Heligan

Kate and I took a couple of days out recently to visit some friends in the west country, and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go to Cornwall and see some sights.

We stayed at a delightful bed and breakfast a couple of miles outside the ancient fishing village of Mevagissey, which has amazingly narrow streets and appears to be steeped in history. I say appears to be, because we didn't have time to stop and look around. We drove straight through (a hair-raising experience in itself, since the streets really are frighteningly narrow) without a halt. But there seems to be a lot that's interesting there, so we might like to return one day.

Our first stop on the tourist trail were the Lost Gardens of Heligan. This is a huge site, which you can easily spend an entire day exploring. It was once a grand stately home whose owners either died or moved away. (I bought the book that explains the story, but I haven't read it yet.) During the war, the house was kept in use and was later turned into flats. It remains private property today.

But the acres of land around it were left to rot, until they were re-discovered in 1990. What followed was a huge project to return the gardens to their former condition. It's hard to understand quite how huge a project this was without visiting the place. The gardens cover an enormous area and were completely overgrown. And their former condition was unlike that of most stately gardens - these designs were ambitious and adventurous. They included a "jungle area" and a vast vegetable garden.

Both of these have now been restored, and the vegetable garden provides ingredients for the on-site restaurant, which serves really delicious food, including a good selection of vegetarian stuff. You can wander for hours around Heligan, and there's loads to see. It's even fun for non-gardeners and for kids. Highly recommended.

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The Eden Project

Eden was actually the brainchild of two of the men who helped restore Heligan. It is totally, completely different. Where Heligan represents the grand past of gardening, Eden is the post-modernist future - gardening for the Changing Rooms generation.

Of course, the most striking thing about it is the biomes - massive space-age structures that cannot fail to impress. Like Heligan, Eden is not just for gardeners, because the biomes themselves provide interest for children, for geeks, for architecture students.

Arriving at the site you drive through miles of car parks. These people clearly planned well in advance and intend to be attracting huge crowds for many years to come. And here's a top tip: you don't need a whole day to explore Eden, so aim to arrive for mid-afternoon (about 2 or 3pm) so you will miss the worst of the crowds and queues.

The view you get from Orange 2 car park over the site is wonderful. The car parks perch high up on the lip of the old quarry, and all the attractions are spread out below. Looming over everything are the glistening, glinting biomes.

It's much more like a theme park. There's a choo-choo train thing that takes people up and down the slope, and the layout of the surrounding gardens is more formal, more laid out than at Heligan. There are swarms of school children and coach parties. There are cafes and shops at regular intervals.

Inside, the two biomes differ greatly. The smaller one, designed to create a warm, Mediterranean climate, is less impressive because the plants have not really matured yet. You can see that it has potential to be very impressive, but we were somewhat underwhelmed. The larger biome is much more breathtaking - it is convincingly tropical and absolutely huge. We spent a good hour exploring it.

Eden was not quite what we expected, but we enjoyed it anyway. I shall look forward to returning in future years, to see how things have grown and changed.

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Exterior views of the biomes

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Inside the biomes

Sculpture in Tout Quarry

The main reason for heading west was to take Kate to Portland to start a course in stone sculpture. It's held in Tout Quarry Sculpture Park - another former stone quarry - on Portland. I took my camera for a walk around the park on a sunny afternoon, and here are the results...

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