Sparks fly in 2005

Winchester is getting physical in 2005. The sparks are set to fly in the ancient city as it shows off its more scientific attributes in a year-long celebration of '-ologies' dubbed Bright Sparks - A Year of Science and Discovery in England's Ancient Capital.

More usually celebrated for its wonderful heritage, stylish architecture, beautiful countryside and performing arts events, Winchester is joining the fun of World Year of Physics - 2005 is the centenary of the publication of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and also 50 years since his death. Celebrated in the UK as Einstein Year, the anniversaries give Winchester and the surrounding District the do something a little out of the ordinary…

This is, promises Winchester City Council's tourism marketing team, a year to see what makes things tick in Hampshire's county town. From brains to steam trains and from cyclones to wild animals, from big guns to bees and from water mills to ghosts, Winchester is peeling back the covers to reveal some - often unexpected - inner workings.

The City Council's Head of Tourism Eloise Appleby says people who visit Winchester and the surrounding District quickly fall in love with its heritage charm.

"But it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is a cathedral city like any other. In fact, it is buzzing with entrepreneurs, artists and academics who give it a very dynamic character. We hope that Bright Sparks will make visitors and local people take a second look at the world and the Winchester District in particular.

"Bright Sparks promises some mind-expanding experiences, coupled with an entertaining line-up of great attractions, tours and performances," she added.

The main programme of events kicks off this February half term holiday with Kids Let Off Steam week at the Mid Hants Steam Railway (or Watercress Line), when children can find out how a steam train works, learn the basics of the laws of motion and visit a signal box.

At INTECH science and discovery centre, meanwhile, best-selling children's author Nick Arnold is bringing his Horrible Science books to life on Sunday 13 February with some gruesome experiments, quizzes and plenty of audience participation. At nearby Marwell Zoological Park, there's a chance to learn about the importance of breeding rare species, of studbooks and data recording during a special week called Wild Generations.

Bright Sparks is not just for children, however. A March highlight is the unique Festival of Art and Mind (10 - 13 March). Launched to great acclaim in 2004, the festival's second outing is themed Religion, Art and the Brain. Winchester's venues will play host to an exotic mix of Tibetan monks, Sufi dancers, classical composers, artists, scientists and the Bishop of Oxford who come together to present and explore the true nature of the religious impulse. The line-up includes a premier of a newly commissioned work by John Tavener at Winchester Cathedral.

The following months see a wide range of activities, including a guided tour of the former Chesil Railway Tunnel (16 April); a gala open day at Twyford's historic Waterworks (1 May), and a lecture entitled The Hamble Wreck 'Grace Dieu' (12 May) by Channel 4 Time Team's Damien Goodburn, following on from the television programme.

One of the most unusual events will be hosted by the Courtyard Café at Winchester Guildhall (12 May), investigating - with the help of dishes from top international restaurants - the science of cooking as practised by pioneers such as triple Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck at Bray and now referred to as 'molecular gastronomy'.

Those who learnt the mystery beneath Winchester Cathedral from the recent BBC2 programme Cathedral will be able to relive the story of William Walker, the diver who saved the building from total collapse 100 years ago during a newly-introduced summer tour (Wednesdays in July and August). The William Walker Tour alternates with the Architectural Odyssey Tour, which traces 1000 years of architectural innovation at this imposing Norman cathedral. And while you are visiting, there is a special exhibition at the cathedral entitled Cosmos and Creation (1 - 31 July) featuring paintings by Colin Wilmott on a theme of cosmic space and the mystery of the creation of the universe.

A host of colourful scientific characters will be coming to Winchester. Dr Bunhead - Blue Peter's resident scientist - provides a day of explosive entertainment and madcap experiments for children at Winchester Theatre Royal in Dr Bunhead's Recipe for Disaster (28 May).

You can meet long-suffering Private Smealie of the Experimental Weapons Section from 1913 at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson in Boffins, Bangs and Bazookas! (9/10 April) as he tests a variety of bizarre war-winning weapons that are probably more dangerous to him than to the enemy. And you can help solve a murder at INTECH science and discovery centre by outwitting a crazy scientist and putting back together the missing bones in Murder, Mayhem and Mystery (30 May - 3 June).

Looking ahead, there is an opportunity to study the science of destroying military strongholds in Storm the Fort at The Royal Armouries Fort Nelson to the south of Winchester (28/29 August). There is a Technology Trail at the National Trust's City Mill throughout August. And there is an 'open studio' event called Making Merry (19/20 November) enabling visitors to enter the homes, galleries and studios of craftspeople to see them practising their art, from painting to ceramics and from engraving to sculpture.

Full details of events forming part of the Bright Sparks year can be found on Http:// or obtained from Winchester Tourist Information Centre on 01962 840500 or by e-mailing