a coffee plant for Camilla and Peter.

We have done a lot of walking today, and Cynthea is not looking forward to the hike back to the car. She sees that rides are available to the car park, and we take the buggy back to the car.

We have no accommodation booked for tonight, Catherine suggested the Catherine Wheel pub, but we could only find the Waterwheel when we looked on line last night. It was £55, but we didn’t book it then, decided to wait and see when we got there. We had a drive around town, the first place we stopped at was dodgy looking, broken windows, untidy, and anyway no one answered the door. Headed out of town and were on point of turning back when we found the Waterwheel pub. We call in, and they want £65 for the room, but we got it for £60 including a full breakfast, (if we booked on line it would have been £55).

We went for a drive to the harbour at Charlestown, but it was cool and miserable still, and they charged for parking 24/7 so we didn’t bother stopping. The museums down there were closed at this hour, so there was even less reason to stay around.

We head back to hotel for a drink and bed. The room is small with an ensuite, it was a bit uncomfortable with no chairs in room, we had to sit on side of bed. That is probably why the bed had roll away – the opposite of roll together! It didn’t make for a very good sleep as you were always feeling that you were falling out of bed!

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