Many people think that it is necessary to go to Kielder to experience dark skies. There is no denying that areas around Kielder, including the observatory, are excellent. But if you don’t want to travel all that way, there are some equally good, if not better areas that are free from light pollution.
The Coquet Valley. The road from Alwinton all the way across to the A68 is free from light pollution, with plenty of places to pull over. The only problem that you may encounter is the army firing flares during an exercise, so check with range control first to avoid disappointment. And do not go past any barriers that are closed!
- Breamish Valley. Easy to access and plenty of parking spots. Beautiful dark skies, with the hills blocking any light pollution from the coast and Newcastle. Well worth a visit.
- College Valley. As above, but a permit is required to go past the main car park.
- South Tyne Valley. This doesn’t get as many visitors as it deserves. Easy to access but not so many places to park unless you get off the main road. The side road to Alston past Barhaugh Hall is an excellent place to visit.
- Allen Valley. Very easy to access. Lots of places in the area to park, although if you go onto the really high ground above Allendale you will get some light pollution from Hexham and Newcastle. Let the hills shelter you from that and it is a great place to view the night sky.
Tips for stargazing.
- Wrap up warm – a clear sky in the winter means it’s going to be cold! Gloves, a hat and a warm coat with layers underneath are important. Once you get cold, you lose interest.
- Take a flask of tea or coffee.
- Go somewhere you can sit comfortably outside of your car. Take a folding seat. You will miss a whole load of things by sitting in your car, as your vision is restricted.
- Allow at least 30 minutes in darkness for your eyes to become adapted. If you need a light, think about getting a red torch or headlamp. Turn off your car interior lights.
- Take some binoculars if you can. You will see vastly more when you look through them.
- Download a one of the sky map apps for your smart phone to help you identify planets, stars and galaxies. Many of them will tell you when satellites are passing over and give you the times of the International Space Station.
- Choose a night when there is no moon if possible. A bright moon washes out the sky and dramatically decreases the number of visible stars.
- Best of all, come to one of the stargazing events we will be holding over the autumn and winter months, mostly up the Breamish Valley.
To see the Northern Lights, lots, if not most people tend to head for the coast. However, the disadvantage of that is the number of people, cars and light pollution from lots of sources. Head inland and you can get away from all of that. If the aurora is bright enough to be visible to the naked eye, you don’t need to have a flat horizon, so why not try a different spot where you can take in the majesty of the display without the annoying car headlights and people setting flashes off on compact cameras and iPhones?
- Military Road past Chollerford. Some great views to the North and plenty of car parks.
- The high ground around Allendale and south of Haltwhistle. Lots of places to choose from with opportunities for some nice foreground interest for photographs.
- The road from Netherton towards Alwinton and again from Netherton to Whittingham gives good views to the North, although not many parking places.
- The Battle of Flodden memorial is a good place, with a car park right next to it. The high ground around this area also gives outstanding views to the North, although light pollution from Berwick spoils it a little bit but no worse than at the coast.
- Any of the high ground around Rothbury towards Elsdon and Otterburn. Winters Gibbet has parking spaces and a good view to the north.
Bear in mind that Aurora hunting takes perseverance and more than a bit of luck. Ideally, a moonless and clear night that coincides with some solar activity will give the best results. However, we are approaching the southern limit for seeing anything but a bright display so you just have to stick with it. We will always make an announcement on the Facebook group if there is a likelihood of a display.