It’s that time of year again when the kids are off school for 6 weeks for the summer holidays and you’re wondering how on earth you are going to keep them entertained for all that time. Well here is a novel activity to keep them engrossed as the sunsets get earlier – stargazing. And why not escape to one of the more peaceful, remote parts of the UK to see the darkest skies this summer.
“The night sky is an amazing spectacle that 90 per cent of the population doesn’t get to see,” says Royal Observatory astronomer Marek Kukula. Some of the best places for observing the dark skies of the UK are not as hard to reach as you think. So why not grab a deckchair and a telescope and head out to explore one of the places below. Discover something new right above your head this summer.
This National Park has recently become an International Dark Sky Reserve, due to it having some of the highest quality dark skies in the whole of the UK. On a clear night, you can marvel at the Milky Way and you may even be lucky enough to see a meteor shower!
The Beacons are also a good place for novice astronomers to start off, with various star gazing events held throughout the year. The next event is on the 12th August for the Perseid meteor shower. Entry for adults is £10 which gets you parking, entry to the portable planetarium and a hot jacket potato. Experts from Dark Sky Wales will also be on hand to help you discover the interesting phenomena in the night sky. Do not forget to take one our Adventure Atlas maps (Brecon Beacons East and Brecon Beacons West) with you when visiting, as they are great for local wayfinding and outdoor activities.
Kielder Water & Forest Park covers 400 square miles and is home to the darkest place in England. It is currently bidding to become England’s first Dark Sky Park, and if successful it will be the third largest dark skies preserve in the world. It has its very own observatory which has attracted 30,000 people since opening in 2008.
Stargazing events take place throughout the summer, there is even a star camp for the enthusiastic astronomer. The most popular events are the summer aurora-hunting nights, where you may even be able see the northern lights on a clear night. These nights are incredibly popular, and no wonder, as you get to savour the stunning scene of the dark skies while sitting around a log fire with a hot chocolate in hand. What a great way to spend those long summer nights!
Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park is one of only four Dark Sky Parks in the western world. Within the park there are 10 stargazing sites, with the most popular being Loch Trool. However, with over 7,000 visible stars to see, no matter where you are in the park, you will be able to take in the spectacular beauty of the dark skies. Weather permitting! There are several visitor centres spread across Galloway which are able to supply stargazers with observing instruments and offer tips on the best viewing points. Many of the events at Galloway are also low cost, with prices around £3.
Even if you can’t reach the peace and quiet of these destinations, stargazing is still possible at home. If you live in a city, simply venture to the outskirts where there are much lower levels of light pollution and you’ll be able to see much more of what the dark skies have to offer.