While the dark nights bring colder weather, it’s not all doom and gloom, with autumn and winter being the best time of year to see the stars. Thanks to more hours of darkness and the cooler temperatures stripping the air of hazy humidity – winter skies can be exceptionally clear, creating the perfect conditions for gazing at the cosmos.
Today, we’re bringing you a roundup of some of the UK’s best star gazing spots, many of which are designated as official International Dark Sky Parks. Further away from cities and sources of light pollution, a visit to these parks is the perfect winter family activity.
Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
In the heart of Dumfries and Galloway, Galloway Forest Park is one of Britain’s best stargazing destinations and was the first to be designated as an official International Dark Sky Park. With 78,000 hectares of woodland to explore, you’re sure to find your perfect spot. The bright band of the Milky Way is usually visible from here, while exceptionally clear nights put over 7000 planets and stars before your eyes – a truly spectacular sight to behold!
If you want to learn more about the various constellations and planets visible from Galloway Forest Park, The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is the perfect place to delve deeper into its inky black skies. Visitors can book an evening session, including a tour of the observatory and telescopes and the chance to stargaze on clear nights.
Video sourced from Viridian Skies astrophotography workshops and prints
Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland
First designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2013, Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park is one of the darkest locations in England. Situated deep in the heart of rural Northumberland, the park is as far from light pollution as can be - with nothing but forest, the reservoir and the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall nearby. At over 550 square miles, it’s the largest Dark Sky Park in Europe!
Kielder’s state of the art observatory opened in 2008 and attracts visitors from across the UK and beyond, all keen to catch a glimpse of distant galaxies and stars. A trip to Kielder Observatory is the perfect introduction to star gazing, offering a variety of events, guided tours and talks throughout the year – delivered by expert volunteers and astronomers. The popular stargazing evenings book up fast, so check availability and book your spot today to avoid disappointment!
Video sourced from Mark Dobson
Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
One of the more recently recognised Dark Sky Parks is Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor – gaining its official seal of approval from the International Dark Sky Association in 2017. Situated in the centre of England’s South West Peninsula, this vast expanse of rugged open moorland offers over 80 square miles of exceptionally dark night sky, making it the perfect place to spot distant galaxies and constellations. Thanks to its lack of sprawling cities and urban areas, Cornwall is a fantastic place for stargazing on any clear evening, so next time you’re holidaying in the South West keep your eyes on the sky.
Bodmin Moor is also an officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, meaning this landscape offers plenty to see and do during the daylight as well as when night falls – with endless walking trails to explore. While Cornwall’s Caradon Observatory is primarily used for research and education, there are plans to open its doors to the public – so watch this space!
Video sourced from Mike Lacey
Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales
Officially awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2012, Wales’ Brecon Beacons National Park is one of the best places to see the stars in Wales. With dramatic scenery juxtaposed against the glittering night sky, it’s the perfect place to try your hand at some astrophotography – just make sure you bring your tripod so you can avoid blurry exposures.
On clear nights when the moon is in darkness, the Milky Way can be seen vividly cutting through the night sky. For extra drama, why not set up your blanket and telescope by Carreg Cennen Castle or Llanthony Priory where you can see these ancient ruins brought to life under the twinkle of the stars.
Video sourced from BreconBeaconsNPA
The Lake District, Cumbria
While the Lake District may not have the darkest skies in the UK, it more than makes up for it with its rolling hills and glassy lakes. There isn’t much that comes close to experiencing the Lake District’s mountains illuminated by the glow of the moon and stars overhead.
To boost your chances of seeing the cosmos, head to Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre, one of the Lake District’s certified Dark Sky Discovery sites. Away from the hustle and bustle of Cumbria’s larger towns, this visitor centre is secluded from surrounding light pollution and gives you a chance to experience the region’s dramatic landscapes illuminated by the Milky Way – which is visible on most clear nights.
Video sourced from George Marino
Want to try your hand at stargazing this winter? Why not book a festive break with Parkdean Resorts? With fabulous holiday parks in rural locations, many of which are near Dark Sky Parks and Discovery Sites, it’s the perfect way to combine a relaxing winter break with a truly magical experience.