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 the 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, visitors arrive with their binoculars ready for a star-studded show.
Now you know that Northumberland is one of the best places to stargaze in the UK, where do you start? It may sound daunting to beginners, but there are experts here in Northumberland who are passionate about teaching visitors everything there is to know about astronomy. If you do want to do it independently, all you need are some warm clothes, a deckchair, a flask, a pair of binoculars and a little bit of luck with the weather. Plus, of course, our tips on where to go to have the best possible experience…
Night time novices
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
Stargaze until you fall asleep
at Falstone Barns
. Nestled in the North Tyne valley, close to Kielder Observatory and Kielder Water and Forest Park, it is perfectly located for stargazing. Offering beautifully converted former stables and gloriously glamorous shepherds huts, there’s something for every group type.
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. Battlesteads Observatory's accessible, public astronomical observatory offers sessions that range from Astronomy for Absolute Beginners to Stargazing and Moonwatch. 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 your options on their events calendar.
Stargaze until you fall asleep in Battlesteads’s cosy accommodation that is just a few steps away from the observatory. 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).
The 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!
Stargaze until you fall asleep in The Twice Brewed Inn’s snug hotel rooms and wake up to a hearty Northumbrian breakfast, and Northumberland National Park and Hadrian’s Wall on your doorstep.
Strong independent stargazers
Dark Sky Discovery Sites
The beauty of Dark Sky Discovery 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.
Stargaze until you fall asleep with Breamish Valley Cottages. They list number of stunning self-catering cottages based in the Northumberland Dark Sky Park, conveniently located near Dark Sky Discovery Sites.
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 the Northumberland 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, there are castles on the coast, hidden bays and dramatic, sweeping vistas that make amazing Aurora viewpoints.
Stargaze until you fall asleep at Cherry Tree and Almond Apartments. Boasting five luxury, dog friendly self-catering holiday homes, each one is tailor-made for couples seeking the perfect coastal escape.
When to stargaze
You can stargaze all year round, but the best time is autumn and winter. When temperatures dip, the sky is at its most transparent and the darker nights make these seasons the prime viewing time. That's when the shivering river of stars that is the Milky Way can be spotted overhead.
Now you are fully equipped to discover Northumberland's Dark Sky Park and pristine coastline and reap the rewards of staying out after sunset on the cold nights.
Author: Jenni Meikle