Solar System Cycle Track, York to Selby, England

Pluto on the Solar System trail, York to Selby

Pluto on the Solar System trail, York to Selby

The casual walker or cyclist exploring the portion of the Trans Pennine Trail between York, Bishopthorpe and Selby (travellers starting in York can find an entrance to the trail diagonally across from the southwest corner of the new York College campus on Tadcaster Road) might be surprised to encounter the Sun on a tripod.  This 2.5m diameter sculpture marks the beginning of the Solar System cycleway, a 576 million to 1 scale model laid out along about 10km of old railway right of way.  One can walk the solar system at three times the speed of light, or cycle it at ten times the speed of light; you’re guaranteed to return from your journey younger than when you set out!

Walking or cycling from planet to planet is a wonderful way to appreciate in a physical way how much closer the inner planets are to the Sun than the outer planets.  The first four planets are only a few meters along the path, but the distance from Jupiter to Saturn is about the same as that from the Sun to Jupiter, and the distance from Saturn to Uranus is about the same as that from the Sun to Saturn.

If you make it as far as Pluto, you can enjoy a well-deserved drink at the Greyhound Pub in Riccall.  If you can’t quite make it to the Pub at the End of the Solar System you can stop at the Naburn Station outdoor cafe just past Saturn, which boasts a 1/3 scale model of the Cassini Huygens spacecraft.  When it’s open, you can get homemade snacks and drinks; when it’s closed the ‘Trust Hut’ stocks milk, water, juice, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and sometimes biscuits in the tin.  A shower, toilet and tap are available 24/7.

One evening years ago a friend and I cycled to Bishopthorpe (just outside the inner planets), stopping at each planet to read the information plaques to each other.  ‘Oh,’ said the friend when we stopped at Mars, ‘I didn’t know Mars had moons.’  ‘How could you not know Mars had moons?  Where have you been, under a rock?’ ‘Not to Mars, obviously.’