Northumberland may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of looking at the stars, but the counties night skies are as pristine and unspoiled as its glorious landscape. This is Europe’s best spot for star-gazing – well, officially at least!
The International Dark Skies Association (IDA) has awarded a Gold Tier Sky Park status to the county for the quality of its clear night skies. Covering an area of around 580 square miles (1500km) the predominantly uninhabited area does not receive any light pollution – and the picture is incredible!
The new zone is expected to boost tourism and has a head start by boasting to be the largest dark sky park in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The area is known as the Northumberland Dark Sky Park (NDSP) covers the same area as the National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park which already boasts largest woodland area and Europe’s largest man-made reservoir.
The project to secure the NDSP label involved more than 300 light readings taken by forestry commission rangers, National Park volunteers and local amateur astronomers. It is hoped that when the project is finished there will be around 13 sites star-gazes can visit.
The premier site for star-gazing in Northumberland remains the Kielder Observatory. Built in 2008, the award-winning configuration appears at first glance like a couple of 70’s TV sets have been thrown on the roof, but on closer inspection they are the rotating turrets of the observatory deck.
Built on the hilltops 1200km above Kielder Water & Forests, Britain’s largest public observatory opens your mind into the enigma that is the cosmos. Professional guides are on hand to walk you through space and reveal what astronomers are learning about the Universe, comets and asteroids.
Looking at the night sky through a telescope is even more incredible than seeing a blanket of stars for the first time. Being a city dweller I had no idea you can see so many stars that are visible to the naked eye. You can see even more with the two computer-operated telescopes that are permanently housed at the observatory. The depth is so powerful you can see shadows in space.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking the Hubble telescope here by any stretch of the imagination, but for an observatory that is purpose designed for amateur astronomers it gets the job done. The all-timber land pier outside is also used for looking over Kielder Forest during the day. There is a sister project at the nearby Kielder Sky Space.
The best time to observe the night sky in Northumberland is between October and March. During this period star-gazing events are organised and although the weather can be a little colder this time of year you can find some great deals in hotels and holiday cottages. Whatever your reason is for visiting Northumberland, star-gazing is an added bonus.