Have you ever looked up into the inky dark skies and have your mind blown by the sheer number of stars that are illuminating from above? It can be easy to forget about the canopy of space over our heads and for those like us, who live in big cities and towns.

I have only ever seen truly dark skies abroad – the three that spring to mind are in the outback of Australia, Iceland and the Maldives – but for those aspiring stargazers here in the UK, the best place is in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, found in the Durham Dales - who has some of the darkest skies in England. 

Now in its second year – the North Pennines Stargazing Festival ran over two weeks with 30 different jam-packed events during 20 October – 4 November 2018. 

Stargazing Festival at The Bowlees Visitor Centre

From stargazing suppers to pop-up Planetarium days as well as stargazing talks from leading experts and plenty of opportunities to watch the skies all across the North Pennines, there is something for everyone and a great way to bring science alive for kids. 

If you want to go stargazing in the UK and in the North Pennines then your first stop should be the Bowlees Visitor Centre in Teesdale. Set in stunning woodland amidst rolling hills and two waterfalls Low and High Force – it’s been designated an official Dark Sky Discovery Site. And it was here at Bowlees Visitor Centre, that we took part in two activities.

We were supposed to come at night, to lie on the hammocks and marvel at the stars but while Monkey and I were really looking forward to being able to spot as many constellations as possible, the weather had a different idea. 

Although we didn’t actually get to go stargazing at Bowlees Visitor Centre, we still had the opportunity to discover Bowlees’ wonderful and unspoiled landscape.

The Bowlees Visitor Centre

The first activity we took part in was the Solar System Trail. After picking up a sheet and the promise of a treat if Monkey completed it correctly, we all set off. This wasn’t a pram-friendly route, so we ditched it and let Peanut enjoy the walk, too.

It was wonderful for us to see how much Monkey’s reading has come on this year, as not only was he able to find all the planets dotted around the trail, but was able to read the interesting information about them along the way. It was a stunning day, and the colours of autumn were resplendent under the sun.

The Bowlees Visitor Centre

Discovering the creatures that come out after dark was the key theme of the In the Dark Wild session, with a mix of craft activities and a mini-beast walk. It was a good opportunity for Monkey to interact with other children and he enjoyed discovering lots of facts about different nocturnal animals including bats, owls and mice.

After we’d finished, it was time to learn what it would feel like to be in the woods during pitch darkness. This was fantastic fun for the kids who were all blindfolded and led on a short course in the woods, which combined different elements to test the senses of touch and smell. 

What struck me was the enthusiasm and knowledge from the Bowlees volunteers who led the group and made learning so much fun.

The Bowlees Visitor Centre

So while we didn’t actually get to do any formal stargazing in the North Pennines, it doesn’t mean we didn’t stop to enjoy them during our time in Durham. Luckily, where we were staying in Durham was quite out of the way so we did get to see plenty.

The North Pennines Dark Skies Festival may only be held once a year, but the opportunity to go stargazing in the UK can be done all year round and Durham has plenty of Dark Sky Discovery Sites to discover. 

To read The Travel Monkey's full North Pennines Stargazing Festival at Bowlees blog click here. 

*All images kindly provided by My Travel Monkey. 

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