A Road Trip

Building on my third son's interest of several years now - the land speed record, and supersonic cars - I couldn't very well let the opportunity to see Bloodhound run at Newquay Airport pass us by. Bloodhound is the latest vehicle being designed by the team who currently hold the land speed record, and who broke through the sound barrier with Thrust SSC in 1997. My 11 year old knows all about these vehicles since a visit to our local transport museum a few years ago sparked his interest. Bloodhound is a rocket and jet powered supersonic car designed to go at 1000 miles an hour. Since unschooling begins with observing and noting your child's interests, when we heard Bloodhound was to be making its first runs, and that the event was open to schoolchildren, I applied for tickets. Once we heard our bid had been successful, we decided to plan a little road trip to make the most of the opportunity. I am hoping that, with only the two younger boys at home now, we will be able to get out and about more and make more trips to places of interest. Cornwall is a good 4 or 5 hours drive from us, so we got thinking about other places we might visit on our trip, and I decided to rediscover the joys of hostelling by booking accommodation in youth hostels. Since there was a sale at the time of booking, I only paid £88 for 3 nights accommodation for the 3 of us, including breakfasts for the boys, and the accommodation was clean and comfortable.

Day 1, we left home and drove south, stopping for a picnic lunch at a National Trust site just off the motorway. Since we are members of the National Trust, I always look for nice places to break our journey and give the boys a chance to burn off some energy with a good walk or a run around. We arrived at our first youth hostel, Treyarnon Bay in the mid afternoon, and were delighted by its location - right above a lovely beach. The boys couldn't wait to get down and play on the rocks and sand. We had a good dinner in the lovely café in the youth hostel, with great veggie options for me. After dark, we settled down in our little bunk room for a movie together before the boys went to sleep. They were super excited to have such a lovely view from our room, and to fall asleep listening to the sound of the sea.

Day 2, after a good night's sleep, the boys tucked into a lovely cooked breakfast, and then we set out towards Newquay Airport to see Bloodhound run! The team had organised a whole day of STEM activities aimed at encouraging children's interest in engineering, and primarily targeted at Cornwall's schools. Once we got inside, we went to listen to a science show, complete with explosions, which told the story of the bid for the land speed record. Then the boys had a go at making rocket powered cars out of foam, which they got to cut to shape using a hot wire. The cars were then lined up and fired down a track to see which were the fastest. It was all quite exciting.

Then we gathered to await the opening of the runway, for which the airport was closed for an hour. Crowds of us processed along the tarmac to take up our positions to watch Bloodhound go. My third son was full of anticipation, but had been very worried he wouldn't really have a chance of seeing very much amongst so many people. However, as everyone thinned out along the runway, we were only standing 1-3 people deep, so everybody had a really good view. We saw Bloodhound moving down the far side of the runway and taking up its position for its first run. This was slightly disappointing as Andy Green (the driver, and one of my son's absolute heroes) wasn't able to get the car to run to the speeds he had hoped. But round he came again to give it a second run. Much better - more noise, fire and thrust! Wholly up to my boy's expectations. And that was it! Back to the event ground we all trooped. We were able to watch Andy Green disembark, and then Richard Noble, the crazy mind behind the whole story of land speed records in my lifetime, took to the stage. My son was thrilled to be able to get his autograph, though he has met him before. Richard Noble was followed on to the stage by Andy Green, who spoke about Bloodhound before signing some autographs. Later in the day, my son was able to get a quick photograph with Andy Green, so that and his signature made it one of the best days of his life!

As the event quieted down with the departure of the school groups, he was able to talk at length to one of the project engineers and to have a good look at the car. He was asking so many knowledgeable questions, and the engineer was more than happy to talk to him at length about his involvement with the project. The boys then had a go at the KNex rocket car challenge, designing a KNex racer to be launched down a track, before we headed back to the youth hostel.

It was such a lovely evening, the boys played tennis on the beach and we watched the sun set. Then we had dinner in the youth hostel café again, and had our hot chocolate before retiring. (Youth hostels also have excellent self-catering facilities, so you can very easily take your own food to cook if you need to keep your costs down).

