Where to See Dark Skies in the UK
Despite being one of the most moving sights you’ll ever catch in your lifetime, dark skies are hard to find and many folks aren’t even aware of their existence. Indeed, up to 57% of people in England can’t see the stars in all their glory – and that number rises to 80% in the US. Worse still, according to research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) only 9% are able to truly enjoy ‘dark skies’.
We’ll be diving deeper into how to help improve and maintain our night skies in a series of upcoming articles. But, for now, enjoy learning about where you can go stargazing in the UK. Learn how to get the best views of the night sky in the UK and find some hidden gems in the UK countryside. All under some beautiful, natural dark skies.
Best Places For Stargazing in the UK
Naturally, the best places for catching dark skies are going to be far away from light pollution (which is what causes the stars to ‘disappear’ from our night skies). So, your best bet is always going to be to head out to National Parks, such as the Lake District, Snowdonia, Cairngorms National Park and the Mourne Mountains (technically not a National Park – despite movements to encourage the transition – but still a lovely place to go).
Better yet, head out into the sticks, away from popular holiday hotspots. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy the dark skies in all their glory. If you’re the photographing type, you should be prepared to take your camera and capture some brilliant, unique shots of everything the universe has to offer.
Finding Dark Skies in Wales
Wales is ideal for anything nature-related, due to so much of the breathtaking landscape remaining untouched. Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast are all key areas, with a low level of light pollution. The former two both have International Dark Sky status. In other words, they’re recognised for their very low levels of pollution, while maintaining excellent public access. Meanwhile, Pembrokeshire Coast has a string of dark sky discovery sites, therefore offering excellent sightlines of the sky and good access.
Stargazing in the Brecon Beacons
Ideal places for checking out the milkyway and constellations with a telescope include Usk Reservoir, Carreg Cannen Castle and LLanthony Priory. Of course, as with all the spots in Wales, you’re never too far from a castle or church to serve as a focal centrepoint of any pictures you might want to take.
Night Skies in Snowdonia
Home to Wales’ highest mountain (Snowdon), Snowdonia is perfect for adventure travelers. In the daytime, you can opt for mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, white water rafting, ziplining and you can even go explore some caves. For the less adventurous, plenty of walks and – as always – castles and churches are about for you to check out. In the nighttime, there are some unbeatable views of the night sky. Your best bet is to stay near the lakes – Llyn y Dywarchen, Llyn Geirionydd and Llynnau Cregennen – for uninterrupted views.
Dark Skies Along the Pembrokeshire Coast
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority have been working their behinds off to help create dark sky discovery sites. This has led to some awesome stargazing activities cropping up in the area, such as stargazing nights being run in a mobile planetarium, by the Stackpole Centre.
Finding Dark Skies in England
Once you’re away from the cities, you can take advantage of plenty of sites with dark skies, dotted across England. Some of the most popular places to go include Northumberland National Park, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales.
Northumberland National Park’s Gold Tier Status
Northumberland is unique in that the entire national park, as well as Kielder Water & Forest Park, is considered to have “the full array of visible sky phenomena”. Thus, they have achieved Gold Status by the International Dark Sky Association – on top of being the first International Dark Sky in England, back in 2013. Thus, you can get a great view of everything from the milky way to the Northern Lights (when they travel further South). Understandably, this makes them one of the best places to go stargazing in the UK.
Dark Skies in the North York Moors
The North York Moors are home to three dark sky discovery sites, which are Danby, Sutton Bank and the observatories in Dalby Forest. In the latter, Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society host monthly stargazing events which are open to the public. In the meantime, they also host Zoom meetings, for those looking to get their dark skies fix before lockdown eases.
Viewing the Night Skies in the Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales are one of the most accessible National Parks, being based in the centre of Great Britain. This makes them one of the easiest to get to from anywhere in the country. They also have the benefit of being pretty bloody huge, and therefore have four, well-placed dark sky sites to check out. They even play host to the Dark Skies Festival and have a pop-up planetarium in Grassington.
One of the most popular is Malham village. Here, you’ll find some handy parking right next door to a cracking view. For those seeking a dramatic picture, Malham Cove is one of the best places to visit for night sky photography. If you’re coming in from abroad, or don’t have your own telescope/night sky kit, don’t fret. There are three local cottages that supply stargazing kits, for those new to this.
Dark Skies in Scotland
Cairngorms is not only the largest National Park in the UK, but also plays hosts to the most mountainous region too. Tomintoul and Glenlivet, especially, have the status of being an International Dark Sky Park. Not to mention that, being the most northerly Dark Sky Park, you’re more likely to see unique phenomena such as the Northern Lights from this point. On top of all of that, there’s the fact that it’s the furthest away from any light pollution. Thus, you’ll find unbeatable views from this National Park. Just be aware that, due to it’s Northern location, star gazing in the summer is near-impossible, due to increased daylight times.
Stargazing in Northern Ireland
As mentioned, the Mourne Mountains are one of the best places to see the night sky in Northern Ireland, despite not being a National Park. It can be easily accessed via both Belfast and Dublin, being roughly equidistant to both. It is, however, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and makes for a stunning place to visit. Best of all, at the foot of the Sperrin Mountains are glamping pods. Run by Sperrin View Glamping, each pod has a specially manufactered viewing window to allow for ideal stargazing. The means you’ll be able to stay warm while stargazing! They are based a short walk away from Beaghmore Stone Circles and a mile from Davagh Forest.