Celebrating Britain’s Dark Skies and outdoor spaces

On 8 December the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks were designated International Dark Sky Reserves, meaning there’s now even more reason to start dreaming of a stargazing trip to Britain.

Named for the exceptional quality of their nocturnal environments, International Dark Sky Reserves can be found across Britain.  Exmoor National Park was Europe’s first region to receive the accolade in 2011. Cranborne Chase, the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and South Downs National Parks followed, with the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks now joining their ranks.

Free from air and light pollution, these newly crowned International Dark Sky Reserves deliver unforgettable views of the Milky Way, meteors, and even the Northern Lights – not to mention a blanket of sparkling stars. Beyond stargazing, these spaces also allow you to get back to nature and experience the magic of the great outdoors in all number of ways. This is especially true during the various Dark Skies Festivals, which celebrate the night skies and the eclectic mix of wildlife found in Britain’s National Parks.

Exmoor Dark Skies Festival

The annual Exmoor Dark Skies Festival offers a range of tours, activities and stargazing events for those of all ages. Covering 267 square miles, explore the vast expanse of moorland, woods and valleys, while looking out for elusive dormice among the hedgerows and listening to the bellows of passionate stags. 

A number of spots across Exmoor allow you to see thousands of stars with the naked eye on a clear night. Popular areas include around Holdstone Hill, where purple heather and richly-coloured bracken provide a spectacular autumnal sight, and Haddon Hill, which overlooks the shores of Wimbleball Lake. Other locations for exceptional views include Webber’s Post, in Somerset, and the area around Brendon Two Gates.

Embark on a Land Rover safari at dusk to discover the magical sights and sounds of the National Park during the festival, as well as some of its myths and legends. Stargazing walks and educational sessions are some of the other activities set to be available, alongside guided ranger walks and astronomy presentations. Those wishing to learn more about the magnificent surroundings and the skies above them can also join several virtual events and talks, or visit some of the region’s farms to mix stargazing with a chance to sample the delicacies of the harvest. For more information about some of the events included in the Exmoor Dark Skies Festival, visit the Exmoor National Park website.

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Exmoor National Park

Future Dark Skies Festivals

St Huberts Church under a starry sky, Sussex Downs National Park Dark Skies Reserve. Credit to Dan Oakley SDNPA

The North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales Dark Skies Festival is scheduled for 12-28 February 2021, with a distinct focus on nature at night. A packed itinerary of events is set to provide a glimpse into the lives of the region’s nocturnal creatures, while delving into how the area’s dark skies impact upon their very existence. The celebrations in 2020 saw both National Parks feature their largest programmes of events since the inaugural event in 2016, with events for 2021 set to be unveiled in due course.

Another Dark Skies Festival is held in the South Downs each February too. With a stellar line up of talks, observation sessions and family-friendly activities planned, you can also wander the fairy-tale battlements of Arundel Castle and explore Britain’s longest and deepest dry valley at Devil’s Dyke within the stunning surroundings of Britain’s newest National Park.

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North York Moors National Park

Other spots for stargazing

 A man sitting on a rock stargazing at Snowdonia International Dark Sky Reserve, Wales. Credit to VisitBritain/Kris Williams

In addition to the International Dark Sky Reserves, Britain is also home to a number of International Dark Sky Parks. One example is the 45,000 acres of the Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park, in mid Wales, roughly half way between the Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky Reserves to the north and south.  Scotland is home to a further two locations, with Galloway Forest Park and the skies above Tomintoul and Glenlivet in the Cairngorms both awarded International Dark Sky Park status. With its shimmering lochs and forested glens, Galloway is a year-round delight, while the Cairngorms is the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world. Both provide stargazers with a chance to be at one with nature while taking in the wonders of the night sky. The Northumberland and Kielder Water and Forest Park provides ample opportunity to spy the stars too, as well as ospreys that call the region home. Alongside this International Dark Sky Park, there also more than 150 Dark Sky Discovery Sites across Britain to explore.

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Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park

Different attractions will have varied measures in place. You are encouraged to check all locations, attraction and event websites before travelling, so you can explore Britain with confidence.

10 Dec 2020(last updated)

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