As Europe’s largest Dark Sky park opens in Northumberland we look at some of the most beautiful stargazing spots in the country.
The combined areas of Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water & Forest Park have been granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association. Known as Northumberland International Dark Sky Park and covering nearly 572 square miles of glorious, rugged scenery, this celestial space will be the first of its kind in England.
The area was granted this prolific status thanks to its lack of population and abundance of natural, open spaces, which afford clear, clean views of the sky.
The success of the Northumberland Dark Sky Park comes hot on the heels of (and is partly thanks to) the Kielder Observatory. Open since 2008, it stands 1,200 ft above the forests and expanses of water and moorland. It hosts fantastic events for would-be astronomers, including ‘Star Camp’ which allows guests to stay overnight.
Home to the UK’s largest telescope, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, is essential for anyone interested in astronomy. It’s more than just beautiful: the experience is a true education. You’ll learn about the lifespan of stars. At present, the winning entries from the annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition are on display, offering you extraordinary images of space, taken from earth.
Exmoor National Park, with its dramatic countryside and rugged coastline, was named Europe’s first designated International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011. Good spots for stargazing are Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate and Haddon Hill. On a clear night many astronomical sights can be seen with the naked eye and even more can be discovered through a telescope. You can even go on a Dark Skies Safari where you’ll be provided with a star chart, compass and abundant hot drinks on the three-hour tour.
Stonehenge in Wiltshire is known not only for its natural beauty and connections with paganism but also for stargazing. The vast plains are ideal for taking in the sky’s delights at night. Friar’s Crag in the Lake District is surrounded by some of the most admired fells in the land, and this little spot overlooking Derwent Water delivers peace, quiet and a wonderfully clear sky. In Derbyshire, the Bronze Age hill fort at Mam Tor is the perfect place for gazing into the night. The air is clean and thanks to being so high up, there are no obstructions.
This expanse of peat might be boggy underfoot, but the 50 square miles of Rannoch Moor in Perthshire is the ideal place for budding astronomers to get a good look into space – the remoteness of the environment makes for exceptionally dark skies.
Are you an avid astronomer? Where is your secret stargazing location? Tweet us @BritainMagazine.
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