Stargazing breaks in the UK

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With billions of stars in the universe, it’s little wonder that people have been staring into the night sky for centuries. Stargazing is just as popular today although high levels of light pollution across the UK mean you have to plan your stargazing holiday even more carefully.

Anyone who has ever lived in a town or city will know that the beauty of the night sky is always masked by numerous sources of light pollution. According to the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, a measure to assess the visibility of stars and celestial objects, London and other big cities are the worst places for stargazing with stars barely visible. The clearer and darker the sky, the better the chance of viewing stars with the naked eye. Renting a self-catering cottage in the heart of the countryside is an excellent choice. A rural location almost free of light pollution virtually guarantees fantastic star-spotting opportunities.

Why not time your stargazing break to coincide with a rare astronomical event? Some stellar events will only happen once in a lifetime so it’s worth making the most of the opportunity. The Geminid Meteor shower in mid December 2012 is a date for the diary or plan a holiday next April to view Saturn at Opposition. Don’t miss the chance to see the ringed planet at its closest position to earth.

As it takes the eyes at least forty minutes to properly adjust to complete darkness, an evening of stargazing is something you won’t want to rush. Being on holiday while you’re stargazing means being free from the shackles of daily chores. Spend the whole evening staring skywards without the niggling distraction of setting the alarm for work. Wrap up warm with a flask and a comfy chair for perfect viewing conditions.

So, where to get the best views of the night sky in the UK? Choose one of the Dark Sky Parks which are towards the lower end of the Bortle Scale. Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries was first to be awarded this status where you’ll be able to view fifty times more stars than in a big city. Exmoor National Park has also achieved Dark Sky status and with statistically clearer skies than in Scotland, you’ve got a better chance of seeing the night sky in all its glory. Choose a National Park during the winter to experience the darkest nights but a warmer evening will still offer pretty spectacular views. Kielder Forest in Northumberland is the darkest place in England and is currently campaigning to become Europe’s biggest Dark Sky Reserve. There are regular night-time events at the Kielder Observatory which offer a fantastic introduction to stargazing.

Sykes Cottages offer a number of holiday properties with telescopes so aspiring astronomers can make the most of their holiday to the country. Try Roa Island House in the Lake District which has an observation tower complete with a telescope so guests can enjoy panoramic views of the night sky. Choosing a self-catering cottage with a telescope means you can plan a trip with fellow stargazers or enjoy the beauty of the night sky while the rest of your party sleeps soundly indoors.

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