Britain has scores of sites that are perfect for stargazing, including four of the world’s 11 International Dark Sky Reserves. As winter draws in and the nights lengthen, there’s no better time to wrap up warm and enjoy pristine views of the Milky Way, and even other planets. Here are some of the best places around Britain for an out-of-this-world experience.
YORKSHIRE’S 2018 DARK SKIES FESTIVAL
A night zip wire experience and stargazing combined with a stellar eating experience will be just two of numerous new events in a much expanded Dark Skies Festival across North Yorkshire this February (Friday 9 to Sunday 25 February). From the inaugural event in 2016, the Festival has proven to be such a hit with visitors that the joint organisers, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park Authorities have extended next year’s event from nine to 17 days. Among more than 50 events, new activities in the North York Moors will include a rare opportunity to feel what it’s like to fly through the night sky. Strapped safely to a zip wire, adrenaline-seekers will be able to plunge more than 200 metres into the darkness of Dalby Forest, courtesy of Go Ape. Visitors will also be able to indulge in an evening’s stargazing against the backdrop of some of North Yorkshire’s most historical landmarks, while, in the Yorkshire Dales, visitors will embark on a celestial safari in the grounds of Bolton Castle near Leyburn, in the company of astronomer Richard Darn, while being treated to mulled cider and innovative canapés, made with local produce by talented chef Guy Fairhurst. There will also be more opportunities for activity seekers to experience caving, cycling, walking or running under the night sky including a new gravel-biking event run by Yorkshire True Grit at Newburgh Priory near Easingwold.
Getting There: Yorkshire lies right at the heart of Britain, and with an exceptional communications network, whether you plan to travel by rail or road. Trains from London King’s Cross to York can take less than two hours.
Find out more: yorkshiredales.org.uk
GET A TOUR OF THE UNIVERSE AT GREENWICH ROYAL OBSERVATORY
Even with the twinkling lights of London you can still see stars in the city, especially if you head to Greenwich Royal Observatory. Located in the depths of Greenwich Park, visitors can see out-of-this-world views at their Peter Harrison Planetarium; expect expert-guided tours of the universe and stunning views of the Milky Way and beyond.
Getting There: The Royal Observatory is located in Greenwich Park, and is best reached by tube to the “Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich” London underground station.
Find out more: rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory
SEE THE MOONS OF JUPITER AT GALLOWAY FOREST DARK SKY PARK
Spanning 777 km2 of forested glens, lochs and the highest hills in southern Scotland, Galloway Forest Park has very few buildings and low levels of light pollution, so was unsurprisingly the very first national park awarded Dark Sky Park status. Grab your coat and binoculars, wrap up warm, and head to the Galloway Forest Park to experience some of the finest views, including the moons of Jupiter and the cliffs on our own moon.
Getting There: Located in West Scotland, Galloway Forest, a 75-minute drive from Glasgow.
Find out more: scotland.forestry.gov.uk
BECOME A STAR-GAZING EXPERT AT INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY PARK, NORTHUMBERLAND
For pristine views of the Milky Way and skies full of endless stars, head to Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Europe’s largest area of protected night sky. It’s an ideal location to see the Andromeda Galaxy and shooting stars, and is home to the Kielder Observatory; a public astronomical observatory hosting events throughout the year. Enjoy a magical drive up to the Observatory through the national park, before discovering other worlds as you perch 1,200 feet above the forest and moorland.
Getting There: located in the north of England, near the Scottish border, the Kielder Observatory is a 90-minute drive from Newcastle upon Tyne.
Find out more: visitkielder.com
DISCOVER OTHER WORLDS IN THE LAKE DISTRICT, ENGLAND
Nestled within the beauty of the Lake District National Park, Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre is an official Dark Sky Discovery Site that runs special stargazing events throughout the year. If an evening of stargazing isn’t enough, visitors can also stay over in their on-site accommodation, transformed from 17th-century farm buildings.
Getting There: Located in the Lake District National Park, the Lower Gillerthwaite Field Centre is a three-hour drive from Harrogate near Leeds.
Find out more: lgfc.org.uk
PACK A PICNIC AND STAR-SPOT BY RESERVOIRS IN THE BRECON BEACONS, WALES
Granted International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2013, the Brecon Beacons in Wales offer a plethora of dark sky spots to get your astronomer juices flowing. From the beauty of Usk Reservoir, protected from the light pollution of the industrial South Wales Valleys, to the serene Pontsticill Reservoir, accessed from Merthyr Tydfil and boasting idyllic viewing-spots along the banks of the water, there are plenty of opportunities to gaze at the stars in Wales.
Getting There: The Brecon Beacons are a 75-minute drive from Cardiff in Wales.
REACH FOR THE SKY AT EXMOOR DARK SKY RESERVE, SOUTH-WEST ENGLAND
See the views once loved by our ancestors, before electricity lit up the night skies, at Exmoor National Park. Located near the coast in the counties of Somerset and Devon, the park is an ideal spot for stargazers, with spots such as Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Webbers Post, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake boasting some of the best astronomical views.
Getting There: Located in the south-west of England, Exmoor National Park is less than two hours by car from Bristol.
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