Under the cover of darkness is one of the best ways for some of the UK’s most magnificent scenery to be viewed. The UK is home to some of the largest areas of Dark Sky known as low light pollution areas, making it the perfect place to capture the canopy of the stars with the naked eye. Land Rover teamed up with astronomer and science communicator, Dr Jenifer Millard, to scope out the 10 best stargazing spots in the UK. Pack your binoculars and telescopes, and prepare for an epic experience in one of these Dark Sky locations…
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – Northern Ireland
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is one of only two Dark Sky sites in Northern Ireland making it incredibly special for those nearby. The National Trust site spans 66 feet across the Atlantic Ocean offering breath-taking views of the ocean in the daytime and the starry night sky in the dark. Often there with their equipment, the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy society are huge backers of this site.
“The 24-hour car park of this National Trust site offers excellent dark skies and is highly accessible.” – Dr Jenifer Millard.
Compton Bay – Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight’s Compton Bay draws stargazers all year round as it is largely devoid of light pollution, allowing visitors to spot all sorts of stars in the sky – even with just the naked eye. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way with great clarity. When it comes to constellations, you can spot Orion (named after a hunter in Greek mythology), The Plough (otherwise named the Big Dipper in US and Canada) and Cassiopeia (named after the vain queen who boasted about her unrivalled beauty).
“Nearby Fort Victoria Country Park car park is a Dark Sky Discovery Site, noted for its accessibility and excellent skies largely devoid of light pollution.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Tomintoul and Glenlivet, Cairngorms National Park – Scotland
This is the most northernly Dark Sky region of the UK. Here, stargazers can view the Aurora Borealis (or the Northern Lights) and the Milky Way. Twice a year, this National Park will also provide a view of the Spring equinox (around 20 March) and Autumn equinox (around 23 September). That is when the centre of the visible sun is directly above the equator.
“Cairngorms Dark Sky Park boasts Gold Tier dark skies. Three Dark Sky Discovery Sites are associated with Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park – Glenlivet Blairfindy car park, Tomintoul Field of Hope, and The Carrachs car park.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Llynnau Cregennen, Snowdonia National Park – North Wales
Over in one of the remotest parts of Britain, Snowdonia presents one of the darkest and clearest views of the sky for astronomers. Facing North from the North Wales National Park, stargazers can see the North Star – the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation – with just the naked eye. Also, visible here is the Cassiopeia constellation.
“Concerted efforts by the Park Authority resulted in Snowdonia achieving International Dark Sky Reserve Status in 2015. With numerous lakes, trails, and places of outstanding beauty, budding stargazers can choose from dozens of locations. The lakes of Lynnau Cregennen, Dolgellau, are a recommended stargazing site and are particularly picturesque.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Dalby Forest, North York Moors National Park – North Yorkshire
This stunningly secluded part of northern England offers beautiful coastline views in the daytime between Saltburn and Scarborough. At night-time however, you can head up to Kettleness Cliff. Thanks to its height and dark sky, you can spy up to 2,000 stars at any one time.
“Awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2020, the region is committed to reducing light pollution and making dark skies accessible for all. Dalby Forest is home to Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society, who hold regular stargazing events, and Starfest, an annual three-night star camp held in August.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Usk Reservoir, Brecon Beacons National Park – Wales
The Usk Reservoir in Brecon Beacons makes the list thanks to its crystal-clear cosmos. This is an all-year stargazing spot, great for those looking out for the Milky Way. Dependent on the time of year, you may also be able to spot colourful nebulas in the sky. These are a distinct body of interstellar clouds – or even meteor showers.
“The Brecon Beacons National Park achieved International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2012, the fifth destination in the world to be awarded this rare accolade. The region is home to several Dark Sky Discovery Sites, but Usk Reservoir offers some of the darkest skies and is accessible all year round with plentiful car parking.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Porlock Common, Exmoor National Park – Somerset
As the first ever Dark Sky Reserve in Europe, Exmoor boasts views of many planetary observations. It also offers views of thousands of stars via the Milky Way. They also run an annual Dark Skies Festival in late October to encourage everyone to look up.
“Exmoor National Park became the first Dark Sky Reserve in Europe 10 years ago. Porlock Common offers 360-degree views of some of the darkest skies available in the UK. There are no facilities directly on site, but equipment can be set up within the carparks.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Kielder Observatory and forest – Northumberland
Located in the centre of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Kielder Observatory is one of the most active stargazing sights. It offers event meetups nearly every night of the year. Kielder Forest is the second largest area of protected night sky in Europe. On a very dark night, you’ll feel close enough to touch Jupiter. The planet can even cast shadows on the ground.
Dr Jenifer Milard, says: “The Observatory hosts events almost every night of the year, studying the cosmos with telescopes when it’s clear and entertaining with tours and talks when clouds roll in.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Kelling Health Holiday Park – Norfolk
In the North Norfolk countryside, Kelling Heath draws hundreds of astronomers and novice stargazers throughout the year. Visitors can see the seven stars of the Orion constellation, the Milky Way and even huge interstellar dust clouds on occasion.
“In September 2017, Kelling Heath was awarded ‘Dark Sky Discovery Site’ status – it is one of the best places in the UK to enjoy the starry sky unaffected by light pollution and is highly accessible. Multiple star parties are held here every year, drawing hundreds of astronomers. Caravan hire is available, and there are many amenities.” – Dr Jenifer Milard.
Ben Damph Estate on Upper Loch Torridon – Scotland
Land Rover UK conducted an exploratory expedition to find the perfect Scottish west coast stargazing spot. They found one situated a mere eight miles off-road from the village of Torridon. Set in 14,500 acres of dramatic highland landscape and nestled on the edge of Upper Loch Torridon. Here sits the perfect stargazing spot on a clear night. The team took three Land Rover Defenders along the existing off-road route to the spot which – bereft of trees, and any signs of light pollution – provides a view of the Milky Way and even the possibility of experiencing the aurora borealis should the conditions be right.
Five top tips for stargazing
Are you an avid stargazer? Maybe you’re new to stargazing or want to begin but don’t know where to start. Land Rover asked expert Dr Jenifer Milard for her top tips for stargazing novices.
- Wrap up warm: Astronomy is a static hobby so it’s very easy to get cold. Hot drinks are a must too.
- Use a red-light torch: It takes your eyes around 30 minutes to become ‘dark adapted’. This means pupils fully dilated so your eyes are sensitive to faint starlight. Exposure to white light, from any source, even your phone screen, will ruin your dark adaption. A red-light torch or red-light filter on your phone screen will preserve your dark adaption.
- Moonless nights are best: Moonlight makes the whole night sky brighter, making it harder to see faint objects.
- Averted vision: By looking slightly to one side of your target object, you activate the more light-sensitive cells in your eyes. This allows you to see faint objects like nebulae and galaxies more easily. The light sensitive cells in your eyes do not detect colour. So, only the brightest objects, like planets and bright stars, are not black-and-white.
- Star maps, apps, and a compass: These will help you plan your observing session. They will also help you navigate the night sky, so you can find the objects you wish to view.
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