Situated in St. Austell Bay, just 2 miles south-east of St. Austell’s town centre, Charlestown boasts a harbour with a fleet of Tall Ships that can easily transport the receptive mind back to times gone by – and to complete the image of pirates and treasure it also has a Shipwreck and Heritage Centre.
West Polmeor, as it was originally called, was just a small fishing village until a harbour was constructed to fulfil the needs of the local mineral mines and clay pits.
A local businessman by the name of Charles Rashleigh was the man responsible for building the harbour, and in 1799 the village was re-named ‘Charles’ Town’ after him.
I’ve left The Core to last because it’ll be the place that probably takes up the least amount of your time at Eden. It’s tempting to say that it wouldn’t matter too much if you missed it out altogether, but that would mean missing something which is at the heart (or core) of the whole Eden Project – education.
Eden likes to describe The Core as its “Education, Arts and Events Hub”, which means that it’s more than just a place where school parties come.
I think it’s fair to say that its primary objective though is to educate our future generations in understanding how important it is for them to look after our planet, and in return it will look after them. That said, we can all learn from this sort of information and I’m full of admiration for the way the building has been put together to show us how things should be done in a sustainable way.
The Outdoor Biome has everything from plants that make beer, dyes, medicines, food and fuel, to sculptures and things to amuse the kids. Covering over 20 acres, it’s not about what there is to see, but more about what you’re going to have to leave out.
As with the other two biomes, the outdoor gardens are not about how pretty they can look, but more about how plants are used to create things and make our world the place it is.
Consequently, the time you spend here will depend on how interested you are in all the different ways plants are used. As a guideline, Eden suggests that you’ll probably need a couple of hours here, but it’s probably likely that it’ll depend more on your own personal timetable and what interests you the most.
It’s pointless trying to explain everything that the Outdoor Biome covers because there is so much. It’s one of those places that the more you look, the more you see. I’ve been here several times and at different times of the year and I still find it difficult to take everything in. It might not appear like that at first glance, but believe me, there’s been a lot of thought that’s gone into this place – and it’s ongoing – funds permitting.
The good thing about the Mediterranean Biome is that it’s nowhere near as humid as the Rainforest Biome and much more comfortable to wander around. It’s not as big either and you won’t need any longer than about an hour in here.
Although it’s called the Mediterranean Biome there’s also a couple of areas representing South Africa and California, but it’s the Mediterranean feel that prevails. Olive trees, citrus fruits and vines are the order of the day as well as more colourful plants associated with a warm temperate climate.
Whereas the Rainforest was a challenge, this is a delight, and you almost feel as though you’re on holiday in Spain or Greece.
When you’ve taken in all the sights and smells why not stop for lunch at the Med Terrace Restaurant. I reckon you’d be hard pushed to resist the paella cooking away and it’s a great place to take a break. The food’s lovely and all based on Mediterranean ingredients, although whether you can call pizzas a part of a Mediterranean Diet, I’m not sure.
When you go into the Rainforest Biome there’s one thing you need to take with you – a drink – and one thing that you don’t – your coat.
There’s a place you can hang your coat nearby (but not bags) and there are several places you can get a drink. Whether you take my advice or not you’ll probably still come back out feeling as though you’ve just been in a sauna, so it’s no co-incidence that there’s an ice-cream parlour near the exit. The good people at Eden maybe ethical – but they’re not stupid either.
It’s a simple question with a not so simple answer, so the best thing to do is quote the official guidebook. It describes itself as “An educational charity that creates gardens, exhibitions, art, events, experiences and projects that explore how people can work together and with nature to change things for the better”.
To put it even more simply the concept is about trying to educate people to use our planet in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way – so how did this project materialise?
The answer to this question is somewhat easier. Although other people were involved, the whole idea was the vision of one man – Tim Smit, or Sir Tim Smit, as he is now officially known. This remarkable man gained notoriety after helping to bring the nearby ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ back to life in the 1990s.
At Eden his idea was for a millennium project to turn a disused former clay pit at Bodelva into something that nobody had ever seen before. This 60m deep sided clay pit with no soil and 15 m below the water table was to be transformed into life by creating giant conservatories, or biomes as they are now called, full of exotic plants planted in 83,000 tons of soil made from re-cycled waste and watered by natural rainfall.
Until the opening of the Eden Project in 2001, the only holidaymakers that would have been seen wandering around the St. Austell countryside were those that were lost.
The industrial landscape above the town wasn’t one of the things that most visitors to Cornwall had come to see, but anybody who decides to make their way to Wheal Martyn will be rewarded with a fascinating insight into how important the industry has been to the region.
This open-air museum, heritage centre, or whatever it wants to call itself now, incorporates all aspects of china clay from the days when William Cookworthy, a Plymouth apothecary, discovered kaolin at Tregonning Hill near Germoe in West Cornwall in 1746.
He wasn’t the first to find it of course – it had been used in China for thousands of years, but the desire for an equivalent ingredient to manufacture high quality porcelain in England had eluded the aristocracy for ages.
Before you start getting the wrong idea about Cornwall having some majestic inland mountain scenery, I’d better warn you straight away that the landscape I’m talking about here is anything but picturesque, but don’t walk away just yet because the China Clay industry is an integral part of Cornish life. This is a part of Cornwall that tourists avoid and locals earn just about enough money from to keep their heads above water.
In this short post I want to give you an introduction to the area around St. Austell which for many years looked more like a lunar landscape than a part of the Cornish countryside.