Stargazing is a magical way to experience the beauty of our natural world. Looking up at a great canopy of space can fill one with wonder as the stars twinkle and glisten against the dark night sky.
Northumberland is home to the largest expanse of protected dark skies in the UK. Covering an area of 572 square miles, 96% of the park benefits from the lowest levels of light pollution. Northumberland National Park includes the darkest locations in England, and on clear moonless nights the Milky Way can be clearly seen stretching across star-filled skies. It is also home to the renowned Kielder Observatory which offers stargazing events 7 days a week, and there are frequent stargazing events run by local astronomical societies and park authorities.
What is a Dark Sky Discovery Site?
These are locations that are accessible to members of the public and are officially recognised as excellent places to stargaze. They usually have free overnight car parking, some even have toilet facilities, however they rarely allow overnight camping (unless it’s a campsite!)
Why go stargazing?
It’s important to take time out and appreciate the simple things in life and once you stop and look up, you’ll wonder why you don’t do it more often! Whether you are a couple, a group of friends or a family, stargazing is a lovely experience which can be done together. You can stargaze at any time of year, but from autumn onwards the sun sets earlier, allowing more time to fit this into your day with the kids. It’s best done before the moon is full. Tie this in with a stay at one of our cottages in Northumberland and make it a trip to remember.
Your stargazing kit list
- Something to lie on (camping mat or blanket)
- Food and drink - a thermos flask for hot chocolate would be an added bonus!
- Warm clothes – what ever the time of year, it is good to be prepared with extra layers
- Star spotter guide – it is good to understand what constellations you are looking at
- Map, compass or GPS – if you are going off-track, make sure you are safe and prepared at all times
- Camera to record the moment and to capture the starry sky
- Torch for ease and safety
Here are some Dark Sky Discovery Sites throughout Northumberland which we feel are worth listing.
Dark sky observatories in Northumberland
An astronomical observatory is a building used for observing events that happen in space. They are usually placed in locations where they are away from towns and cities to avoid light pollution. The general public can experience space in a different way when visiting and can learn all about the night sky and try out the powerful telescopes.
Kielder Forest Observatory
Located high upon Black Fell in the heart of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park which has the largest expanse of dark night sky in Europe. The Gillian Dickson Astroimaging Academy is situated alongside and is dedicated to teaching, learning and research. Here you can come to learn all about the Kielder night sky, meet experienced astronomers and even spot shooting stars. Find out more in our guide to Kielder Forest.
Battlesteads Dark Sky Observatory
An accessible, public astronomical observatory offering talks, activities, drop-in sessions, stargazing and astro courses to suit anyone from the absolute beginner to the professional.
Dark Sky villages in Northumberland
The villages throughout Northumberland are welcoming and inviting and many of them are situated rurally so have little light pollution. Here is a list of Dark Sky approved villages - why not visit some of these at night time and see which ones are best for catching the stars?
- Lindisfarne - Holy Island
Dark Sky village halls
- Kirknewton Village Hall - Kirknewton, Near Wooler, NE71 6XA
- Ingram Village Hall - Ingram, Near Powburn, NE66 4LT
- Tarset Village Hall - Tarset Village Hall, Lanehead, NE48 1NT
- Elsdon Village Hall & Green - Elsdon, Otterburn, NE19 1AA
Dark Sky natural locations
If you want a ‘wilder’ experience, some of these locations are worth checking out. Some of them may take a walk to get to them, but if you are prepared with everything you need then, once there, it is an enjoyable evening under the stars.
- Cawfields Quarry – a quarry on Hadrian's Wall. Built for protection, it hangs on to the edge of the sheer crags. Be careful and take care at night time.
- Walltown Country Park – spot stars amongst a landscape of woodland, meadows, lakes and wildlife.
- Wooler Common – a small town near the Cheviot Hills. The common is a short walk from the town centre.
- Elf Kirk Viewpoint - the former quarry site of Elf Kirk provides one of the most iconic views of Kielder Water & Forest Park.
- Rochester Roundhouse - located on the old Brigantium site in Rochester in the Redesdale Valley. A specially designed space for community events and activities.
Dark Sky car parks
If you are not one for spending a lot of time outside, and if you don't like getting cold, these car parks would be a good option for you. Wrap up in a blanket from the comfort of your seat and sit peacefully gazing out through the windscreen. Many people do it this way!
- Alwinton car park - NE65 7BP
- Hawkhope car park - NE48 1BB
- Cawfields car park - NE49 9PJ
Top Tip: If you are hiring a car during your holiday, a convertible would be a perfect option to enhance your stargazing experience!
Dark Sky pubs
Stargazing won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, so for those of you who want to dabble in stars but enjoy the home comforts in life, here are two pubs which are good spots for seeing stars. Here you can enjoy a nice meal outside, or a pint of ale whilst enjoying a different version of the dark sky experience.
Twice Brewed Inn - Situated within the southern boundary of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park. Grab a hearty meal and a pint of the inn's home-brewed beer and you're set for an evening enjoying the fabulous starry skies above!
Redesdale Arms – This pub/restaurant is a frequent host of stargazing events organised by local astronomers and often has star-filled skies above.
We hope you enjoyed this guide to stargazing in Northumberland. If you are looking to visit Northumberland Dark Sky Park, why not make a holiday of it and stay in one of our lovely cottages?