Dark Skies Festival


Your guide to the Dark Skies Festival 2019, with events, places to be and more information. A great family activity to enjoy in February half term.

Author: GetOutside Champion, Helen Pollard.

In the past due to unpredictable weather and short days I have found February Half term can be a tricky holiday for planning active outdoor activities. It can be tempting to restrict adventuring and even flee abroad. However, there is now a very special festival that takes place in a number of the National Parks that makes this holiday my new favourite time of the year. The Dark Skies Festival runs from 15th February to 3rd March 2019.

The festival is jointly hosted by Northumberland, North York Moors, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. The National Parks remain some of the darkest places in England and are therefore perfect locations to promote the Dark Skies.

The Dark Skies Festivals are all about discovering, learning and enjoying the outside in the dark and the stars you can see as a result. This could mean getting out for a led activity such as cycling, walking, running or caving at night, or even attending a stargazing party.

Bike against fence overlooking a starry night

Even if the weather is a bit brutal or you have young children there are loads of ways to take part in a daytime event, such as learning more about star constellations or making and flying a rocket.

Don’t worry if you are not quite Brian Cox in your knowledge of our solar system. There are events for families, first-time stargazers and those wishing to expand their knowledge or astrophotography skills further. The events are provided by an array of local organisations in each location including the National Park Authorities, local councils and businesses.

So where to go?

Northumberland National Park

Lone Sycamore, Sycamore gap, Hadrians Wall, Northumberland By Michael Walker

The national park together with neighbouring Kielder Water & Forest Park makes up Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, nearly 1,500 square kilometres of protected dark, starry skies.

It is officially the best place in England for people to enjoy the heavens. (however the other National Parks are not far behind!) For more information and lists of activities please visit: www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk

North York Moors National Park

With a number of Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Danby and Sutton Bank National Park Centres plus Scarborough & Ryedale Astronomical Society Observatories in Dalby Forest. It is a fantastic place to see a sky full of stars!

Examples of the many family suitable events scheduled for February 2019 include:

Why Stars Matter Trail

Did you know that stars affect you and the forest every day? Follow our ‘Why Stars Matter’ trail to find out how. The trail starts at Dalby Forest Visitor...
or interested in wildlife get involved with the Owl Prowl Evening.

Owl Prowl Evening

“Wrap up warm for a magical “must-do” evening event with the world’s most famous nocturnal birds! Owl Prowl Evenings are a great idea for a night out with family.”
Interested? Full events listings for the North York Moors NP are found on their website www.northyorkmoors.org.uk

Yorkshire Dales National Park

My business Stage 1 Cycles is situated in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Visitors centre in Hawes. We are extensively involved in the festival which is a brilliant start to the outdoor season.

The Yorkshire Dales boasts the 2nd darkest spot in England and a number of Dark Sky Discovery sites.

One of our events is the:

The BIG MOON challenge ride

Big Moon Rider promo banner

Can you take on the dark skies and follow the rise of a super moon? Three levels of Mountain Bike ride:
Return to bacon/veggie sausage butties £15. (all proceeds to Swaledale Mountain Rescue)

There will be an instructor on each ride route or you can go independently with a route map and try and beat the clock. For more details visit www.stage1cycles.co.uk

There are also loads of events all over the Dales including with our neighbours the Dales Countryside Museum.

27-02-2019 | 13:00 TO 16:00

This event is to give the children an opportunity to make different weaved crafts using reflective and glow in the dark materials. The children will weave a space mat and create a galaxy to take home. Included in museum admission.

The Dark Skies Festival in the Yorkshire Dales is well established over the last 3 years and definitely worth a visit.
Full listings found:

South Downs

This National Park is doing fantastic work protecting the Dark Skies in the South East of England which are significantly under threat from light pollutions from large urban areas.

Their International Dark Sky Reserve status is a statement that the skies of the South Downs are worth protecting. Full details of their activities are found on:

For more information about the Festival and full events listings for each of the main host National Parks please visit www.darkskiesnationalpark.org.uk

It’s amazing what you can see and do in the dark!!!

Vibrant Milky Way composite image over landscape of English countryside

Don’t worry if you can’t get to any of the festival sites this February truly dark skies – can be found in many of our national parks – allowing us to see far-off stars and galaxies, without the orange glow of street lights and neon signs.

Next time you’re visiting one of the 15 National Parks to enjoy the great outdoors why not look into what events they are hosting to support visitors access the Dark Skies.

National Parks are working hard to establish International Dark Sky Reserves and Sky Discovery Sites which are a nationwide network of places that provide great views and organise special events and are accessible to everyone

Participating National Parks

  • Brecon Beacons National Park; International Dark sky reserve
  • Cairngorms National Park; Dark Sky Discovery site at Glenlivet Estate
    As well as star gazing, our most northerly National Park offers the best chance for a view of the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) too.
  • Exmoor National Park; International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Lake District National Parks: Dark Sky Discovery Site at Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre. Low Gillerthwaite field centre runs special star-gazing events throughout the year.
  • Peak District National Park Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Surprise View, Parsley Hay and Minninglow
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park 5 Dark Sky Discovery sites
  • Snowdonia National Park International Dark Sky Reserve

For information about Dark Skies activities in all the National Park and all year round events please visit: www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk

Northern lights

Essential Dark Skies Gear

  • Apps on phone or tablet – There are lots of great astronomy apps available including stargazing guides to help you learn about the night sky. But remember that a bright screen will stop your eyes fully adjusting to the dark.
  • Binoculars – A good pair of binoculars is as useful at night as they can be in the day.
  • Torch with red light – Keep your eyes in night vision mode. Use a red bike light or paint a cheap torch lens with red nail varnish.
  • Warm clothing –  Even on a sunny day, after the sun goes down temperatures plummet. Layers of clothing work best rather than one big warm ‘all or nothing’ coat!
  • Patience – Waiting for wildlife, for clouds to clear or simply for your eyes to get used (about 20 mins) to the dark takes patience.

This story was originally published on the GetOutside website – read it here.