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Heavens above: top 10 UK Dark Skies festivals and stargazing destinations | Travel


Hebridean Dark Skies Festival

A packed programme of astronomy talks, stargazing, films, music, visual art and theatre combines to create the Dark Skies Festival on the Isle of Lewis, which runs from 11-25 February. The Dark Skies exhibition will feature newly commissioned works by a group of Hebridean artists, stargazing events will be held indoors at the Cosmos Planetarium and outside with Highland Astronomy, and the festival will kick off with a night of comedy and astronomy. Stay at the Royal, a harbourside hotel, with a restaurant specialising in local meat and fish (doubles from £131, B&B, royalstornoway.co.uk).
More information at
lanntair.com

Exmoor

‘Some of the best places to see the stars’: Exmoor.
‘Some of the best places to see the stars’: Exmoor. Photograph: Peter Hendrie/Exmoor National Park

The festival in Exmoor happens in autumn, but if you can’t wait that long there are regular Dark Skies events in the school holidays (a Night Sky Stargazing & Bushcraft Adventure evening is taking place on 21 February), while the Dark Sky Discovery Trail is a two-mile route across open moorland that takes in some of the best places to see the stars (exmoorwalks.org/darksky). Stay at the Exmoor White Horse Inn, a 16th-century inn (doubles from £119, B&B, exmoor-whitehorse.co.uk).
exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk

Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors

‘Family-friendly experiences’: Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors.
‘Family-friendly experiences’: Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors. Photograph: Rob Maynard/Getty Images

Learn about the night sky while hiking across open moorland, soaking in a hot tub, paddling a canoe or listening to expert astronomers – all on offer across the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park. The festival runs from 18 February to 6 March and includes a rocket-making workshop and planet pizza-making evening. Stay at the 16th-century White Hart Inn (doubles from £120, B&B; whiteharthawes.co.uk).
yorkshiredales.org.uk

Northumberland

One of the least-populated regions of the UK, this is an excellent stargazing spot with little light pollution. Its festival runs from 12-28 February, with events including aurora hunting at the Battlesteads Observatory, astronomy workshops, moon walks and stargazing experiences on Hadrian’s Wall. Stay at the Battlesteads Hotel, just across the road from the observatory, with a buzzy dining room and stylish bedrooms (doubles from £115, B&B, battlesteads.com). northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

South Downs national park

‘February festival’: South Downs National Park.
‘February festival’: South Downs National Park

The South Downs is holding its festival in February, with star- and moongazing events at Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Hampshire, Seven Sisters Country Park in East Sussex, and Brighton seafront. Local astronomy groups along the coast will hold talks, with tours of the planets at the South Downs Planetarium in Chichester. Stay at the White Horse Inn in Sutton, a coaching inn with a well-loved restaurant (doubles from £133, B&B, whitehorseinn-sutton.co.uk).
southdowns.gov.uk

Peak District national park

Three spots across the park have been designated Dark Sky sites, offering the chance to see some spectacular starlit skies. The car parks at Parsley Hay, near Hartington, Surprise View near Hathersage and Minninglow at Pikehall have astronomy panels to help visitors explore the constellations, and private Stargazing Experiences in Hathersage can be arranged through Dark Sky Telescope Hire (darkskytelescopehire.co.uk). Stay at the George, a historic inn (doubles from £150, B&B, thegeorgehathersage.com).
peakdistrict.gov.uk

Brecon Beacons national park

Keen stargazers should put 23-25 September in their diaries for the second annual Beacons Dark Skies Festival, with events for astrophotographers, families and keen astronomers. Alongside practical workshops, there are talks on the history and folklore that surrounds the constellations and the nocturnal wildlife that depends on them. New for this year is a mobile, inflatable planetarium that will be set up in locations across the Park. Stay at Gliffaes, a country house hotel just outside Crickhowell (doubles from £155, B&B, gliffaeshotel.com).
beacons-npa.gov.uk

Cumbria

Art workshops, wood-whittling courses and guided night-time swims are on offer at the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival (12-26 February), along with woodside walks beneath starry skies, moon watching and listening to nocturnal wildlife. Stay at the Wordsworth Hotel & Spa in Grasmere – a short drive from the Dark Sky Discovery Centre at Allan Bank (doubles from £118, B&B, thewordsworthhotel.co.uk).
visitlakedistrict.com

Forest of Bowland

‘Spectacular at any time’: Forest of Bowland.
‘Spectacular at any time’: Forest of Bowland

The Forest’s Dark Skies festival takes place over half-term (12-20 February), and although the live events are fully booked, you can join some online. The skies above the forest are spectacular at any time, however, and it’s easy to stargaze independently, with public Dark Sky Discovery Sites around the Forest – at Beacon Fell Country Park, Gisburn Forest Hub, Slaidburn Village Car Park and Crook o’ Lune picnic site. Stay at the Inn at Whitewell, an elegant 17th-century hotel (doubles from £140, B&B, innatwhitewell.com).
forestofbowland.com

Cairngorms national park

The most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world, the Cairngorms is ablaze with stars – and there’s a chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The skies are so dark it’s possible to see nebula just using binoculars, with the “snow roads” between Braemar and the Spittal of Glenshee and Glen Muick being two of the best places to stargaze. Stay at Culdearn House, a classic Victorian country house hotel (doubles from £220, B&B, culdearn.com).
cairngorms.co.uk.



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