Jodrell Bank Observatory is a 40 minute drive away, with the Lovell radio telescope clearly visible on the Cheshire Plain from the viewpoint, a couple of miles from the Barn, at The Mermaid Inn.
The observatory is internationally famous and the telescope, built in 1957, is still one of the largest and most powerful in the world.
Apart from the Lovell telescope, there is a visitor centre with cafe, small exhibition space and gift shop, a planetarium, extensive grounds with a “solar system” pathway through the arboretum and finally, a children’s play area and woodland walk.
Is It Any Good?
I took our son Oscar (7 at the time) with a couple of his friends and overall, we found the place slightly underwhelming.
The site reminded me of a 70’s Doctor Who set, with anonymous, low brick buildings and a slightly shabby feel.
Walking around the Lovell telescope was great – it’s a really impressive piece of engineering and it’s pretty spooky when you hear the odd clang as it rotates on its tracks.
There’s plenty of room for kids to run around in the grounds and a wide range of specimen trees to keep horticulturalists interested.
The main draw for us was the Planetarium and we were all keen to see the show – this turned out to be pretty disappointing.
The presentation went on for over half an hour but the visual part of the show lasted under 10 minutes and involved watching a theoretical journey to Mars aboard a passenger spaceship while wearing 3D glasses.
The image on the tiny screen was blurred and there was really very little to see on the “journey”.
Once we’d arrived at Mars, we expected a flight over the red planet’s surface with some interesting commentary but unfortunately, the show ended with the landing on Mars.
Everyone left the planetarium feeling pretty short changed and to be honest, the exhibits outside the Planetarium in the waiting area were far more interesting than the show.
On the way out, the gift shop was of course a major draw for the kids – a cacophony of pester power only controlled by a swift transit to the climbing frames and zip slide!
Is It Worth A Visit?
In its defence, Jodrell Bank is a part of Manchester University’s Astrophysics Department and as such is really a working environment for scientists rather than an out and out visitor attraction.
We were drawn in by the fact that we can see the telescope every time we drive to Leek and were intrigued to see it close up.
If you’ve exhausted most of the the other local attractions or are a keen astronomer, then Jodrell Bank might be worth a visit but I wouldn’t recommend it as a venue for a casual day out with children – put it this way, we went bowling afterwards!