Dark skies and stargazing - our galactic guide
Congratulations, felicitations and a big celebratory whoop to Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park, which this week landed the status of Dark Sky Park for 580 square miles, making it the biggest Dark Sky Park in Europe! (You’d almost say it ‘eclipses’ all the others, but we made enough astronomically bad puns in our guide to World Space Week back in September that we feel we shouldn’t. Such fun.)
The International Dark Skies Association (IDA) in the US awarded the area the status of Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, meaning it’s recognised for the quality of its starry nights and is a nocturnal environment that’s protected for its scientific and natural heritage (so there). We think having Britain’s biggest public observatory, Kielder Observatory, couldn’t have hurt the bid either…
Right in the heart of the national park and next to Kielder Water, guests in these immensely posh shepherd’s huts will also find a prime stargazing spot simply by hanging out of their door. The luxury abodes each have kingsize beds, chandeliers, kitchen, ensuite shower room and plenty of storage; linen is supplied too. Stays start from £75 a night for two people, with one car included.
South Meadows is to the north-east of the national park and Kielder Water, and has an easily-reached luxury lodge to loll around after an evening of scanning the skies. The Scandinavian lodge has two bedrooms and all mod cons including en-suite bathroom, digital TV and a private garden area. It starts from £350 a week for up to four people, which we are reliably assured is a bargaintastic £12.50 each per night.
For spring/early bird stargazers, Riverside opens on 1 March and has camping pods by Wooler Water on the edge of the national park. Pods start from an unastronomical £20 a night for two adults and a child – with dogs included for free. Yes, Siriusly.
Elsewhere in the land, here’s how to get your stargazing groove on:
Space (man) centres
World Space Week 2013 may be over, but science centres in the UK are open all year round and run events for all ages in the art of astronomy. The National Space Centre in Leicestershire has Stargazing LIVE! in January to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Beagle2 and to coincide with the start of Brian Cox’s and Dara O’Briain’s week of Stargazing Live on BBC2. Full list of UK space centres here.
Galloway Forest Park was the first Dark Sky Park in the UK, awarded in 2009. The car parks at the Red Deer Range, Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre and Loch Doon West are among the park’s best stargazing spots; full list here.
While not a Dark Sky Park, Exmoor is nevertheless an International Dark Sky Reserve (do keep up), and was the first to be given this status in Europe. The park peeps have put together a handy guide to dark sky seeking in the park (we particularly like the Star Wars designed page) – pick it up in any of the park visitor centres or download it here.
The Brecon Beacons became the world’s fifth International Dark Sky Reserve earlier this year, covering an area of 520m2 – wahey to Wales. Stargazers can see meteors, major constellations and the Milky Way from various parts of the park: the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has put together a stargazing top ten; there’s general info here, and a video here that the authority promise will ‘blow you away’.
There are 71 Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the UK – with 18 added this year alone including Fort Victoria Country Park on the Isle of Wight and Cow Green Reservoir in Cumbria. Dark sky sites are grouped by location, as well as by where you can see the Orion constellation and the Milky Way. Got a dark sky spot you’d like to see on the list? Nominate it here.
Yay to the National Trust and its ‘Night walks for dark skies’ info, with details of starry strolls in Suffolk, the Lake District and Peak District and more. There’s also a walk around Cardigan: stars by night, dolphins by day.
And because it’s nearly Christmas
GoSkyWatch app for iPad (free)