Northumberland is well known for its sweeping landscapes, stretches of clear coastline dotted with castles and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall, but there is much more to this wild, rugged county waiting to be discovered.
Northumberland’s best-kept secret is that it is just as good with the lights off. Yes, you read it correctly – Northumberland is beautiful in the daytime, but in the dark, it is simply spectacular. Northumberland is home to one of the largest and most tranquil national parks in England, which sees minimal light pollution. Cawfields Quarry in Northumberland National Park is officially recognised as a Dark Sky Discovery Site; when the lights go out, the stars become vivid, glittering against a clear, inky sky above Northumberland.
The skies in Northumberland are so deep and so dark, that Northumberland National Park – along with Kielder Water & Forest Park and Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society – have recently been awarded the status of Europe’s largest Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Skies Association. As a result, a staggering 570 square miles of Northumberland will be kept free from light pollution.
With the growing popularity of astro-tourism in the area, many businesses and attractions now provide special stargazing experiences for guests, from a pair of binoculars and a lounger in the garden, to a stargazing master class with high-tech equipment. It is estimated that around 85% of the UK population has never seen a truly dark sky. So for an astronomic experience that won’t cost the universe, simply grab a night-cap and a warm coat and head outside in Northumberland!
For a thorough exploration of the universe, Kielder Observatory is home to some of the largest telescopes available for public use anywhere in Europe. Their events programme caters for people of all ages, regardless of level of knowledge or experience, and the team of astronomers on hand offer guidance on how the telescopes work and how to use them so as to maximise your viewing experience.
Just when you’re thinking it couldn’t get any better, the stunning Northumberland sky is also a fantastic window into ‘Aurora Borealis’ or the Northern Lights. Witnessing this natural phenomenon would usually involve a trip to Norway, Iceland or the Arctic Circle, but Nasa have predicted that those in the far north of England will this year be afforded the best possible conditions for seeing the Northern Lights in the next ten years. The Northumberland Coast has been highlighted as one of the most promising locations, which only adds to the attraction of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Whether you’re peering into the telescopes at Kielder Observatory or catching a glimpse through your binoculars – Northumberland’s night sky is guaranteed to take your breath away.
Winter nights are darkest and best for viewing deep sky objects such as galaxies, while in summer you can view the beautiful Milky Way, passing comets, shooting stars and even experience meteor showers and other celestial events.
Written by Annie Edgar, a travel writer for Northumberland Tourism.