A Canopy of Stars

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.

alt="Northumberland's International Dark Skies Park logo"

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.

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Kielder Observatory (c) H Williamson

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!

alt="Northumberland's International Dark Skies Park showing the Northern Lights"
Northern Lights (c)Ian Wylie

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!

alt="Northumberland's International Dark Skies & Kielder Sky Den"
Kielder Sky Den

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!

alt="Northumberland's Dark skies with 2000 stars"

What is Heavenfield?

As a local you would probably know, but as a visitor you’d be forgiven for wondering where the name of Heavenfield Cottage came from.  However, when we converted our old building into a luxury self-catering cottage, the name choice for us was obvious.

Heavenfield sits adjacent to our farm steading and is in fact our hay field.  Not only does it have a lovely name but it is also special to us as we got married there!  However, this pretty little field is immersed in history and was one of the most important sites in early northern Christianity. 

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Heavenfield

The site is believed to be the location where King Oswald (604-642) raised a large wooden cross before the Battle of Heavenfield in AD635.  The battle defeated King Cadwallon ap Cadfon of Gwynedd and Oswald took a Northumbrian victory. A walled churchyard stands within the field and is home to St Oswald’s Church.

alt="large timber cross at heavenfield"

The church itself is a haven of peace and tranquillity and, with no electricity, the church services held there a few times a year are lit by candles.  The remains of a roman alter stone can be found inside the church and a large timber cross stands at the nearby roadside on the presumed site of the original cross erected by Oswald himself.  Even today the church is a destination for pilgrims and there is an annual pilgrimage service from Hexham Abbey on St Oswald’s Day.

alt="inside the church"

St Oswald’s Church is without doubt a special place and although the church we see now is primarily 19th century, the sense of age and history is palpable.

The rich history continues as the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail runs across the field and therefore the church is a very popular stop for walkers.

Heavenfield also marks the end of St Oswald’s Way which is a long-distance walking route, exploring some of the finest landscapes and fascinating history of Northumberland. The route links some of the places associated with St Oswald.  From Holy Island (Lindisfarne) in the north, St Oswald’s Way follows the stunning Northumberland coast, before heading inland across beautiful countryside to Heavenfield and Hadrian’s Wall in the south, a distance of 97 miles. The route links castles, the coastline, islands, scenic river valleys, hills, attractive villages, forest and farmland.

alt="the churchyard with snowdrops"
Walled Churchyard

To the rear of churchyard are the most breath-taking panoramic views looking towards the North Tyne and over to the Cheviot and Simonside Hills.  There is a helpful visitor panel to ensure visitors enjoy each part of this amazing landscape.

alt="view from the back of the church"
From the rear of the Church the view is outstanding

If the history isn’t enough, Heavenfield is now also a preserved hay meadow and, with a rare mix of wildflowers and grasses, we are delighted that St Oswald’s Farm is now within a higher level stewardship scheme to ensure these species are preserved.  Upland hay meadows are one of the rarest grassland habitats in the country, rich in wildlife and steeped in cultural traditions. The best time of year to see the meadow in all its glory is late May to late June.

alt="heavenfield at night"

Heavenfield is always a popular spot for photographers and with dark skies overhead there is often a tripod set up as darkness falls.  On a clear night it is nothing short of stunning and certainly worth staying up for.

Heavenfield featured in Robson Green’s Further Tales of Northumberland as he followed St Oswald’s Way to its final destination and paid homage to the site and the history of this remote spot.  

alt="armchair with Heavenfield book"

More recently, LJ Ross the author of the international No1 best-selling series of DCI Ryan mystery novels, which have sold nearly three million copies worldwide in the last three years, based one of her DCI Ryan books at the church and named it Heavenfield.  It is therefore fitting that this series of books can be enjoyed by our guests here at St Oswald’s Farm….we’re just hoping there’s a TV detective series to follow!

Heavenfield is so much more than just a field and so much more than just a name we thought up.  We hope that visitors to the church, to Heavenfield and to St Oswald’s Farm enjoy it as much as we do and feel the sense of peace and tranquillity that can be found here. 

If you’d like to stay in Heavenfield Cottage you can check prices, availability and book here

We’d absolutely love to welcome you to St Oswald’s Farm

One year in….’I never expected any of this!’

