I was somewhat shocked to discover that 85% of the UK population have never seen a truly dark sky or had the chance to experience the sense of wonder a dark sky can bring, so imagine how guilty I felt that I had always taken our starry Northumberland skies for granted!
In December 2013 Northumberland International Dark Sky Park was unveiled, it has a gold tier designation and at 572 square miles is the largest Dark Sky Park in Europe. The recognition by the International Dark Skies Association means Northumberland is officially and without doubt the best place in the UK to star gaze.
The stars in the Northumberland night sky are brighter and bigger and it is astounding to think that stars and objects 2.5 million light years away can be seen with the naked eye.
The best time for stargazing is during the autumn and winter months, when the nights draw in and are longer and darker. On a clear night up to 2000 stars can be seen, an experience which is quite literally out of this world.
The best place to go? Well you can just step outside and look up or there are several designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites perfect for viewing the stars. They offer good sightlines of the sky and have good public access, including firm ground for wheelchairs. Twenty Dark sky Discovery Sites are dotted throughout Northumberland, in village halls, car parks and picnic sites! If you prefer a little more guidance on what to look for, then book onto one of the guided evenings offered at Kielder Observatory or The Battlesteads Observatory, both offering the perfect compromise between the beautiful majestic dark skies and state of the art facilities. Both venues are accessible, and the evenings suit anyone from the absolute beginner to the professional. However, you will need to book beforehand and all details can be found on their websites.
One of the most spectacular sights has to be The Northern Lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis, which are a natural phenomenon caused by charged particles colliding in the Earth’s atmosphere and are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemisphere.
They appear as large areas of colour including green, pink, shades of red, yellow, blue and violet in the direction due north. During a weak aurora, the colours are very faint and spread out whereas an intense aurora features greater numbers of and brighter colours which can be seen higher in the sky with a distinct arc. It’s nothing short of an extraordinary spectacle!
Of course a visit to the dark skies park isn’t just about looking up as the park is abundant with a variety of wildlife with the dark skies and reduced light pollution enhancing the habitat for many of the woodland species such as birds, bats, moths and insects. The Northumberland Dark Sky Park truly is a remarkable place both day and night.
The nature and dark skies at Kielder inspired a local celebrity architect to bring his TV series Amazing Spaces to Northumberland. George Clarke together with William Hardie Designs created a unique and inspirational treehouse. The installation allows budding astronomers to lie back and look up at the stars with its spectacular opening roof. Set amongst the woodland, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to be as darkness falls!
The International Dark Sky Park status brings a wealth of benefits to what is the most sparsely populated County in England and has in itself brought thousands of visitors to this remote, yet undeniably beautiful part of the Country. The dark skies are just one part of a whole host of gems Northumberland has to offer, all just waiting to be discovered and to be remembered fondly.
We’re delighted that St Oswald’s Farm has a Dark Sky Friendly status, which means we are dedicated to helping preserve our dark skies and minimising light pollution. We encourage and help our guests to get the most from the skies above. The holiday cottage is equipped with the basics for guests to enjoy all that’s overhead with red torches, binoculars, star gazing charts and books and guides on what to look out for. In addition to this we provide rugs in case the nights are chilly and even flasks and hot chocolate, all the ingredients for a perfect night under the stars.
The Northumberland skies are quite honestly a sight to behold, but don’t just take my word for it, come and experience the darkness and the wonder for yourself. Book your stay with us here at St Oswald’s Farm and we’ll be delighted to share our star-studded show with you!
As for me, I won’t look up and take our starry skies for granted ever again!