Thursday, 19 November 2015

More from Cornwall

Last week I shared a post with you about our trip way back in May to the Lost Gardens of Heligan down on the coast of Cornwall, so today I thought I would share some photos from the rest of our long, wet weekend in Cornwall.  Truth be told, we’ve been pretty lucky with the weather everywhere we’ve traveled here in Europe, including around England.  The weather has only stopped us a couple of times from doing things, but this weekend in Cornwall tested us.  It was rainy, chilly and windy pretty much the entire time.  But, as we had someone tell us in Bergen, Norway, where on average they receive rain on 231 days of the year, “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”  So we were prepared, as we have learned we need to be when traveling around England where a sunny morning can quickly and unexpectedly transform into a rainy day.  We donned our raincoats, waterproof hiking shoes and grabbed the umbrellas for some extra protection and off we went to a place called the Eden Project.  

The Eden Project is truly a unique and fascinating site to see with it's space age looking complex of biomes.  But that's fitting because the main message here at the Eden Project is sustainability - what can we do today to ensure a better tomorrow.  Within the complex of biomes are two that are under bubble like domes that are said to be the largest greenhouses in the world and house a tropical and Mediterranean environment..   

Outside these giant bubbles are surrounded by a third biome that uses the natural environment of coastal England to present a temperate landscape.    

All of this is housed down in a huge crater in the earth that looks like it might have been formed when a gigantic meteor smashing into the planet but is in fact an old clay pit that was mined for over 160 years but has now been turned into a productive environment capable of producing food, fiber, fuel and lots of other items we need to survive, and that my friends is a wonderful example of sustainability.

The idea for the Project was conceived by one Sir Timothy Smit, the very same guy who was involved in the rediscovering of the Lost Gardens of Heligan that I shared with you last week, and the first sketches of the Project happened on a napkin in a pub over a pint - very British.  Building this amazing place was not easy though.  It was very expensive, and for the first few months of the building process, it rained everyday sending 43 million liters of water into the pit that sits fifteen meters below the water table.  As you can imagine, that put a damper on the construction process.  During the building of the Eden Project, 230 miles of scaffolding was used in the construction of the biomes which earned it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.  And if you think you’ve seen this place before but have never traveled to England, it may be that you’ve seen the 2002 James Bond flick Die Another Day which used this site for some of it’s scenes.  It’s not hard to understand why the Eden Project would catch the eye of a filmmaker.

Inside the rainforest biome it is hot and steamy and filled with every manner of tropical rainforest plant you can imagine...

from bananas...

to bright birds of paradise...

and everything in between...

and some actual birds as well.

We were allowed to climb to the top of the rainforest biome which is nearly 180 feet high giving you a fantastic view of the entire space.  

Before setting off, they ask each person if they have heart trouble because it is quite a climb as you can imagine, and as you go up, the stairs and platform you ultimate reach at the top have an unsteady sway as they are supported by cables attached to the great bubble ceiling above.  This is not a place for those who are afraid of heights.  

Inside the Mediterranean biome the conditions are different as you might expect.  

It's arid and dry, the foliage not nearly as dense as in the rainforest biome, but it's equally as beautiful, even peaceful feeling with the scent of citrus blossoms in the air...

rows of grape vines strung up on trellises...

and lots and lots of colorful flowers.  There was a replica of a stone hut from the bronze age called a borrie which was used by shepherds for shelter.  These huts continued to be used up until the 18th century and some still remain in the south of France today.  

In face, we saw some of the remains of these borries in person just a few weeks ago when we were traveling around Provence in southern France where the landscape closely resembled what we saw at the Eden Project (guess what pictures and adventures I'll be sharing with you next :).

This was not my first trip to the Eden Project.  Back in 2001 when Eric spent three months here in England for work, I came for a visit and we stopped at the Eden Project on our travels around the UK.  At that time, the Eden Project had only been open for a few months and was very much a work in progress.  The biomes were completed and we could go inside of them, but outside of them it still looked like a clay pit giving you the feeling you had just arrived on Mars as you approached the site from the rim and caught sight of the huge bubble domes sitting down in the old clay pit.

It was very interesting and fun to come back fourteen years later to see it near completion and with our girls in tow, and of course they now have a playground.  It doesn't matter what the weather is - if you can climb on it, they will.  

We weren’t in Cornwall for long, so between visiting the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, we didn’t have much time to do anything else.  But we did make time to check out the seashore because we couldn’t travel all this way and not see the coastline of Cornwall.  Our first night there was cold, windy, and gray, and while we tried to take a short walk on the beach where the restaurant we had dinner at sat, getting pelted in the face with raindrops wasn’t much fun so our walk was rather short.   

Luckily, the restaurant we found, Sam’s on the Beach in the tiny little village of Polkerris, had delicious food and was very cozy inside as the waves crashed into the beach right outside the windows.   

This was where I had my first run in with prawns British style - they still had their heads attached and you just pinch them off with your fingers.  That’s just how they serve them here.  And of course Eric tried one of the local Cornish beers.   

Look closely at the photo unless you are easily offended in which case you should look away.  These Cornish people have a good sense of humor. 

We arrived in Cornwall late on Friday night and by Monday, it was time to head back home again.  The weekend flew by fast but before we left, Mother Nature decided to give us a break at last from the rain.  

The clouds parted, the sun came out and we finally got a little beach time.  

We took a walk along the coast… 

watching out for the rabbit holes as we went, just as the sign warned us.  No wonder the great English author Lewis Carroll chose a rabbit hole as the entrance for Alice to Wonderland.  There really are loads of rabbit holes in England, big ankle twisting types of holes. 

We grabbed a quick lunch in the little village by the ocean and headed for home.  But on the way we decided to take a detour through a national forest, a different route than we had taken on the drive down to Cornwall because what prettier scenery to pass the time than a nice forest. Here is a photo from our drive through the national forest.

