You may have noticed them. They wear short shorts, have a telescope strapped over their back and are prone to gazing at the sky with an oddly fixed stare. A vacant yet contented expression of someone who has acquired an all-too-deep appreciation of the vastness of space and time (usually somewhat influenced by cider). It is the look of someone who has completed the Somerset Space Walk.
It will come as no surprise to many that Taunton lies in the cold, wind-swept outer reaches of interstellar space, beyond the orbit of Asteroid 134340 (until recently known as Pluto). Don’t believe me? Throw a few bananas into a backpack with a bottle of water and (ever-essential) towel, lace up your trainers and head to the start of the Bridgwater & Taunton canal.
Opened in 1997, the Somerset Space Walk is laid out along the 23km stretch of canal as a scale model of the complete disc of the Solar System. It is exact, right down to the size of the planets and the distances between them. It even bears the blessing of Somerset-born science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke. Bona fide.
The Sun’s light takes about five hours to reach Pluto. Walking at a good pace it takes two hours to reach the Sun (located at Maunsel Lock) and a further two hours to reach the far side of Pluto’s orbit (behind Morrison’s car park).
Since you will be travelling faster than the speed of light, don’t be surprised by a sense of going back in time when approaching Bridgwater.
On arrival at Pluto’s outer orbit, steel yourself for a second, and then push on into the darkness and gloom of unmapped interstellar space. Towards Bridgwater town centre.
The Fountain Inn, Bridgwater’s pub at the end of the universe, welcomes all galactic flotsam. Lie back by the riverside on a gloriously inviting slab of concrete and drift off into a hazy mix of solar neutrinos set to light jazz. The music rhythmically resonating off the mud of the nearby river Parrett.
A quick word of warning about time and relativity. Bridgwater to Taunton takes 12 minutes by train, and so, in the end, you will have completed two trans-Solar System trips wildly in excess of the speed of light. Be wary on your return of the uncomfortable ageing effects of this sort of super-light travel.
These will become strikingly clear when you come to prise your swollen feet from the throbbing confines of your shoes. Crossing the Solar System should be fatal, so console yourself that, thanks to the Somerset Space Walk, sometimes it is merely painful. But whatever the result, it is always fun and informative.