Thursday, September 1, 2011
An old Seaport and Another Planet
Saturday, May 21
After a leisurely breakfast we left Par to visit an outpost on another planet. At least that's what it seemed like. The Eden Project, an enormous research/educational undertaking has constructed two three-lobed biodomes in an old abandoned china clay quarry.
Thousands of tons of rich soil have been spread on the slopes and terraces, and the scars of excavation have disappeared under inspired landscaping. Hundreds of twenty-foot-wide six-sided plastic panels have been formed into huge bubbles a hundred and fifty feet high, each enclosing a separate ecosystem. One holds the warm, humid atmosphere of a tropical rain forest, with thousands of plants from all over the world growing in wild profusion. The second dome incorporates plants from all over the world that thrive in a Mediterranean climate. The two domes, set in their sunken garden of plants that now fill the old quarry are evocative of a futuristic science-fiction city built on some distant hostile planet.
In the afternoon we drove to the little coastal village of Charlestown, a single cobblestone street plunging down to the tiny harbor. There were fewer than a hundred houses, built of stone, and at least three pubs. Halfway down the hill the street split left and right, one going down one side of the harbor and one down the other. The harbor itself is a bit less than thirty yards wide and perhaps a hundred yards long, with vertical stone walls that drop fifty feet to the surface of the upper harbor. There is also a lower harbor, separated from the upper by a sea gate that can be opened at high tide, and closed so that the water level in the upper harbor doesn't go down when the tide goes out, dropping the sea level in the lower harbor by almost fifteen feet. The lower harbor, itself not much wider than fifty yards, is almost completely surrounded by a thirty foot high sea wall, curving around until there is only a small opening where boats can exit parallel to the shingle beach, dodging the half submerged stone barrier to the port side while swinging to starboard as quickly as possible to head into the waves that come heaving in from open water. Getting either in or out of this tiny walled sheltering harbor in anything but the calmest of weather must have tested the skill and bravery of those steering the ships.
Although almost deserted today, there was a time when ten or fifteen tall masted steamer/sailing ships would crowd in at the same time, rail to rail, waiting to be loaded with the high grade Cornwall clay that was shipped to makers of fine china and porcelain.
A short drive on good roads brought us finally to the town of Truro. Tomorrow is the music festival at Mount Saint Michael.