Tag: Dark skies

Christmas in Northumberland

December may not be the obvious month to visit Northumberland but there are so many reasons to put England’s most Northern County on your Christmas go to list. Whether you’re looking for a pre Christmas break, a festive shopping trip, a place to relax and unwind or somewhere to spend a truly special Christmas or New Year then look no further.

St Oswald’s Farm is the perfect base to enjoy the wonderful Christmas markets and events that take place across the North East each year. Living North takes place each year in Newcastle which is a huge 4 day event and with others closer to home such as Brocksbushes Fair, the Tynedale Gift Fair and The Sill Christmas Fair to name just a few. The local town of Hexham holds it’s annual Christmas Market on the 2nd Saturday of December each year with over 50 seasonal stalls laden with gifts, locally produced food, festive wreaths and much more, all dotted around the historic Market Place and throughout Hexham Abbey. Enjoy mince pies, mulled wine and with carol singers and live music ensuring the event is all a Christmas market should be.

Corbridge Late Night Christmas Shopping evening and Christmas Tree Festival takes place at the end of November each year and is such a special event that the whole village participates in. St Andrew’s Church in the Market Place is packed with ‘trees’ from so many local groups, shops and organisations. As anyone who has visited Corbridge before will know the shop windows are always lovely and at this time of year they step it up to another league, there can be no better place to get into the Christmas spirit.

Of course Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be all about the markets and high streets, you could always opt to escape to the comfort of your own festive cottage and spend a day in your PJ’s in front of a log burner with a warming drink in one hand whilst the other hand shops online for the those perfect gifts. We’ll even supply you with a list of some of our local makers and businesses.

If shopping just isn’t your thing then the winter months are the perfect time for getting wrapped up and heading out for a walk in the beautiful Northumberland countryside and with the trees stripped of their summer foliage the views take on a whole new appearance. The winter landscape that stretches for miles and miles is stunning and if you catch them wearing a hoar frost then you’re in for a real treat.

If you’re looking to escape over the Christmas holidays then Heavenfield Cottage is the place for you with every luxury you’d come to expect from a 5 star property but yet with all the comforts of home so your Christmastime can be truly relaxing. You’ll arrive to find the cottage decorated and looking beautifully festive so all you need to do is unpack your bags, pop your presents under the tree and relax. On Christmas Eve there is even the opportunity to walk over Heavenfield to St Oswald’s Church for a candlelit service and let’s be honest you can’t get much more magical than that!

alt="St Oswald's church in snow at Christmas"
St Oswald’s Church holds a candlelit Christmas Eve service (image Ian Wylie)

We offer a 7 night stay over Christmas so you can spend a whole week of leisurely days in front of the log burning stove, binge watch TV, indulge in a bookfest or take long soaks in the deep double ended bath before wrapping up in a fluffy bathrobe. Or if Christmas for you means getting outside we have that covered too with lovely walks from the doorstep and as evening falls with our amazing dark skies overhead there’s nothing nicer than simply heading out onto the patio and looking up for a star studded show.

Maybe it’s time to put the magic of Northumberland on your Christmas list!

Simply Kielder

Kielder could be described as a very small and remote village, it could just be called the home of Kielder Water & Forest or be best known for it’s impressive star studded skies with observatory and International Dark Sky Park status. However, it is also so much more than all of that and there is a wealth of beauty to enjoy and a plenty supply of hidden gems to discover.

alt="kielder water still with blue skies"
Tranquil Kielder Water (image Kielder Waterside Park)

At over 250sq miles Kielder Forest is the largest man made working forest in England with Kielder Water the largest man made lake in Europe and with them you will find nature, wildlife and natural beauty on a scale you may not have witnessed before. If you wish to seek out the vastness and expanse of this dynamic scenery for yourself there are many ways to enjoy this beautiful part of Northumberland. Take the expansive forest drive or breathe in the clean and fresh Northumbrian air on one of the many walks, you may even opt to bike or walk the 26 mile Lakeside Way! Pay a visit to the nature garden or take advantage of one of the nature hubs with up to date information throughout the year as the forest and it’s inhabitants change through the course of the seasons.

If you want to be prepared and enjoy a guided walk then download the ‘Kielder Water & Forest Park Wild Walks’ app and take your virtual tour guide with you on your own discovery day of this beautiful piece of Northumberland. The ‘guide’ together with view points ensure you know what to look out for and where.

alt="kielder water with boat on it"
Kielder Water (image Kielder Waterside Park)

A great place to start any visit is the visitor centre at Tower Knowe, it is ideal for planning your day and for choosing what to see and where to go. Both the visitor centre at Tower Knowe and the visitor centre at Kielder Castle offer refreshments too.

A day out here holds lots of surprises and over the past 25 years it has become home to a unique collection of art, sculptures and architecture. Kielder Belvedere, Skyspace, Wave Chamber, Freya’s Cabin, Janus Chairs, Silvas Capitalis or the newest installation, The Nick. You never know what you might just discover on your travels!

Adventure seekers need look no further than this vast offering. The options to get out and get active are second to none, with cycling, mountain biking, canoeing, sailing, water skiing, snorkeling, fencing, archery, horse riding and even activities such as high ropes and zip wire, there is something there for all adrenaline junkies.

So whether you want to quietly enjoy the surrounding nature by taking a leisurely drive or a relaxed trip on the Osprey Ferry across the water to take in the views, or maybe you would just love to catch a glimpse of an Osprey or learn about Water Voles and the ‘Saving Ratty’ project or you want to delve into the vast forest park and see the architectural structures now firmly at home there, or you really want your day out to be about getting down to some serious activities, Kielder will not disappoint.

Kielder is without doubt beautiful but it is remote and we would always recommend checking the Visit Kielder website before you travel for up to date guidance on opening times, any restrictions and weather updates. The website is full of useful information and guides, and you will find some of these guides printed off for your use in the cottage. Please do note that when you visit Kielder a phone signal will not be easily found!

When you stay at St Oswald’s Farm Kielder is about an hour away with the drive there taking you through some of the most amazing and picturesque countryside. Book your next stay with us and be sure to put Kielder on your must do list.

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="dark skies and telescope"

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, Battlesteads Observatory or the Twice Brewed Observatory, all 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.

alt="Milky way in dark skies over Northumberland2
Milky Way over Northumberland

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="Northern lights over Heavenfield"
Northern Lights over our lovely Heavenfield

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="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!