Cumbria Dark SkiesBACK
7th October 2021
It’s just over a month until the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival, a celebration of the county’s fantastic stargazing opportunities.
National Parks remain some of the most unspoilt, darkest places in Great Britain, providing us with the perfect opportunity to really explore our star-studded skies throughout Autumn and Winter. From first-time stargazers to astrophotography experts, the wonder of the night skies will never cease to amaze.
Where to stargaze
Birkdale House offers some excellent stargazing opportunities. Whether you decide to sit outside on the terrace or take a walk up Brant Fell, if the skies are clear the sight is simply spellbinding.
Alternatively, you could venture out. Ennerdale, Wasdale and the Borrowdale Valley are some of the best places in the Lake District to really soak up the night skies. But closer to home, Grizedale Forest is pretty easy to get to and has a number of car parks. There are also a number of stargazing events at Grizedale, including star gazing if the skies are clear.
Alternatively, head up to the Langdale Valley, where the steep-sided valley shelters the Langdales from any town lights, meaning minimal light pollution. The ideal place to really connect with the night sky.
There are a number of things you can do to really enhance your stargazing experience. We’ve highlighted a few below:Adjust your eyes. It can take up to 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so factor in enough time ahead of your stargazing.
Use red light to maintain your night vision – for instance, paint the end of your torch with red nail varnish, or cover with a red sock or simply use a back light from your bike – anything to avoid bright lights.
Wrap up – at this time of year it can get cold, so make sure you’ve got some warm and cosy clothing with you. And take something you can put on the ground so that you can stretch out.
Binoculars / telescope – both will help you see far more than just with the naked eye. Even a pair of binoculars will increase what you see by a factor of up to 50.
Stargazing apps – there are plenty of apps for your phone which will give you the names of the stars and constellations overhead.
Check the moon calendar – the last thing you want is to be stargazing when there’s a wonderful full moon!
The Importance of Dark Skies
We’re not the only ones who love dark skies. Lack of light pollution is a welcome sight for so many animals. After all, about 60& of animals are nocturnal, following the light of the moon and the stars. If you’re out and about stargazing there’s a chance you might also see bats, foxes, deer, badgers, owls, hedgehogs… the list goes on. However, light pollution can disrupt their sleeping, feeding and breeding behaviour.
They are also critical for our own wellbeing. For thousands of years we’ve looked up at the night sky and seen the Milky Way, wondered at shooting stars and pointed out the constellations. Nowadays, it’s estimated that over 80% of the UK population has never seen the Milky Way, due to the increase in light pollution.
In short, Cumbria dark skies are critical to our wildlife and to our own sense of wellbeing. A star lit night is a truly uplifting sight, and one that we tend to remember. So let’s hope that this sense of wonder continues for generations to come.
Main image credit: Paul Mitchell