One of the benefits of living in the country is looking up and being able to see the stars at night. Despite the fact that I can see much more than I would ever be able to see living in a city, I can still tell the difference when I go somewhere which is even more remote. James loves star-gazing, so for his birthday it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to go to the Kielder Observatory which is situated within a dark skies area.
The Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky. It is also officially the best place in England to view the heavens. However, this all counts on it being a clear night, which it sadly wasn’t when we went to the observatory. It was also cloudy for the other nights of our stay (we stayed in Kielder for three nights, visiting the observatory on the first night) so sadly we missed out on the beautiful night time views that we had been hoping for. However we still had a wonderful time and I would thoroughly recommend it.
The popularity of the observatory means that you need to book onto an event several months in advance, meaning you have absolutely no idea what the weather will be like and whether you are likely to see any stars. As such, the event is set up so that it doesn’t matter what the weather is like. In fact, seeing stars is almost a bonus as there is still a full evening planned. Don’t worry – you definitely won’t just be stood out in the cold staring at nothingness!
The event that we went to was called “A Universe Full of Stars” (different nights have different themes) and started at 11:30pm. Given the late start and finish, I would suggest finding somewhere to stay nearby. We booked a lodge for three nights to make a weekend of it, but there are some B&Bs if you only want to stay for one night. The evening was split up into different parts, and we were promised that if the skies did clear up at all then we would all go straight outside as seeing the stars was the priority. As you could be spending time outside, make sure you wrap up warm! Even the rooms with the telescopes in were pretty chilly (although this helped to keep you awake) so definitely layer up.
Our evening started with a talk, and then we were broken off into smaller groups to complete different activities. We handled meteors and got to look at pieces of Mars and moon rock under a microscope, we were shown two different telescopes and also learned more about astro-photography. After a break for some hot chocolate we were then presented the second half of the talk. All of the staff were really knowledgeable and approachable, encouraging people to ask questions throughout the evening. Whilst some scientific knowledge (but no more than GCSE level) would be useful, there were clearly members of the audience who had very little knowledge about space and the talks were still accessible to them.
It was disappointing that we didn’t see any stars, but overall we still had a fascinating evening that we thoroughly enjoyed and I would happily go again. Very jealous of the group who earlier in the same week had seen the Northern lights on an Aurora evening!