Stargazing isn’t just looking up at the smattering of visible stars from your porch while you’re juggling your shopping bags. It’s the spine-tingling moment when you position yourself beneath a truly ‘dark sky’ - one that is officially recognised by the International Dark-Sky Association for its quality and clarity – and see constellations and galaxies with the naked eye.
It’s safe to say that Northumberland is the best place to do this in the UK; 572 square miles of Northumberland have been awarded Gold Tier status for their dark skies. This makes up Northumberland’s Dark Sky Park which is the largest in UK and the second largest in the whole of Europe, spanning Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park. So, when autumn falls over the county and the nights become longer and darker, locals head out to their favourite stargazing spots and visitors arrive with their binoculars at the ready for a star-studded show.
Stargazing may sound a bit daunting to beginners, but you really don’t have to be an expert or have expensive equipment to do it. Warm clothes, a deckchair, a flask, a pair of binoculars and a little bit of luck with the weather are all you need to go stargazing. Plus, of course, a touch of knowledge on where to go to have the best possible experience, and that’s why we’re here… read on for our list of some of the best places to stargaze in Northumberland:
Curious about Constellations
Kielder Observatory by Dan M Perseid
If you prefer a bit of guidance while you stargaze, everyone from night-time-novices to astronomy experts can head to Kielder Observatory for events that are out of this world. Sitting beneath Northumberland’s vast, Gold Tier status International Dark Sky Park, their telescopes sit in concrete pillars for outstanding levels of stability. Some are even computer controlled meaning any visitor can experience the thrill of "driving" a telescope around the skies with just the click of a mouse. From beginners’ Introductions to Astronomy to Physics in the Forest and everything in between, there is an event to suit every ability. Take a look at their events calendar here.
This accessible, public astronomical observatory offers talks, activities, stargazing and Astro courses that range from beginners’ introductions to subject-specific topics. Get to Know your Telescope, Astronomy for Absolute Beginners and Stargazing & Moonwatch are just a few of the events on offer. You can even have a Shooting Star Supper and dine on fresh food from the award-winning hotel that is attached to the observatory while you stargaze. (Tele)scope out their at events calendar here.
Twice Brewed Inn
Tucked away in Northumberland National Park, The Twice Brewed Inn isn’t just known for its excellent pints and stunning location. The pub has recently taken action to make the most of its situation beneath Northumberland’s International Dark Sky Park and now offers stargazing events. With a team of in-house astronomers, you can enjoy an inspiring presentation before heading outdoors for a laser guided tour of the constellations. Then, observe incredibly distant objects including planets, galaxies, nebulae and star clusters using large aperture telescopes. Plus, you can do it all with a pint in hand!
Strong, Independent Stargazers
Dark Sky Discovery Sites
Cawfields by Cain Scrimegeour, Northumberland National Park
The beauty of these sites is that you can do some solitary stargazing – all you need is warm clothing and maybe a pair of binoculars if you want to get up close and personal with the night’s sky. Dark Sky Discovery Sites are locations that are internationally recognised for their lack of light pollution, clear view of the sky and public access and many of them are scattered across Northumberland National Park. Each one has been awarded special status due to the outstanding quality of its dark skies and given one of two darkness ratings; “Orion” where the seven main stars in the constellation Orion are visible to the naked eye and “Milky Way” sites where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye. Take a look at the Go Stargazing website where you’ll find a map of Northumberland’s Dark Sky Discovery Sites that you’d be lost without! Or, click through to Northumberland National Park's list of stargazing spots.
Head to the coast where the sand is your seat and the sound of crashing waves accompanies your stargazing experience. The dazzling Aurora Borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights, have been known to grace the skies above Northumberland’s coastline. The dark expanse of sky over the ocean and the limited street lighting along this official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty means that, even in towns and villages, it is possible to enjoy the darkness of Northumberland’s skies. With more than 30 miles of beaches, narrow your options down and take a look at our beaches page for castles on the coast, hidden bays and dramatic, sweeping vistas that make amazing Aurora viewpoints.
Stargaze until you Fall Asleep
Stargaze until you fall asleep at one of Northumberland’s dark sky-friendly accommodations. Kielder Waterside Lodges sit amongst the pine trees of Kielder Forest, bringing a touch of luxury to the great outdoors. Each lodge has a plush, sophisticated décor with cosy log burners and rustic furnishings. Their star quality, however, is their location beneath the county’s protected dark skies, not to mention their view of the shimmering reservoir that acts as the perfect, non-light polluted canvas for a breath-taking, starry display. Some lodges even have their own hot tub, so you can stargaze from the relaxing warmth of a bubbling, private Jacuzzi.
Battlesteads by Martin Kitching www.northernexperienceimages.co.uk
Battlesteads is the only hotel in the country with an on-site observatory and its magical location means that there is just as much to do after the sun sets as there is during the day. Here, your cosy room is just a few steps from Battlesteads Observatory (detailed above). The hotel regularly wins awards for its sustainability and its old shipping container-style mushroom farm and two acres of gardens and polytunnels make for a restaurant menu filled with home-grown fruits and vegetables. Dine on tongue-tingling cheese that has been smoked on-site and sip on local ales and spirits as well as home-made fruit gins. Choose from snug hotel rooms filled with cushions and blankets-galore, or treat yourself to a stay in a private eco lodge with its own terrace for some independent, late-night stargazing (not to mention a relaxing, super-sized spa bath).
Now, go and experience Northumberland's dark skies for yourselves... you'll be over the moon with what you find.