Well… how did it go?

So, after all the planning, preparation and publicity, how did The Big Day go..?


solatr system model 027b

I’m happy – and proud – to report that the day was a fantastic success, and around 250 (yes, 250!!) people came up to Kendal Castle to see our scale model of the solar system!  This was down to a combination of very hard work by the members of the Eddington AS and all the other volunteers who came along to help on the day, and great publicity and promotion from our friends at The Westmorland Gazette, BBC Radio Cumbria and Lakeland Radio and The Bay.

The day didn’t start off very promisingly: after a night of heavy, and very unwelcome rain, Kendal was draped in mist and fog on Saturday morning, and by 10am that mist and fog was still stubbornly refusing to lift; Kendal Castle was actually invisible from the middle of town. Walking around Kendal, putting up posters, after giving an interview about it on Radio Cumbria (with the always supportive Val Armstrong, thanks Val!) I was getting seriously worried that our model solar system would be lost amidst it all. But by 10.30 the fog began to lift and the castle appeared, as if a magic spell had been lifted, and I knew we were “on”! 🙂

By 11.00am Doug Ellison and I were up at the Castle and starting to plot out the solar system. Doug – founder of the popular and respected UNMANNEDSPACEFLIGHT.com internet forum – had offered to “help” with the event earlier in the year, when he came up to Kendal to give a talk to the Eddington AS. That “help” ended up being making all the model planets, and many of the information sheets, charts and postcards used on the day. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Doug’s help the event wouldn’t have been anywhere near as succesful as it was.

Marking out the solar system “trail” was both tiring and enlightening. We trekked down the long hill from the castle ruins, stretching out a long tape measure between us, counting off the metres and marking out the location of each planet along the way. The dimensions of the inner solar system were no surprise – it’s obvious that the worlds between the Sun and Mars are all packed pretty close together – but after we had planted the “Jupiter” post in the ground our eyes were really opened by just how far apart the planets beyond it actually are. There’s an especially wide, yawning gulf between Uranus and Neptune, and even though Doug and I live, breathe and eat space, we were both quite amazed by how far apart the “rim worlds” are in reality. But eventually we had planted the “Pluto” flag, and then headed back up the hill again to return to the comfort and warmth of the cluttered inner solar system, where the day’s volunteers were starting to gather.

By mid-day, everything was ready. Everyone knew where they were, and was in position by “their” planet. Some were happy to stand, and rough it; others had planned ahead and had brought chairs, packed lunches and other luxuries with them. By the time the first members of the public started to arrive, walking up from town in suddenly – but very welcome – blazing sunshine, we were all pretty confident we’d be putting on a good show and that a few dozen people, at least, would be coming to see what we were doing, which had never been done before in Cumbria on this scale

Three hours later, at least 200 – and probably more like 250 – people had walked our scale solar system model.

We were never flooded with visitors; rather there was a steady flow of people along the trail. As they passed each planet they stopped to ask questions, examine the model of the planet, and read the information on the ‘flag’ there. Many kids were very, very excited by the event, and ran from planet to planet, leaving their parents trailing far behind. Some people were happy to just drift from world to world, looking and reading before moving on without having said a word, while others lingered at each planet for many minutes, drinking in the experience and virtually interrogating the people stationed there.

And at each point along the route, a volunteer, or a pair of volunteers, was on hand to talk about astronomy and space exploration and bring the Great Kendal Scale Solar System Model to life. Here’s a run-down of all the people who made the day such a huge success…
sun mercury
Doug Ellison and his partner, Helen, who travelled up from Leicester to help with the day. As I said, apart from making the actual model planets we used along the trail, Doug worked tirelessly from start to finish, and although he obviously loved every minute of it it was also very, very hard work, so thanks to him.
solatr system model 017b
Eddington AS member Stella Coxon represented “Venus” on the solar system trail, and amazed her visitors with pictures showing Venus’ surface, its turbulent atmosphere, and artists’ impressions of a manned mission to it in the future.
solatr system model 006b
Anna Hall, from Kendal Museum – currently hosting the “Our Amazing Universe!” exhibition, represented “Earth” in our model. Anna is a fantastic supporter of our astronomical society, and clearly had a great time up at the castle!
I was “Mars”, but you know what I look like so I’m not going to post a pic! 🙂
vesta ceres
The asteroid “Vesta” and the ‘dwarf planet’ “Ceres” were represented by Cockermouth Astronomical Society’s Chris Darwin (left) and two members of Eddington AS (whose names totally escape me right now, I’ll add them later, my apologies!!). This gang teased and skitted me all afternoon about how much I loved Mars and how much more important the asteroid belt really is. They even went so far as to demand more sticks so they could represent The Belt more accurately! Talk about building your part up! 😉
All those “inner solar system” worlds fitted within the castle walls. What of the outer worlds?
EAS Committee member, Graham Fell, represented “Jupiter” in our model. Graham set up a fantastic “operations centre/greetings area” at the entrance to the castle, complete with table, chairs, and a LOT of information sheets he produced himself. That simply wasn’t something I’d thought of doing, and I’m very glad Graham did because it really made the event seem much more professional and organised than it would have been otherwise, so thanks Graham!
Beyond Jupiter, the planets – and volunteers – were stretched out rather thinly… and I have to say that I was especially grateful to all the following people, some of whom travelled from Blackpool and Barrow, for accepting their exile in the “far reaches” of the solar system, representing the outer planets on the slope of the hill far away from the main crowds and the much more social goings on inside the castle walls. They must have felt a bit left out at times, so I was glad when they took a few minutes to walk up the hill and see what was going on inside the castle.
solatr system model 009b
Garry Vernon of the Eddington AS and Mary Jane Ryal, from Blackpool, represented “Saturn” on the day. Their model – complete with its rings – was one of the biggest hits of the day, and I know they were kept busy with questions about Saturn’s “new ring”…
Colin Taylor – from the Barrow-based Furness and South Lakeland AS – and EAS’s David Clark represented “Uranus” in our model. They were stuck stationed more than halfway down the hill, but were able to see both ends of the trail, so probably had the best view of the day!
Hardworking Eddington AS members Ian Bradley and Liz Hodgson represented “Neptune” in our model, and as you can see they made themselves comfortable out near the edge of the solar system! Note the snazzy “Neptunian” trident – a stroke of absolute genius! 🙂
And finally, way, waaaay down at the end of the trail, so far from Kendal Castle that they couldn’t actually see it, we had EAS members David Womack (left) and Philip Stobbart…
Philip actually founded EAS originally, and is now back in Kendal again after studying and working in London, so it was great that he was able to play such an important part in the model. Note the Pluto soft toy keeping them company… 🙂
So what was the day actually like?
BUSY! The event was very, very popular, and was certainly well-worth holding. Here are a few pictures from the day…
solatr system model 019b
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I’m sure other people took pictures, and I’ll add those as they reach me. As a teaser for what’s ahead, here’s a pic taken by Cockermouth AS’s Chris Darwin, showing the ‘inner solar system’…

So, that’s it, it’s all over! EVERYONE worked really hard yesterday, and I think we really inspired and educated a lot of people, especially the kids who found it all so fascinating. For its organisers, yesterday was a real learning experience, and I’m sure that when we do this again it will be even better.
…and we WILL do it again, certainly next year, and we might even make it an annual event (now we know it works!). Doug and I already have some ideas on how to make it better next time, so watch this space..!
Thanks to everyone who helped on the day, and to everyone who came along to see our model too!


  1. […] Well… how did it go? Posted by: phoenixpics | April 26, 2009 […]

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