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Camping out in Land Rover Defender 110 Model Night View

UK’S BEST STARGAZING SPOTS

EXPLORE THE WONDERS OF DARK SKY WITH LAND ROVER

Officially recognised for their low levels of light pollution and good public access, Dark Sky sites are your gateway to the galaxy. And as home to some of the largest areas of Dark Sky in Europe, the UK is the perfect place to capture the canopy of the cosmos with the naked eye.

To celebrate the splendours of starlight on home soil, Land Rover has teamed up with astronomer and science communicator, Dr Jenifer Millard to give you our top 10 best stargazing spots across the UK, plus when to visit and what to bring for the most epic experiences.

“It’s worth stargazing all year round because our view of the cosmos slowly changes night-by-night,” says Jenifer. “As Earth moves around the Sun on its orbit, we look out onto different parts of the Universe. Some constellations, and the astronomical objects they host, are only visible at certain times of the year.”

However, it’s the winter months that offer optimum conditions and the ultimate prize for any astronomer.

“Winter’s long, dark nights offer plenty of opportunity to enjoy a treasure trove of objects without having to stay up very late – from stars to nebulae to distant galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Just remember to wrap up warm!”

BEST STARGAZING SPOTS IN THE UK

CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE, NORTHERN IRELAND

Granted Dark Sky status in 2014, the National Trust’s dramatic Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, close to Ballintoy, spans 66 feet across the Atlantic Ocean below. Backed by the support of the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society – who bring their equipment and advice to annual events – Carrick-a-Rede is a truly magical place to watch in wonder.

Dark Sky fact: First erected by salmon fishermen in 1755, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is one of only two Dark Sky sites in Northern Ireland.

COMPTON BAY, ISLE OF WIGHT

Away from the mainland, the Isle of Wight’s beautiful coastline draws astronomers all year round. Visit the car park at Compton Bay for its accessibility and excellent skies largely devoid of light pollution. While nearby Fort Victoria Country Park is noted for its planetarium packed with information and frequent events by the West Wight Stargazing Group.

Dark Sky fact: Milky Way, Cassiopeia, Orion and the Plough are can all be seen on a clear night.
Compton Bay Star Gazing View
TOMINTOUL AND GLENLIVET, CAIRNGORMS NATIONAL PARK

The most northernly Dark Sky region of the UK, the Cairngorms boasts Gold Tier constellation coverage. Three Dark Sky Discovery Sites and regular stargazing events are associated with Tomintoul and Glenlivet, including Glenlivet Blairfindy car park, Tomintoul Field of Hope, and The Carrachs car park.

Dark Sky fact: Stargazers around these parts can be treated to the ethereal Aurora Borealis at any time, but should keep a special lookout around the equinoxes.

LLYNNAU CREGENNAN, SNOWDONIA NATIONAL PARK

As one of the remotest parts of Britain, North Wales naturally hosts some of the darkest skies. Concerted efforts by the Park Authority resulted in Snowdonia achieving International Dark Sky Reserve Status in 2015. With numerous trails and places of outstanding beauty, including the Lakes of Lynnau Cregennen, stargazers are truly spoilt for choice here.

Dark Sky fact: Looking north, the stars here are the same all year round, so can easily be identified on a clear night. These include the North Star and the Cassiopeia.

DALBY FOREST, NORTH YORK MOORS NATIONAL PARK

This stunningly secluded part of northern England is committed to reducing light pollution and making Dark Skies accessible for all. Although the whole area is awash with spectacular spots to stargaze, the free public stargazing sessions with Scarborough & Ryedale Astronomical Society provide a real treat for nebulae newbies.

Dark Sky fact: The north-east coastline between Saltburn and Scarborough is a hotbed of light shows, including Kettleness Cliff where you can spy up to 2,000 stars at any one time.

