Cumbrian Dark Skies mean starry, starry nights
If they arrive in the dark on a clear night, our visitors often comment on the stars when they arrive at Dandelion or Hoglet Cottage. Compared with a brightly lit city, our rural location is really dark and it’s not unusual to see ten times as many stars as in a city.
Arriving in Cumbria, suddenly Orion is made up of seven main stars, all visible with the naked eye. And, on a particularly clear dark night, you might even see the Milky Way arching overhead.
We’d like to share a few stargazing tips, offer some advice and also offer our recommended apps and links to find out more. These will also provide up-to-date information about events (in the sky and on the ground) and a stargazer’s calendar. There are several excellent locations for sky watching and star gazing not far from us so look out for events there too.
Stars from your doorstep
We’re part of Cumbria Tourism’s Dark Sky Friendly Cumbria scheme and really want our guests to enjoy this added attraction. We have a simple telescope in each cottage as well as advice on apps and websites that will help and a book on the night skies to be your guide.
And we recommend that anyone thinking of stargazing during their break downloads the Dark Sky Discovery Pack https://www.friendsofthelakedistrict.org.uk/dark-skies-subsite from Friends of the Lake District. It contains lots of simple and practical advice as well as even more links to information.
But here are a few key tips and recommendations so that you can come on your Dandelion and Hoglet break ready and prepared to enjoy the night skies:
- Go Stargazing https://gostargazing.co.uk/ is one of the most straightforward websites we’ve found. It brings a lot of information together in one place and has a calendar of events too.
- When you’re packing to come away, pop an extra layer of clothing (or three if you’re visiting us in winter) into your suitcase. And include a hat and gloves too as it gets cold sitting outside waiting for a meteor shower or spotting the International Space Station (ISS).
- Using the telescope, checking a stargazing app and looking at a book or star chart all need light but using a white light torch isn’t recommended for stargazing. If you can, bring a torch or head torch with a red-light option. It’s a common feature and is much better for preserving your night vision.
- Apps for your mobile phone are a great help on identifying what it is that you can see in the night sky. Google Skymap is a free and popular one and we’ve also used Sky Safari and ISS Detector to help us work out where to look for the ISS.
Finally, for a simple approach to seasonal star charts and some really useful videos, have a look at https://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/the_night_sky/ - and begin your very own Dark Sky Discovery.
Best places to see the stars
There are some great Dark Sky locations around us in North Cumbria. RSPB Geltsdale is probably one of the closest and the Clesketts Car Park makes it convenient too. https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/geltsdale/ It is one of very few Milky Way class sites in Cumbria, which means that the Milky Way can be visible to the naked eye on a clear night. In our experience, this is best in the Autumn months when it arches overhead.
Kielder Forest Park https://www.visitkielder.com/visit/kielder-observatory and Galloway Forest Park https://forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/forest-parks/galloway-forest-park/dark-skies both have Dark Sky Park status and lots of facilities – including proper observatories – for really keen astronomers. Each of them is a couple of hours drive away so perhaps you’ll get bitten by the stargazing bug when you visit us and then come back for more in future!