I don’t really know about telescopes. How they work isn’t of any great interest to me, but I respect the complexity of them and the knowledge that’s gone into building them. The Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory houses a number of telescopes, operational and decommissioned. An antenna of the 1964 One Mile Telescope just happened to be the one that we could park closest to, so as the July sunset faded orange light across the sky, myself, Marc and Keitei waded across the high wet grass in the adjacent field, and ascended.
The ascent was relatively straightforwards. Some diagonal concrete girders, an exposed ladder, some shallow slanting ladders and then a hatch to the dish itself. I don’t think many people would have a problem climbing this, but the current expectations regarding H&S may cause some to consider that it is not in fact as safe it was. We commented that current expectations would not allow this to be built as it was – the 5 mile telescope constructed in more recent years is accessed by spiral staircases.
I’ve not climbed a structure quite like this before. Although sharing some characteristics of cranes, water towers and gasometers, the variety of different methods required to get to the top made this more fun, perhaps. Up top it was quiet, and the day’s rain had caused the dish to be saturated with water. Sliding down the parabola caused a rip in my jeans to worsen, and I soon began to soak up the dew.
Sat among neatly maintained fields and some country roads west of Cambridge, the Mullard site is refreshingly peaceful. A contrast to London, we felt sufficiently comfortable to climb this while it was still light, despite the signs warning us of guard dogs. On the way up, we passed a derelict petrol station with a sign insisting that CCTV was being monitored 24/7. Yeah right… The insistence of a security presence is just something that our belief system has to reject when the appearance of a site is not congruent with this declaration.