Day 3, after breakfast, we packed up and left the youth hostel, heading to Tintagel Castle, a beautiful location on the north Cornish coast, where legends of King Arthur abound. Having walked down to the beach, we explored Merlin's cave before climbing up to the castle ruins, from where the coastal views are just fantastic. We came to Tintagel before our fourth son was born, but my third son did not remember it, and it was a new experience for littlest. We enjoyed scrambling over the remains of ancient settlements, learning about the history of the site and firing our imaginations with myths and legend.

We had lunch in a local coffee shop, and then drove across Cornwall towards St Austell. It wasn't the best afternoon, as some road closures interfered with my plans to find a beach I wanted to visit. In the end, we made our way to our next youth hostel, at The Eden Project. Here they have converted shipping containers into modern en-suite bedrooms, or snoozeboxes, which are kind of fun to stay in. We were a little surprised that the hostel didn't have the usual YHA menu on offer, basically because the reception area, including the self-catering kitchen, is housed in a tent. So the menu was limited, and the breakfast continental. This meant we had to head off-site after dark in search of dinner, which wasn't a problem until it came to finding our way back to the hostel in the dark. As the main gates to The Eden Project were closed by then, we had to find the service entrance, which involved driving round the narrow country lanes in the pitch dark without a clue where the service entrance was located. It was slightly stressful and we did begin to wonder if we might have to park up and sleep in the car .... But we found our way back in the end! Snuggled into our snoozebox, we had a pretty good night's sleep.

Day 4, The Eden Project. This has long been on my hit list of places to visit, and it proved to be an environmental educator's dream, especially the Rainforest Biome, which I thought was magical. It is something special to wander through plants from the rainforest of the world, and to learn about the amazing plants, peoples and species our rainforests are home to. Highlights were the Weather maker at the top of the biome, including a canopy walkway and a climb up a wobbly staircase right into the roof where we were able to look down at the whole biome. The boys loved running across the cloud bridge, and being enveloped in steam as we learned about how the rainforests reflect sunlight and cool the planet. You can learn more about the Rainforest and Climate HERE.

There was a lot of information about various products of the rainforest, and interactive exhibits helped us understand how resources are farmed, and how we can make smart consumer choices which will help the rainforests, protect their resources and support the people that depend upon them. We were glad to see a whole display about palm oil, which is found in so many household products from cosmetics to cleaners. Get savvy about your palm oil, and look for sustainable alternatives wherever possible.

By the time we made our way to the bottom of the Biome, we were ready for a cooling baobab smoothie, which was surprisingly nice and very refreshing, on sale from a small kiosk. The stories of the peoples of the rainforest, depicted in wonderful photographs around the Biome were particularly moving. Some of these tribes have had no contact with the outside world, and are endangered by the destruction of their native forests. I was particularly touched by this one extraordinary photograph of a young girl, taken the year I was born. She was described as being as at home in the forest as any child in a modern playground, and already knowledgeable about the flora and fauna around her. I look at this picture, and wonder if the girl is still alive; she would be older than me. And I think about the arrogance with which we condescend to native peoples, thinking we have so much to teach them, about civilisation. And as I gaze around me at this immersive rainforest experience, and think about all the riches of our planets' forests, all the resources they hold, many of which we have yet to discover, I wonder who really has more to teach. Do we not have so much to learn from native peoples in these majestic places?

We are by now pretty warm, and ready for our lunch. We enjoy a good meal in the café, where the food is made from local and sustainably sourced produce. Then we explore the Mediterranean Biome before making our way back up through the zigzag to the hub and car park. Time to drive sadly inland, away from Cornwall .... home.

NB. Tintagel is an English Heritage site. Home educators can enter English Heritage sites for free during school termtimes as long as you book your visit ahead. We contacted The Eden Project ahead of our visit, and were granted educational entry rates as Home Educators. One of my sons has a Blue Peter badge, which grants him free entry to many places of interest, including The Eden Project.