Best Places to Stargaze in the UK
Exmoor national park, Somerset and Devon
On the clearest nights on the north Devon moors the human eye can detect about 3,000 stars, with the best sites at Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake. Events this year include a 12-hour night run; forest and full-moon walks; and summer family campouts. Exmoor national park became Europe’s first international dark sky reserve in November 2011.
Brecon Beacons national park, south Wales
In the Brecon Beacons, a dark sky reserve since February 2013, the best spots to set up a telescope are Usk Reservoir, the ruins of Llanthony Priory, Carreg Cennen castle and the national park visitor centre. The Stargazers Retreat is a converted stable sleeping two between Trecastle and Crai, and has its own observatory (from £50 a night).
Snowdonia national park, Gwynedd and Conwy
Five of the top spots in this dark sky reserve are the lakes Llyn y Dywarchen, Llyn Geirionydd and Llynnau Cregennen; Tŷ Cipar, a former gamekeeper’s house; and Bwlch y Groes, a mountain pass. The North Wales Astronomy Society organises monthly observing nights.
North York Moors national park
The park has three dark sky discovery sites, where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and up to 2,000 stars can be seen: Danby, Sutton Bank and the observatories in Dalby Forest. Other great sites for stargazing are Rievaulx Terrace, Old Saltburn, Boulby Cliff, Kettleness and Ravenscar. Celestial shows to look out for this year include the Perseid meteor shower (peaks 12-13 August), the Orionids meteor shower (peaks 20-22 October), the supermoon (when the moon appears larger than normal because of its proximity to the Earth, 3 December) and the Gemini meteor showers (13-14 December). The Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society holds monthly public stargazing events in Dalby Forest (8-10pm, first Friday of the month, October to March), and Starfest is a three-night camp there each August. Hidden Horizons runs celestial exploring events along the coast, where the northern lights sometimes appear, and the whole region is another Dark Skies festival venue.
Yorkshire dales national park, North Yorkshire
This park has four dark sky discovery sites: Hawes and Malham national park centres, Buckden car park and Tan Hill inn. It is the third location of the Dark Skies festival, and will host a pop-up planetarium in Grassington, rocket-making workshops across the park, and stargazing events and talks in and around Sedbergh. Three holiday cottages in West Burton and Newbiggin supply free kit for stargazing guests, including a telescope and binoculars, a guidebook, deckchairs, picnic basket and blankets (cottageinthedales.co.uk).
Northumberland national park, Northumberland
Together with Kielder Water and Forest park, this international dark sky park has gold-tier status, which means “the full array of visible sky phenomena” can be viewed, such as the northern lights, airglow (atmospheric light), the Milky Way, zodiacal light (sunlight scattered by space dust) and meteors. There are 12 dark sky discovery sites, including Battlesteads hotel and observatory (doubles from £100 B&B), which holds weekly events including shooting star suppers, and Stonehaugh, which has a stargazing pavilion. Kielder Observatory has daily events such as night sky safaris, aurora nights and full-moon parties, whileKielder Waterside Park (lodges sleeping four from £304 a week) has new luxury lodges with their own stargazing pods.
Galloway forest park, Dumfries and Galloway
More than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from this first UK dark sky park (designated in 2009), and it has a sky quality reading of 21-23.6 (the scale is 0-25; Edinburgh would be eight and a photographer’s darkroom 24). The best places to stargaze are Clatteringshaws vistor centre, which overlooks the darkest part of the park, and the panoramic viewing points at either end of the Carrick Forest Drive. Clatteringshaws and Kirroughtree visitor centres run stargazing events with talks by dark sky rangers. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington also hosts events, and visitors can observe the sky through its research-grade telescope.
Coll, Inner Hebrides
Coll was the world’s second dark sky island (after Sark in the Channel Islands), and has three dark sky discovery sites: Arinagour, RSPB Totronold and Cliad football pitch. Deep-sky objects that are visible in far more detail to the naked eye than in urban areas include star clusters such as the Beehive and the Double Cluster, and the Great Orion Nebula. New hostel the Coll Bunkhouse (dorm beds from £21 a night) holds three stargazing weekends a year (from £81 adult, £67 young person if booked two months ahead, 18-19 March, 16-17 September, 14-15 October) with a mobile Cosmos Planetarium. The course includes 10 hours of tuition with astronomers.