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.’



DNA Cycle Path, Cambridge, England

DNA cyclepath to Shelford

DNA cyclepath to Shelford, by Keith Edkins. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The colour code is as follows Adenine:Green, Cytosine:Blue, Guanine:Yellow, Thymine:Red.

Cambridge, a city known for its abundant bicycles and cutting edge scientific research, has finally found a way to combine these two things… In 2005, as a celebration of the 10,000th mile of the national cycle network, Cambridgeshire County Council and Sustrans joined forces with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to create a DNA-inspired cycle path. The path, which runs from Addenbrooke’s Hospital to Great Shelford, is decorated with 10,257 colourful stripes which represent the four nucleotides of the BRCA2 gene.

BRCA2 (Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein) was discovered at the Sanger Institute by Prof. Michael Stratton and Dr Richard Wooster in 1995. This tumor suppressor gene binds to and regulates another protein to mend DNA breaks. Mutations of this gene produce short proteins that are unable to repair broken DNA and can lead to the development of various cancers. BRCA2 is just one of the 30,000 genes in the human genome; if the entire human genome were laid down at the same scale, the path would circle Earth about ten time.

DNA Helix, Cambridge

DNA Helix, Cambridge, by Elena The. Image used with author's permission.

As it is, the path runs alongside a railway for two miles through the flat countryside of south Cambridgeshire and has become a popular commuter route since being opened by Nobel Prize winner Sir John Sulston.

Each end of the path is marked by a sculpture of the DNA double helix magnified 750,000,000 times. To find the first sculpture and begin your cycle to Great Shelford, follow the signposts dotted around the Addenbrooke’s site.

Video of the route

Map of the route

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