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The Tour de MERLIN?

As anyone who has tried it will tell you, you can't work on your thesis all the time. This weekend's bit of procrastination involved a trip out on the bike, something I haven't done much recently. Since moving closer to Jodrell I haven't had as much excercise as I'm used to so yesterday was a lot of fun. The plan was to head from Jodrell up to Knutsford, down to Northwich (via Pickmere lake and the Tabley telescope), on to Middlewich, Winsford, then down to the Darnhall antenna, through Church Minshull, round the back lanes back to Middlewich, then through Byley and back to Jodrell. Yes, very geeky, I know.

The day was very sunny and quite warm, so I put on some suncream and set off, with a water bottle, the pump and an OS map of Manchester and North Wales (covering most of Cheshire) dating from 1946, by late morning.

There turned out to be two flaws in my plan. The first was that it's ten years since I last visited Tabley and I couldn't remember which farm track lead to the antenna! I picked the wrong one and, after cycling through a huge puddle and down a very rough track, I ended up with a good view of the telescope over a field, but didn't actually get to it. I did go and visit Pickmere lake though, which I'd not done before.

Left: The view over Pickmere. Right: The Tabley (also known as Pickmere) antenna. CREDIT: Megan
After that I set off again, past the salt works outside Northwich and down a very long straight piece of road (must be Roman!) to Middlewich, then on to Winsford. As I came into Winsford, the back end of the bike started feeling rather uncontrolled and the noise wasn't right. I looked down to discover that my back tyre was flat. Not just slightly flat, it was losing air as I watched it. It was then that I realised the other flaw in my plan - I'd left the puncture repair kit in the rucksack I normally take to work. At this point I'm now about 11 miles from Jodrell and kicking myself.

The offending item in the rear tyre - a shard of glass which sliced through the tyre and inner tube CREDIT: Megan

Bungee jumping
Bungee jumping in Middlewich (in case you didn't believe me) CREDIT: Megan
By this point it's obvious I'm not going to get to Darnhall, so I re-inflate the tyre and gingerly set off back to Middlewich. After stopping regularly to add some more air to my very ill back wheel, I get to Middlewich and go hunting for a bike shop. Armed with two puncture repair kits (one set of instant patches for use straight away, and another proper kit for next time) and a new inner tube (just in case the damage was terminal) I spent a while sat outside the church repairing and checking over the bike while munching ginger cake and watching people bungee jumping outside the pub across the road. Surreal.

At this point I was starting to feel a little sunburnt so I decided to head back to Jodrell. As I went over the M6 I looked down at the traffic jam and thought, "I'm so glad I'm not down there".

I got back safely, just a bit later than planned, having cycled 55 km (if you believe Google maps) or 65 km (if you believe my cycle computer). I did do a couple of little detours along the way, so it's probably somewhere in the middle.

The annoying thing was that by that evening the tyre was flat again. This morning I dismantled the rear wheel properly and fixed a second puncture where a thorn had gone through the tyre. Luckily, that was a much slower leak than the first one, otherwise I'd have been sat on a narrow country lane somewhere trying to fix it again before I'd got home yesterday!

Posted by Megan on Sunday 04th Jun 2006 (16:48 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

From the top

Inside the focus boxView from the platform
Left: L-band receiver and cryostat inside the focus box (higher res) Right: The Mk 2 and Bosley Cloud from the focus tower (higher res) CREDIT: Megan

Two more photos from the top of the telescope. The image on the left shows the inside of the focus box itself. This always looks quite large from the ground, but it is really quite small. The large vertical metal cylinder is the receiver, the "business-end" of the telescope, which actually collects the radio waves at the focus and sends them down cables to the electronics in the main building below. Several different receivers can be used depending on what frequency is needed for the observations. This one is the L-band receiver and works at a frequency of around 1.4 GHz, a wavelength of 21 cm. The image on the right shows the view in one direction from the narrow walkway which runs round the focus cabin. In the foreground you can see the edge of the Lovell telescope dish, above that is the Mk 2 telescope which you can see is also parked pointing at the zenith for maintenance, and across the flat plains of Cheshire is Bosley Cloud (the pointy hill in the distance, roughly ten miles away).

Posted by Megan on Friday 02nd Jun 2006 (16:14 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

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