USK RESERVOIR, BRECON BEACONS NATIONAL PARK

In 2012, the Brecon Beacons National Park became only the fifth destination in the world to be awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status. Home to several of the highest quality Dark Skies in the whole of the UK, we chose the Usk Reservoir for its crystal-clear cosmos all year round.

Dark Sky fact: The easily accessible car park area at Usk Reservoir is the perfect picnic spot before a night of outstanding dark skies, protected from the higher light pollution of the valleys.

PORLOCK COMMON, EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK

In 2011, the International Dark Sky Association designated Exmoor as Europeʼs first Dark Sky Reserve, with the low levels of light pollution recognised as one of the area’s defining qualities. At picture-perfect Porlock Common you’ll find a 360° unobstructed view of the night sky, with particularly good views to the south and west.

Dark Sky fact: Porlock Common provides the ideal setting for many planetary observations. Constellations can also be distinguishable amid the large number of visible stars.
Millions of star in the sky
KIELDER OBSERVATORY AND FOREST, NORTHUMBERLAND

Located in the centre of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, Kielder Observatory is accessible almost every night of the year. Daily activities include studying the cosmos with telescopes when it’s clear, and tours and talks when the clouds roll in.

Dark Sky fact: Kielder Forest is the second largest area of protected night sky in Europe, with skies so dark that even Jupiter can cast shadows.

KELLING HEATH HOLIDAY PARK, NORFOLK

Nestled in the North Norfolk countryside, Kelling Heath draws hundreds of astronomers to its multiple star parties throughout the year, including the autumn equinox Star Camp. Visitors are treated to some of the darkest skies in the country thanks in part to the site’s sensitive use of night-time lighting.

Dark Sky fact: The seven stars of the Orion constellation, the Milky Way and even huge interstellar dust clouds are all visible from your camping pitch.

BEN DAMPH ESTATE ON UPPER LOCH TORRIDON, SCOTLAND

In 2021, Land Rover UK conducted an exploratory expedition to find the perfect Scottish west coast star gazing location. Situated a mere 8 miles off-road from the village of Torridon and set in 14,500 acres of dramatic highland landscape, they found what they were looking for on the edge of Upper Loch Torridon. The team took three Land Rover Defenders along the existing off-road route to the spot which bereft of trees, and any signs of light pollution provides a stunning view of the milky way.

Dark Sky fact: Uninterrupted by rolling terrain and vegetation, Upper Loch Torridon offers the possibility of experiencing the Aurora Borealis should the conditions be right.

EXPERT TIPS: THE SECRETS TO SUCCESSFUL STARGAZING

- Prioritise moonless nights for a darker sky and clearer astronomical objects.
- A red-light torch or red-light filter on your phone will preserve your eyes’ adaption to the dark. Always avoid using white lights where possible.
- Avert your vision by looking slightly to one side of your target object. This will activate the more light-sensitive cells in your eyes.
- Star maps, apps, and a compass will help you plan your observing session and navigate the night sky.
- Binoculars and telescopes magnify and gather more light than our eyes, allowing us to see fainter objects and enhancing the view of naked-eye objects.

For more stargazing tips and expertise, follow Dr Jenifer Milard @DrJeniMillard and @AwesomeAstroPod.

PUTTING YOUR SAFETY FIRST

Regardless of the time of year you stargaze, we always recommend running through a checklist of essential safety information and equipment before every trip:

• Pack a first aid kit
• Plan your navigation: map, compass, and GPS
• Prepare for all weathers: insulation jacket/raincoat, gloves, hat, hiking boots/socks.
• Pack illumination: flashlight, lantern, or headlamp
• Bring water and snacks
• Bring your phone in case of an emergency: save local search and rescue phone numbers to your phone
• Identify emergency shelters and local rescue information, including 999 – the UK national emergency number

MAKE MORE OF YOUR WORLD WITH LAND ROVER

Whether you’re exploring Dark Sky hotspots with the family or heading into the wild for a weekend camping with friends, Land Rover truly enables you to make more of your world.

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