the red penguin

The Otford Solar System

A typically British tourist attraction – a scale model of the solar system, created to celebrate the new millennium, showing the places of all of the planets on January 1, 2000. Except it doesn’t actually show the planets, just concrete plinths (mostly). And it also has Pluto!

Sounds like exactly the kind of thing I need to go and visit, and it’s only 35 minutes drive from darkest Essex so I headed on over to Otford in Kent today – a very autumnal afternoon – to see if I could find them all or whether they’d been stolen or vandalised over the last 20 years.

The sun and most of the inner planets are at the far end of Otford Recreational Ground – a couple of minutes’ walk from the car park. So it was easy to find the Sun, Mercury, Venus and Earth and read up a little bit about the scale they used.

I had a lot of trouble finding Mars. It is the only planet not to appear on a plinth, as it sits between two football pitches marked out on the rec ground. I wandered around for a while looking for it, walking up to and around Otford United, who play in the 11th tier of English football in the Kent County Premier League. I’d have said it has the most picturesque views of any ground at that level, although I haven’t seen the rest of the Kent teams …

I finally found Mars and then wandered out to Jupiter, which lies on the side of the rec ground.

By now I started to use the Ordnance Survey map on my phone – not the app, but the website here. All of the plinths are marked on the map as memorials (Memls for everything from the Sun to Mars, and Meml for all of the others). Some of them are also marked on Google maps, although I assume that the OS map is the most accurate.

To find Saturn you need to walk out of the car park, turn left and then left again after the roundabout into Leonard Avenue. Saturn is sitting in front of a doctor’s surgery at the end of the road.

I decided to have some lunch before venturing out to the last three planets (or the last two plus Pluto, depending on how strongly you feel about that). I also wandered over to the duck pond, which for some reason has been a Grade II listed building since 1975.

Unfortunately I spent so long waiting for my lunch, I realised I wouldn’t be able to walk down to the other three planets and back before my time in the car park ran out. So I decided to cheat a little bit and I drove down to Neptune, which is just over 1km away in Telston Lane, about 20 metres from Pilgrims Way.

Uranus is about 400m back towards the village centre, next to a bus stop by Frog Farm. Luckily this is almost exactly at the point where a footpath starts, which eventually takes you to Pluto 1.25km later.

The track was a little bit muddy in places and it was signposted a couple of times too, although you should make sure you have a map, otherwise you might not find the right turn which takes you on the final stretch to the last plinth.

The main information board suggests it takes 2 hours to visit all the planets. I took about 1 hour and 15 minutes – I missed a walking round trip of about 20 minutes by driving down the road to Neptune, but I also spent 5-10 minutes looking for Mars so I think the whole thing could be done in one and a half hours.

The Otford solar system claims to be the largest model of its type in the world, because it’s added an additional plinth for Proxima Centauri – which is sitting in the Griffin Observatory in Los Angeles. So that’s one for the list of places to visit one day …

Wednesday 7 October 2020, 1677 views

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