Saturday, 10 September 2011


Although I've lived in Manchester for almost 34 years - I came here as an eager young student in October 1977 - I'd never visited Jodrell Bank before this summer. Driving through the Cheshire countryside, I'd marvelled at it from a distance, or from the top floor of the carpark at the airport, but until earlier this year I never got up close to the mammoth radio  telescope.
It started to pulse on my radar when I stumbled across a page on the internet about work placements there for school students. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity as Eddie, our son, has become really interested in astronomy and astrophysics, thanks partly to his excellent teachers at Chorlton High School, and partly to Professor Brian Cox and his winning ways on the BBC.
He just missed the closing date to apply this year unfortunately, but we went out to take a look for future reference anyway.
The site has recently opened a new visitors' centre with gardens and cafe and there's such a magical pull to the place we've been back 3 or 4 times with various family visitors over the summer. The telescope itself is awe-inspiring, I don't think that's too strong a description. On a couple of our visits it's been 'parked' for maintenance and painting 
which is impressive enough, but when it's active and moving it actually tingles the hairs on the back of my neck. 
The history of Sir Bernard Lovell's brainchild is brought to life in archive footage from the 50s and 60s which runs on a loop in the discovery centre. These films include a tour of the inside of the telescope - breathtaking camera work as they scale the metal ladders up into the filigree structure supporting the dish. 
The technology, the words and language, the open space and nature, the coffee and cake - there's something for everyone!
Among the poets who've written their impressions of the place is Patric Dickinson
Amazingly, this beautiful poem manages to distil so much into 16 short lines

Jodrell Bank
Who were they, what lonely men
Imposed on the fact of night
The fiction of constellations
And made commensurable
The distances between
Themselves, their loves, and their doubt
Of government and nations?
Who made the dark stable
When the light was not? Now
We receive the blind codes
Of spaces beyond the span
Of our myths, and a long dead star
May only echo how
There are no loves nor gods
Men can invent to explain
How lonely all men are. 

Patric Dickinson 


  1. Fantastic, isn't it? My favourite bit is when you stand up close to it, and it just moves slightly. That something so big should be moved such a little and with such precision is amazing. As I remember it, there's a whiff of gearbox oil and then chug-chug-chug, those railway bogies start moving - just a minute distance.

    It's awesome. It's also not that frequented: it's one of the UK's best kept secrets! If there is a list of the Seven Wonders of Britain it should definitely be on it. It's up there with the Pyramids for me.

  2. hear hear Dominic - thanks for your lovely comment! Weekends can be a bit busy (relatively) but midweek it's very tranquil, a great place to go and just be......