"The biomes are impressive displays of scientific prowess and artistic beauty. But what impressed me most about this tourist attraction - often referred to as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ - was the spirit in which it was created."
I tensed involuntarily as we hurtled down Cornwall’s narrow, walled roads in our zippy rental car. The Cornish hedges, although pretty as a picture, felt a little too close for comfort. I half-expected us to clip a wing mirror - or worse, smash into a wall of stone - but somehow we managed to squeeze through even the tiniest of gaps.
“The scenery! Oh, the scenery!” exclaims Hendrik, my partner Tom’s dad, from the passenger seat. He’s positively bursting with joy at the sight of the misty English countryside - and is blissfully unfazed by the slightly claustrophobic Cornish roads. I look at Tom, speeding along with confidence, and his mother Moira next to me, totally relaxed, and realise I might be the only one worrying about clipped wing mirrors.
I settle back in my seat and watch as the sun struggles to peep through thick grey clouds - a quintessential English summer’s day. Still, the landscape is beautiful, sun or no sun. Rolling green fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. It may rain a lot here, but nature’s not complaining.
It’s June 2013 and we’re on a family holiday. Tom’s parents are visiting us from New Zealand, and we’re off on a road trip around Cornwall and Devon. I’m anticipating plenty of quaint seaside villages, cream teas and cozy pub dinners.
There was all that and more - much more. On that particular day, we were on our way to The Eden Project, a tourist attraction we’d read about in a hotel pamphlet. I remember this day well, because it was the day I realised that not all destruction is irreversible.
… Let me back up a few steps. Destruction isn’t usually a word that springs to mind as you’re meandering through the Cornish countryside.
The Eden Project is a ‘global garden’, home to thousands of different plant species, and it was planted in an abandoned mine - a huge China clay pit that had been stripped of life. Most mines are closed and ignored. But not Eden.
Today, this 35-acre site is bursting with life and colour. Some plants are out in the open air, while others are housed under two giant bubble-like structures - known as biomes - which simulate different climates. One biome simulates a rainforest environment, the other a Mediterranean environment.
The biomes are impressive displays of scientific prowess and artistic beauty. But what impressed me most about this tourist attraction - often referred to as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ - was the spirit in which it was created.
Tim Spit, the project’s co-founder, saw an abandoned mine - a site of hard, unworkable, unforgiving land - and instead of writing it off, he saw an opportunity for something extraordinary.
Mines are often thought of in negative terms. Destruction. Greed. Hollowness. Darkness. But what if we start thinking about them as clean slates? Is it possible to suck the earth dry and then start over?
Throughout the Eden Project there are signs featuring educational information about biodiversity and sustainability. The attraction is clearly pushing a sustainable agenda. Yet there’s no judgement towards mining. Some signs acknowledge mining’s place in our world - the jobs this industry has created, the precious resources it has unearthed. Is mining the way of the future? Maybe not. But is part of our past and present? Yes.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in thinking about the future that we forget to take care of the mess we leave behind. Instead of fixing past mistakes, we look at them with judgement and resentment.
The Eden Project puts forward a different perspective: “A mine ends. What happens then?”
Is this not the most important question?
I’m a hopeless romantic and idealist, and everything about The Eden Project made me want to run around hugging trees shouting, “YES! This is a future I can believe in!”.
The fact that a place like The Eden Project exists filled me with optimism, and is such a sweet, sweet anecdote to the doom and gloom climate change headlines splashed all over the newspapers.
It shows that life can thrive in the most unexpected places. The same human innovation that created mining can turn an abandoned mine into a work of art. Let us not see sites of destruction as places to be ignored, buried, forgotten - but rather a chance to create something beautiful once more.
The Eden Project is just one tourist attraction. But it’s a giant leap in the right direction.
Jess co-created Travelher.org and is a freelance writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. She's an avid reader with an overactive imagination, and loves dreaming up new ways to see the world.
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