Explore Britain | 7th February 2022
Six of the best stargazing locations in the UK
There’s no need to jet off to New Zealand or trek into the Namibian desert to appreciate the wonders of the night sky.
The UK has some of the largest areas of dark sky in Europe and an astonishing seven of the world’s 19 International Dark Sky Reserves, certified for their natural darkness and star-spotting potential. Wrap up warm and visit between October and March when thousands of stars will be visible with the naked eye, though be sure to avoid a full Moon for the best view. All you have to do is look up.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
With its postcard-perfect beaches, volcanic headlands, soaring limestone cliffs and gorse-covered hills, Pembrokeshire is a heart-stopping beauty by day. But after dark, Britain’s only coastal National Park reveals its dazzling secrets, with eight Dark Sky Discovery Sites including the Kete National Trust car park and Poppit Sands. The National Trust car park at Broadhaven South is the best place to spy the glowing Milky Way, while Stackpole Estate is perfect for families with regular astronomer-led stargazing nights inside a mobile planetarium.
Exmoor National Park
Designated as Europe’s very first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011, Exmoor National Park is a stargazer’s dream with vast swathes of rugged moorland between Somerset and Devon far from sources of artificial light. Some of the best places to head include Haddon Hill, Wimbleball Lake, Dunkery Beacon and County Gate and telescopes are available to hire from all the National Park Centres for a truly unforgettable view. There’s also a free downloadable guide and a two-mile self-guided route via some of the best viewing spots, while a Dark Skies Festival is held every October.
© Dan James Milky Way, Jupiter and Saturn above Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor
Northumberland National Park
If you really want to be alone to take in the awe-inspiring wonder of the sky above, Northumberland is the place to go. The National Park is part of Europe’s largest area of protected night sky with nearly 580 square miles to marvel at, one of the largest in the world. The entire zone has also been awarded Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Sky Association, making it the best place in England to take in the starry spectacle. Bring a deckchair and a blanket to see the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, or visit one of the area’s many observatories including at Kielder, Battlesteads and Stonehaugh.
© Mike Ridley Sycamore gap milky way and Andromeda NNPA.
Head to the magnificent Yorkshire Dales and you stand a chance of spotting everything from meteors to the Northern Lights if conditions are right. Choose from four designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Buckden National Park Car Park, Tan Hill Inn and Hawes and Malham National Park Centres to see up to 2,000 stars on a clear night. All sites provide parking and other facilities and one-off astronomy events are held regularly, including the annual Dark Skies Festival every February.
© Danny Lawson/Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Dark skies from Twistleton Scar, Yorkshire Dales National Park
Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
Not sure where to start to understand the star-speckled skies above? At Galloway Forest, visitors can hire a Dark Sky Ranger to point out planets with laser pens and decipher constellations. An hour from Carlisle, the forest is the UK’s first Dark Sky Park and covers 300 square miles of tranquil countryside well away from artificial light, so you’ll easily find a secluded spot to gaze to the heavens. Top locations include the Kirroughtree Visitors’ Centre and the wildly picturesque Loch Doon off the A713.
© Paul Tomkins Visit Scotland
South Downs National Park
It’s hard to believe you can stargaze just 90 minutes from London’s brightly lit streets, yet the South Downs National Park is chockful of isolated spots to take in its staggering star-spangled skies. An International Dark Sky Reserve since 2016, there are several Dark Sky Discovery Sites scattered along the dramatic coastline and in panoramic countryside including Butser Hill, Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon. Don’t forget to bring your camera: the National Park holds an astrophotography competition each year with cash prizes awarded to the best pictures.
© Dan Oakley St Huberts Church at Idsworth
Article written by Siobhan Grogan