Autumn is a great time for stargazing. With the nights drawing in you don’t have to stay up late to see the stars, but the evenings aren’t yet too cold to spend an hour or two outside with your binoculars at the ready.
The National Trust looks after some of the best sites for stargazing in the UK, and this autumn the conservation charity is inviting the nation to get outside and enjoy the spectacular night skies for themselves.
Several National Trust properties across the country will be hosting special stargazing events, with experts on hand to tell you all about comets and planets and point out some of the galaxies and constellations you can find in the autumn skies.
If you’d rather enjoy the stars under you own steam then the Trust can also offer magical walking routes that are perfect for a night time stroll, with places to stop and take in the night-time skyscape.
Stargazing is one of the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11¾, so why not get the whole family together and head out to discover one of the charity’s special stargazing walks or events:
Holnicote Estate, Exmoor: Dunkery Beacon and Horner Wood circular walk
Exmoor National Park was designated the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe, and it’s one of the UK’s best spots for stargazing thanks to low levels of light pollution. You can get closer to the stars at Dunkery Beacon on the Holnicote Estate, the highest point on Exmoor. The 520m-high summit offers stunning 360-degree views of the skies above Somerset, so there’ll be plenty of stars and constellations to keep you occupied. You can also listen out for nightjars, and keep your eyes peeled for low-flying bats.
Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps: Carnewas Coast walk
If you follow this walk backwards (beginning at Park Head) you’ll end up at Carnewas, one of Cornwall’s best sites for stargazing. The area was granted ‘Dark Sky Discovery site’ status in 2014, and the low levels of light pollution make it the perfect place to spend an evening searching the skies for planets and constellations. The best spot is in the grassy picnic area adjacent to the car park, so why not bring along some blankets and hot chocolate and spend an evening under the stars?
Knole, Kent: Museums at Night, 29 October, 6pm – 8.30pm
As part of Museums at Night, see Knole in a different light – climb the newly-opened Gatehouse Tower, explore the rooms of Eddy Sackville-West and get closer to the stars as you look out from the top of the tower. Take your torch for a night-time stroll in the park with the park walk team. Afterwards you can warm up in the new Brewhouse Café with a hot drink.
Price: Adult £3, Child £1.50
For more information please call 01732 462100
Black Down, Sussex: Temple of the Winds walk
As the highest point in Sussex, Black Down makes the perfect location for a night of autumn stargazing – in fact it’s been voted as one of the top 10 ‘Dark Skies’ destinations in the country. Away from the light pollution of nearby towns, Black Down’s open landscape gives an unobstructed view of the sky, and even during the day it boasts some of the best scenery that the South Downs National Park has to offer.
Uppark, West Sussex: Star-gazing at Uppark, 8 October, 6pm – 9.30pm
Famous sci-fi writer HG Wells loved stargazing through his telescope when he was a boy at Uppark. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, Uppark is hosting an evening with the South Downs Planetarium. Join the National Trust team and spend an evening searching the skies for Venus, Mars and Saturn as well as autumn stars, culminating in an outdoor planetarium show.
Price: Adult £10, Child £5
For more information or to book please call 0844 249 1895
Carding Mill Valley and the Long Mynd, Shropshire: Stars in Your Skies – The Comet’s Tale, 8 October, 8pm – 11.30pm
Carding Mill Valley & Long Mynd is a perfect spot for budding stargazers. There are a number of small car parks on the top of the Mynd, four of which have been designated as Dark Sky Discovery Sites, meaning they are places where it’s possible to see the Milky Way with the naked eye. During this event you’ll hear a talk by Dr Alan Longstaff, where you’ll learn what comets are made of, where they come from and what the Philae/Rosetta mission has taught us. Afterwards you’ll be able to head out onto the Mynd for some star gazing (weather permitting).
Prices: £10, booking essential
For more info please call: 01694 725000
Kinder, Edale and the Dark Peak, Derbyshire: Stargazing walk at Mam Tor
During the day, the summit of Mam Tor is one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the Peak District. From the top you get a 360 degree view, including Kinder Scout to the north-west, Bleaklow, Howden and Derwent Moors to the north and east, and the Edale Valley stretching out at your feet. With wide-open skies and minimal light pollution it also makes a great place for a spot of stargazing: on a clear night you can see around 4000 stars glinting away overhead.
Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire: Clumber’s walk for all seasons
In the 18th Century, much of Clumber Park in Nottingham was open heath land grazed by deer, sheep and rabbits. Nowadays around a third of the park is made up of woodland, but there are still a few spots where the sky is open enough to stare up at the stars – or perhaps catch them reflected in the lake. With the opportunity to camp onsite (using your own tent or one of the purpose-built camping pods), Clumber provides the ideal place to sleep under the stars.
East of England
Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Norfolk: Blakeney Freshes Coastal walk
During the day this easy three mile walk through Blakeney Village and around Blakeney Freshes is fantastic for spotting wildlife, especially birds. After dark it’s even more special, as you can stroll along under the stars and pause to admire some of Norfolk’s famous skyscapes – which can be just as impressive at night-time as during the day.
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire: Wicken Fen Boardwalk Trail
Sunsets at Wicken Fen are spectacular all year round, but during autumn they come a little earlier, lighting up the russet-coloured sedge with a golden-orange glow. There’s no need to rush off either: with four open-fronted shelters on site, Wicken provides a great opportunity for a night of ‘back to basics’ wild camping under the stars. Take your binoculars and see if you can make out some of the constellations. There’s plenty of company too in form of Wicken’s wildlife: in autumn look out for hen and marsh harriers, barn owls, and roe or muntjac deer.
Borrowdale and Derwentwater, Cumbria: Friars Crag Stargazing walk
The Lake District is full of scenic views, but Friar’s Crag in Borrowdale is up there with the best. During the daytime it offers spectacular views across Derwentwater, but the real magic comes during the late evening when atmospheric sunsets silhouette the crags against the sky. On a clear night it’s worth taking binoculars, a torch and a blanket so that you can enjoy a spot of stargazing as well.
Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland: Sycamore Gap Walk
Northumberland International Dark Sky Park is Europe’s largest area of protected night sky, making it the perfect place to admire the stars. This five mile circular walk starts from the National Trust visitor centre and follows the footpath along the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hadrian’s Wall to the iconic Sycamore Gap, which was used as a filming location in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Seeing the famous tree silhouetted against the starry sky is an image that you won’t forget in a hurry.
Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden, Yorkshire: Family stargazing evening, 28 October, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Ever wanted to see a star up close? Moons, star clusters and all kinds of deep sky objects are all up above Fountains Abbey waiting to be spotted by you. Test out your telescope skills and unlock the secrets of the night sky with a helping hand from York Astronomical Society. Park at the Visitor Centre and meet in the visitor centre courtyard to walk down to Swanley Grange.
N.B. In case of bad weather, there will still be plenty of learning and demonstrations inside the education centre.
Prices: £5 per person
For more information please call 01765 643166
Formerly a grand private estate, Stackpole is now fully open to the public and provides access to stretches some of the world’s most beautiful stretches of coastline. It’s also home to Broadhaven South, one of four designated Dark Sky Discovery sites in Pembrokeshire. Run by the National Trust, Broadhaven South is the perfect spot for staring up at the Milky Way. As the car park is right next to the beach, you can even make an afternoon of it – just remember to take warm clothes and a torch.
Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim: Stargazing, 15 October, 6.30pm – 9.30pm
The Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane site was granted ‘Dark Sky Discovery’ status in 2014 and is currently one of only two such sites in Northern Ireland. The observation evening will be supported by the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society (NIAAS) who will give a talk and be on hand to give advice on what to look for. This event will give you the chance to view the stars as you have never seen them before.
Price: No charge, but donations are welcome. Booking essential.
For more information please call 028 2073 3419
Divis & the Black Mountain, Northern Ireland: Black Mountain walk
With spectacular panoramic views over Belfast, Divis and the Black Mountain are a haven for those seeking the wild countryside experience. Enjoy the breath-taking views it offers across the Mourne Mountains and Stranford Lough, or even as far away as Southern Scotland, the Lake District, and Donegal in the ROI. Reaching an impressive height of 478m, Divis also makes the perfect vantage point for stargazing, and light pollution is minimal despite the bright lights of Belfast less than 10 miles away.