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      August 2012 > Where’s the best place to see the solar system?

Where’s the best place to see the solar system?

Walking holidays in EuropeNo doubt many of you will have your own ideas on this, but I have a few excellent suggestions in mind that I’d like to share with you. The first is on my doorstep here in Yorkshire; the second above the Arctic Circle in Norway; and the third amid the grandeur of the Swiss Alps – though they may not quite be what you were thinking about.

When the old York to Selby railway line was taken up back in the 1970s, the section between York and the small village of Riccall was later turned into a cycle track, now part of the UK’s Sustrans network. It’s about ten miles long, some sections very straight, and passes through the villages of Bishopthorpe and Naburn where it crosses the River Ouse.

What gives this cycle ride added interest, is that as you leave York you embark upon a trip through the solar system, passing the Sun as you dip beneath the ring road. You soon reach Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars in pretty quick succession, the planets being spaced at relative distances. The further you head out into ‘space’, the longer the gaps between them. Jupiter and Saturn come next, and then you are cycling a couple of kilometres to reach Uranus, Neptune and finally Pluto on the outskirts of Riccall. The scale of this ‘model’ is 575,872,239 to 1, which means that every 100 metres you cycle corresponds to more than 57 million kilometres in space!

It’s not the only public art installation of this kind. Another exists in Norway, amid the much more dramatic (and mountainous) scenery of the Lofoten Islands. In fact, the landscapes couldn’t be more different though the concept is the same. ‘Planet Lofoten’ is the creation of local artist Jan Wanggaard who offers no pretentious reasons for placing them in the landscapes around his home in Reine.

There is no formal plan, no route to follow – he simply wants people to ‘bump into them’ and use this model as ‘a nice tool to help understand the size and proportions of the Solar System that we all live in’.

The planets are all made from stone and range in size from Jupiter at several hundred kilograms to Pluto at only a few grams; and are located within an area of 30km from Reine on the island of Moskenesøya to Nordland on the tiny island of Værøya, to the south. The Sun is still in construction and will be a 7-metre-diameter sphere made from steel circles, and will be placed at Reine near the artist’s home. The scale of ‘Planet Lofoten’ is 1: 200 million.#

In Val d’Anniviers, in the Swiss Alps, you can take the funicular from the pretty town of St Luc up the mountain to visit the observatory at Tignousa.

OK, so you’re not going to see much in the middle of the day (you can go in the evening, too) but this excursion does allow you the option of walking back via the Chemin des Planètes, a 6-kilometre path which takes you past scale models of all nine planets of our solar system.

Here in Switzerland, the planets are set out at a scale of 1 metre to 1 million miles for the distances between them, and the individual models are at 1 centimetre to 1000 kilometres and, again, add points of interest along the walk.

If, however, you prefer gazing at the real thing, then there is no better place to go than the Canary Islands – most notably, La Palma, set adrift in the Atlantic Ocean, with minimal cloud cover and virtually no light pollution. The island, a long-extinct volcano, rises steeply out of the sea on all sides, offering far-reaching views from most vantage points.

If your eyes are drawn to the inky black skies above, a holiday here offers a wonderful opportunity to see and identify the constellations. Many of our self-catering cottages on La Isla Bonita actually provide telescopes for guests, as pictured here at Casa Los Nacientes Marcos.

#[Coincidentally, the Lofoten Islands also host other public art installations, part of Skulpturlandskap Nordland, at various points around their shores, including ‘Untitled’, three immense curved mirrors on the island of Vagan, which allow you to see yourself in the landscape; the ‘Laurel Leaves’ near Hamnøy, marking the entrance to the Devil’s Grotto; and the ‘Head’ near Eggum, which seemingly turns upside down as you walk past it – ideal if you fancy a spot of star-gazing!]

Posted: 28/08/2012 12:55:00 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: cycling, heritage, islands, nature, Norway, opinions, Spain, Switzerland

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