8 of the Best Spots for Stargazing in the UK
The night sky has fascinated humankind for thousands of years. From immortalising the stars and constellations as gods in the past, to marvelling their infinite wonder as objects of scientific study today, there is no denying that an inky black sky studded with thousands of shining stars is an incredible sight to behold.
Whether you fancy yourself as an amateur astronomer or simply enjoy admiring the beauty of the stars, stargazing can be difficult for many people living in the UK. Light pollution has a big impact on our ability to see the stars, and as most of us live in cities where bright lights by night are the norm, viewing the heavens from our back yards doesn’t have quite the awe-inspiring effect we might hope for.
But don’t give up just yet. There are still plenty of places in the UK where your view of the stars and galaxies won’t be marred by street lights and neon signs. In order to preserve our views of the heavens, certain locations have been given protected status as Dark Sky Discovery Sites. Pack your telescope or binoculars and head for any of these great locations for stargazing in the UK.
Designated as the world’s first Dark Sky Island in 2011, Sark is the ultimate destination for stargazing holidays. With no cars or street lighting on the island, the only distant glow of light pollution comes from across the sea on Guernsey and Jersey. Admire the Milky Way in all its luminous glory, and see shooting stars with the naked eye (or capture them on camera).
North Pennines AONB
Part of the “backbone of England”, North Pennines AONB benefits from high altitude to provide dark skies for unrivalled star gazing. There are a handful of designated Dark Sky Discovery spots in the area, including Burnhope Reservoir, Pow Hill Country Park and Selset Reservoir.
The world’s newest Dark Sky Reserve is located just an hour from London. The South Downs is very proud of its new status, and has begun to capitalise on its enviable starry skies already. You’ll find plenty of dark sky friendly B&Bs and campsites in the area, promoting star gazing parties and offering free usage of telescopes and binoculars. The proximity to cities like London, Southampton and Portsmouth makes the South Downs a dark sky oasis for city-dwelling astrophiles.
On a clear night in the Yorkshire Dales, stargazers could see as many as 2000 stars. The huge and remote expanse has plenty of great opportunities for star gazing, but there are four designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites which are easily accessible, including Hawes and Malham National Park Centres. Very rarely it’s possible to see the Northern Lights as far south as Yorkshire.
Oxford Island National Nature Reserve
On the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, Oxford Island Nature Reserve makes an ideal spot for star gazing. The dark skies here meant the location was chosen to host the Northern Ireland showcase event for BBC Stargazing Live in 2012 and 2013.
Northumberland National Park
Northumberland Dark Sky Park is the largest area of protected night sky in Europe. In total it covers 572 square miles, including the whole of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye.
In 2012 the Brecon Beacons National Park became the fifth National Park in the world – and the first in Wales – to be accredited as a Dark Sky Reserve. On a clear night in the Brecon Beacons, stargazers can see major constellations, nebulas, the Milky Way and meteor showers. The park also hosts a number of star gazing experiences and events throughout the year, and some hotels and B&Bs in the area have telescopes and binoculars for guests to use.
Galloway Forest Park
The UK’s first Dark Sky Park is made up of 777km2 of rugged rural countryside. Few buildings and next to no light pollution coupled with some of the highest hills in Scotland make for perfect stargazing conditions. The park is reasonably easy to access from central Scotland and the north of England, and is well worth the journey to visit the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, which has two powerful telescopes for visitors to peer through. Be sure to book your star gazing evening in advance!