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Idea Thirteen

Make a Sundial with Octavius

When Octavius escorts you along the banks of his beloved river in Down by the Thames, it begins at the great  sundial at Tower Hill station. It is spectacular and fascinating, but  sundials don’t have to be that grand. Octavius is here to show you how to make your own sundial in your garden or on a sunny window ledge. And the weather at the moment is just perfect for this!


Most  importantly,  you need a place which  the sun shines on for hours on a sunny day. This might be in your front or back garden, or on a window sill, or on the floor of a sunny room.

Next, you need a steady surface. If you are making your sundial indoors, and you don’t have a hard floor, use a large book or a hard tablemat on the carpet.


You will also need

A bottle, 2/3 filled with water. A small bottle is best. Food colouring or paint in the water looks good!

Something to seal the top of the bottle, but soft enough to make a hole: several layers of foil, or plasticine (play dough melts in the sun!) or a hole in the bottle lid if an adult is able to do this for you.

A sharp pencil

A clock or timer


For an indoor sundial: blank paper, another pencil or pen

For an outdoor sundial: chalk.


To set up your sundial

Bung the top of the bottle with the foil, plasticine or lid.

Place the sharp pencil in the bottle neck, point upwards. It should be sticking out of the bottle by a few centimetres. Make sure it is firm, and that it points straight up.

Place the bottle in your sundial location. The earlier you place it, the more hours you will be able to mark! It needs to stay in the same place, so draw round its base. Then if the bottle needs to be moved, you can replace it in exactly the same spot.

Now, set your timer or alarm to go off each hour, on the hour. When it sounds, make a chalk or pencil mark where the tip of the pencil makes a shadow on the ground and write the number of the hour beside it. Repeat this each hour. The more precise your mark is, the more accurate your sundial will be. At the end of the day you should have a series of marks, like the photo on the right.


Tomorrow,if it is sunny,  look at the sundial without checking the time first and see how accurately you can estimate t the time.


As ever, we'd love to hear how you got on, and see some photos. Do send them to us at [email protected], or go to our Facebook page, Step Outside Guides, or tweet us @StepOutsideLDN

Tower Hill sundial Octavius Sundial no background

Here's our sundial. We are just marking the hour at 2.00.

The huge sundial at Tower Hill, that tells the story of London from Roman times.

Sundial 3 cr