Heavenfield Cottage is nearly one! We opened for business on 17th November 2017 after a renovation which took about 10 months, although long before then, the idea, the thought, the vision, the plan was there, rattling around in our heads, and was the hot topic of conversation over our kitchen table for a couple of years. When we started our renovation project we had a pretty good idea of what lay ahead, we knew it would be hard work, we knew there would a lot of decisions to make and we knew we would undoubtedly learn loads along the way, and we did!

alt="Heavenfield cottage in progress"
Heavenfield Cottage in progress

We knew we’d need a lot of stuff but probably underestimated just how much it would take, particularly to get the cottage to the 5* standard we wanted, there were an awful lot of returns done! My long anticipated mood board was created….this was the exciting bit, as the dining table became a swamp of swatches, brochures, samples, price lists, and paint tester pots! There was shower gel and shampoo samples stacked up in the bathroom, all awaiting the ‘sniff test’ and the ‘lather test’! Our living room became filled with furniture, duvets, bedding, pots, pans, electricals, crockery and even patio furniture was crammed in there, as every delivery man in the area became a regular visitor. We expected it to be a challenge to get our website just right, and to find the right company to create the vision I had in my head. I wouldn’t even try to estimate how many hours I spent researching what we wanted, and how we would create our all important image. Booking systems and payment systems were totally confusing and it was massive learning curve, but again, although confusing, we had thought that it would be.

By the start of November we were finished, ready to be seen, ready to be assessed and ready for guests. The assessment brought us the 5* rating I so wanted and we couldn’t have been happier, and very relieved that our hard work had paid off. All we needed now, were those all important bookings! It happened, and we welcomed our first guests to Heavenfield Cottage in time for Christmas. That was it, we were up and running, the project was now a new business and it was beginning to work. Our first year has been, what I can only describe as amazing, we are so pleased, in fact completely thrilled with the results this year, we are so so pleased to have achieved the bookings that we have, and to have been fully booked from Spring through to…. well, now!

alt="heavenfield cottage amazing comments from our guest book"
Amazing comments from our guest book

So, why is this titled ‘I never expected any of this’? During the past year our ‘renovation project’ has become so much more than just a business, it has become my ‘thing’, and has brought about a new passion that I find difficult to describe. It has given me so much in such a short space of time. I never expected to feel the way I do when guests tell us how amazing they think the cottage is, or that the colours are lovely, or that the furnishings are tasteful, or ask where I got a certain piece. To hear ‘it’s the best we’ve ever stayed in’ and to be told ‘you’ve thought of absolutely everything’. I will never tire of hearing these comments, ever! When we receive a 10 out of 10, or a 5 Star or 5 bubble review, I am just so immensely pleased. I expected to enjoy our new business, but I never expected to love it this much, it occupies my every thought. I continually find myself thinking about what else I could do to enhance the stay for guests, how else can I market it, how can I improve the advertising, what other little touches could I make to ensure it feels special to everyone who stays. As odd as this sounds I actually love going in there on a changeover day and cleaning it. I have to ensure it looks new every time, and then to put in the finishing touches, the little sprays of flowers, the homemade goodies, the welcome card, making sure I’ve personalised the stay to the guests that are due to arrive.

alt="Heavenfield cottage welcomes a new Mr and Mrs"
A personal welcome to Heavenfield Cottage for a new Mr & Mrs!

We have enjoyed meeting all of our guests, and I hadn’t really thought beforehand how much I would enjoy that part of it, just how nice is to meet people and to hear why they have come to St Oswald’s Farm and to Northumberland, to hear small snippets of their lives, and of course sharing our home and our way of life with them, albeit in a very small way for just a short time.One guest remark stands out for me, it was quite early on in our year and they arrived in the midst of a lot of snow to celebrate a weekend away for a special birthday! During their stay I asked them both if everything was OK, and this was the reply I received. ‘Oh yes it’s perfect, and that cake was amazing thank you, was it homemade?’ she then continued to say

“I was in that bath, with my glass of prosecco and eating that cake, and honest to God….. I’ve never been happier!”

alt="Heavenfield cottage bath tub"
Indulgent bath time

I had never expected to get that sort of reaction or to have the ability to make that sort of difference to people, even if it is for only a few days. I truly enjoy making sure our guests have a great stay, and trying to think of ways to ensure their holiday or weekend break is all they want it to be, and in return they are giving me so much more than I ever imagined!

As we move into our second year, there is someone I need to thank, my husband John, who has not only trusted my judgement, but supported and helped make each decision, he’s kept me sane when I’ve wobbled and mostly he has allowed me to make it my own, he’s allowed it to be ‘my thing’, and in turn has allowed me to love what I’m doing and to feel a passion for what I’m doing, a passion to do well and to achieve the best I can…thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity.

alt="heavenfield cottage ready for guests"
Heavenfield Cottage ready for guests

So, if you’re wondering whether to pursue a new venture or to diversify to something you know little about, go for it, do your research, make your plans and make it happen, you might just get back a lot more than you ever thought possible! If you’d like to find out more about staying at St Oswald’s Farm and in Heavenfield Cottage please CLICK HERE I look forward to welcoming you here…I really do!