03 March 2007

A grand day out

One of the perks of being a hack is that once in a while you get commissioned to do something really interesting and fun. I had just such a day yesterday when I drove cross-county with a pal to get paid to poke around things at Jodrell Bank and Tatton Park.

The weather was absolutely glorious - there was a chill in the air but the sky was clear and the sun was out. It was perfect weather for a day trip, and for taking photos. We arrived at Jodrell Bank just after 10.30. I was a little disappointed to see that the famous Lovell Telescope was in a horizontal position. It meant that the bowl and receiver could not be seen. We headed into the visitor centre, where we were greeted by a true English eccentric - in this case, an archetypal nutty professor with billowing hair who announced he was from Planet Zarg. I deadpanned back that he was lucky to be receiving guests from Gallifrey.

Actually, our nutty prof was very friendly and helpful, but he informed us that the telescope was being repaired and unable to move as a result. Nevertheless, we went back outside into the sunshine to have a look close up. The sheer size and scale of the telescope is awesome - I felt dwarfed by it.

Then, to my utter joy, it slowly began to tilt into a vertical position! The problem had been fixed with perfect timing. We stood there in awe, watching it slowly descend into position - almost vertical and facing the sun. I made the mistake of removing my sunglasses and was almost blinded by the dazzle bouncing off the bowl's reflective surface. The shades were rapidly replaced.

I could have stood there all day, but there was work to be done exploring the facilities - 3D show, information films, arboretum... and all too soon it was time to depart and head for Tatton Park. Tatton was also very impressive. Sadly, the Mansion was closed as it's still low season, but I had a press pass to roam the gardens and parkland. We spotted a huge herd of fallow deer close to the road and stopped to snap the stags. The gardens were simply amazing - from the exquisite Japanese garden (one of the finest in the UK), via the rose garden and formal Italian garden at the back of the mansion to the maze laid out identically to the one at Hampton Court and the working kitchen gardens, full of rare species of apple trees. With only half a day, we didn't have time to see everything, but we took the opportunity to eat a late lunch at the restaurant. The food was delicious - home-cooked and all from the farm or gardens. Absolutely the best-ever catering I've experienced at a tourist attraction.

I enjoyed myself enormously and came home tired but happy. Days like that don't come round too often, but they remind me that I am privileged to have free access and get paid for having a fun time away from the computer.

Next week I'll be back at the grindstone of my desk...

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