True crime documentaries on Netflix aside, there’s nothing more mysterious than the universe. But as our towns and cities become increasingly bigger and brighter it’s harder than ever to experience the wonders of the heavens.
In most built-up areas you’ll be lucky to see 20 stars on a clear night, but in an area of low light pollution you could see thousands twinkling above you. So, what are you waiting for? With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing, there’s never a better time to drink in the cosmos.
Get out and get starry-eyed at these incredible stargazing hotspots...
1. The South Downs National Park, England
The South Downs National Park is famed for rolling countryside and stunning coastal walks at Seven Sisters, but did you know it’s also an International Dark Sky Reserve; one of only 13 in the world? There are a number of Dark Sky Discovery Sites here, including Buriton and Harting Down – both in Hampshire – Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, Old Winchester Hill, Butser Hill, Iping Common, Bignor Hill, Devil’s Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and Birling Gap.
2. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Wales
Pembrokeshire’s wild coastline boasts some of the best dark sky opportunities in the country and is also well situated away from much of the light pollution that blights mainland areas. In fact, Pembrokeshire Coast's National Park Authority has worked with the National Trust to establish a map of Dark Sky Discovery Sites and some also host dark sky events to give you a deeper insight into the world of stargazing. With its elevated position and remote headland location, Martins Haven offers a 360-degree panorama of the night’s sky and is one of the best around.
3. North York Moors National Park, England
North York Moors National Park is one of the best places in the country to stargaze, thanks to its low levels of light pollution. There are three Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the North York Moors: Sutton Bank National Park Centre, The Moors National Park Centre and Dalby Forest, where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. The further north you are, the darker the sky and the more chance you have of also witnessing those elusive Northern Lights.
4. Galloway Forest's Dark Sky Park, Scotland
A couple of hours from Glasgow and an hour from Carlisle, Galloway Forest became the UK’s first Dark Sky Park in 2009 and is one of Scotland’s top astronomy destinations. One of the park’s best stargazing spots is The Queen's Way (A712), followed by Loch Doon (off the A713), where the lowest levels of light pollution can be found. You can rock up with your own telescope, or book a Dark Sky Ranger for guidance.
5. Exmoor National Park, England
Exmoor National Park was designated as Europe's' first International Dark Sky Reserve in 2011 and remains one of the best areas in the UK for stargazing, due to the lack of artificial light over the moor. Good spots include Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webber's Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake. This year the park will be hosting its Darks Skies Festival from 14th October to 3rd November, when around 40 stargazing events will be taking place all over the area.
6. The Yorkshire Dales, England
There are four designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the Yorkshire Dales National Park: at Hawes and Malham National Park Centres, Buckden National Park Car Park and Tan Hill Inn. You might even catch the Northern Lights when conditions are right, not to mention the International Space Station travelling at 17,000 mph overhead. The park will be putting on a host of different stargazing events, including canoeing by night along Scar House Reservoir (now booking for Jan-March 2020) and a guided night walk around Grimwith Reservoir with an expert planetologist.
7. Brecon Beacons, Wales
In 2012, the Brecon Beacons became just the fifth destination in the world (and the first in Wales) to be accredited with International Dark Sky Reserve Status. It’s one of the few places in the UK, and the world, with skies still untouched by light pollution and on a clear night you can see the Milky Way, major constellations, bright nebulas and often meteor showers. What’s more, with easy transport links to the rest of the UK, stargazers needn’t have to travel far to experience them. The park holds stargazing events throughout the year, and many B&Bs in the area even have telescopes for you to borrow.
8. Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Snowdonia National Park was awarded Dark Sky Reserve status in December 2015, where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye, stars clusters and even meteor showers. Five of the top spots in this dark sky reserve are the lakes Llyn y Dywarchen, Llyn Geirionydd and Llynnau Cregennen; Tŷ Cipar, a former gamekeeper’s house; and Bwlch y Groes, a mountain pass.
9. Northumberland National Park, England
Northumberland National Park forms part of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Europe’s largest area of protected night sky at 1,483 square kilometres. Thanks to its pristine skies it was awarded gold tier designation by the International Dark Sky Association, making it officially the best place in England for people to go to enjoy the heavens. Here, on a clear night, you can see millions of stars, the Milky Way and even the Andromeda Galaxy (a whopping 2.5 million light years away) with the naked eye. Or, you can use Kielder Observatory, open all year round.
10. Isle of Coll, Scotland
A small, isolated and low-lying island off the Isle of Mull and southwest of Ardnamurchan Point – the most westerly part of the UK’s mainland – the Isle of Coll is the first official Dark Sky Island in Scotland and one of only two in the UK. With no street lights anywhere on the island, starry nights are even more spectacular. Although stargazing is great wherever you are, Cliad football pitch, Arinagour and RSPB Totronald centre are considered the best spots.