See anything that is missing?  I'm really serious - the atlas and the signs along the road both assured us that we were indeed driving through a national forest.  Hmm....

Some of the signs here in England really crack us up because this just isn't something we see back in Indiana. 

But honestly, you really do need to watch for the sheep here because they are everywhere and while we didn't actually see any right on the road here, we did see some lying immediately beside the road.  

And maybe the warning sign really should have said "Watch for stopped vehicles taking photos of sheep" because it's hard not to stop and take pictures of them, especially in the spring when the fuzzy lambs are wandering around the countryside with their mamas.  Are they cute or what?

And this, along with the visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, was our quick weekend trip to Cornwall.  I leave you today with a somewhat random photo that we just happened to take on the drive back from Cornwall - a drive through the hedges.  As natural barriers for animals and whatever else you may wish to keep out of your fields, hedges work great!  But driving through them can be nerve wracking and down right scary, especially when they sit right on the road and the roads are very narrow and windy (which basically describes all rural roads in England), not to mention the fact that you can't see anything but the hedges.  But this is England my friends, the land of hedges. 


Friday, 13 November 2015

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Hello everyone.  We are having flashback week here because there are a couple of places we visited way, way back in May here in England that I haven’t gotten around to sharing with you yet.  And that is sad because the place that I am going to share with you today is one of my favorite places we have visited so far during our time here in the UK.  It’s a real live genuine secret garden located down on the southwestern coast of England in Cornwall.  Today I am going to show you pictures and share with you the story of the Lost Gardens of Heligan.  

When I first heard there was a place called ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’ I immediately knew, absolutely, without a doubt that I needed to see it.  The Lost Gardens of Heligan – is that a romantic and intriguing name or what?  It sounds like something that should be gracing the cover of a good novel or maybe it’s the title of the next Disney movie.  The name simply piqued my curiosity so back in May over a long weekend when Eric and the girls had Monday off from work and school, we piled into the car and set off for the long drive down to Cornwall to find out exactly what The Lost Gardens of Heligan really are.

Well, the name does not lie my friends.  It truly is a lost garden, or at least it once was.  You see, the Heligan Estate was the home of the Tremayne family for over 400 years.   From the years 1766 through 1914, there were four successive squires of Heligan that were the architects of these amazing gardens.  Over the course of those years, with the help of a lot of other people, these four men designed and created the gardens, collecting botanical specimens from around the world.   What they created was a collection of different gardens covering nearly 200 acres, including extensive flower and vegetable gardens, greenhouses, an Italian garden, a wild subtropical area known as ‘The Jungle’, and 350 ancient rhododendrons, the oldest of which were planted around 1850. 

So, what happened?  Why is this place called The ‘Lost’ Gardens of Heligan?  Well, as I stated above, these gardens were created between the years 1766 and 1914 and the clue as to what happened to this great estate lies in the year 1914.  Can you guess?  I bet some of you can.  World War I – that is what happened.  Up until 1914, this great garden took 22 gardeners to maintain.  But then, war broke out, the gardeners were called to duty for their country, and tragically, in the end, only six of the gardeners survived the war.  Isn't that sad?  And that was the beginning of the demise of this great work of botanical art.  While the estate remained under the ownership of the Tremayne family, it was no longer their main residence and the estate ended up being used for various activities for most of the rest of the 20th century.  And the garden – well, Mother Nature took over and the nearly 150 years of hard work by the family and those they employed to help them was covered up like a scene out of Sleeping Beauty.

But, all was not really lost.  Unlike many estate homes in England during the war period, Heligan was never sold or developed but stayed in the family.  And since the land was never disturbed, the original gardens lay hidden for many years deep under a cover of brambles and ivy, just waiting to be rediscovered.   

And that is exactly what happened when in 1990, a descendant of the Tremayne family, John Willis, got together with a Dutch-born British businessman named Sir Timothy Bartel Smit and began peeling back 75 years worth of overgrowth layer by layer and rediscovered the treasure that was hidden beneath – The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

So I think you can see the fascination with this place, its history, the reality of the horrors of war, the story of its perseverance, and imagining what it was like that first spring after the layers had been peeled away when the over 100 year old rhododendrons started blooming in all their bright pink glory.   

Well, I can tell you from first hand experience after seeing those very same rhododendrons blooming that first weekend back in May that it must have been an awesome and amazing moment for those who rediscovered these gardens.  Walking under the dense canopy created by these century old plants with their gnarled trunks and a carpet of bright pink covering the ground beneath our feet from the fallen blooms was like a scene out of a fairytale.  

Not everything in the gardens is from the original designers though.  In more recent years pieces of art have been commissioned for the garden.  

As you walk through the woodland area on paths that were originally cut for the Tremayne family, you pass by this beautiful and peaceful Mudmaid, a sculpture made out of mud, plants and rocks by a couple of local artists, Pete and Sue Hill.  She is simply exquisite, looking as if she lay down in the forest and went to sleep just as this entire garden did for 75 years. 

Further along the path you'll find The Giant's Head rising from the forest floor, his eyes a mixture of curiosity and mischief.    

And this place was more than just a garden - it was a playground too, full of Jurassic Park like plants that looked as if they could swallow the girls...

There was a rope bridge swinging high above the jungle.

And a tree swing...

Who doesn't love a tree swing.

There is also a working farm where they raise traditional and rare breeds of pigs, sheep, cows and poultry.  

We were lucky enough to be there when they had a litter of piglets running around the pasture, playing and squeeling as they fought their way into the feeding bins.

And that is the beautiful, intriguing and mysterious Lost Gardens of Heligan.  If you ever find yourself in Cornwall, England, please go visit this amazing site.  You will be glad you did.