Families who used back-garden stargazing to ease lockdown boredom can put their new-found skills to the test on a staycation in one of the UK’s darkest spots.
This year, increasing numbers of ‘dark sky’ resorts, hotels and holiday homes are offering special breaks to stare at the heavens.
Some even advertise how far they are from the nearest street lights.
Increasing numbers of ‘dark sky’ resorts, hotels and holiday homes are offering special breaks to stare at the heavens. Pictured – the Northern Lights over Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle in Caithness, Scotland
An added lure for autumn visitors is the opportunity to glimpse the Northern Lights from October onwards in Scotland.
With holidays and cruises to Iceland and Scandinavia on hold, it may be the only opportunity to see the spectacular Arctic light show this winter.
Here’s our pick of the best locations…
Telescopes and tipples
The Twice Brewed Inn near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, pictured, offers stargazing evenings
Stay at the Twice Brewed Inn near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland and you won’t need to drink too much to be seeing stars.
Guests can enjoy beginners’ talks and laser presentations from local astronomers and then have a turn in the pub’s own observatory, with telescopes powerful enough to see spectacular nebulae hundreds of light-years away from Earth.
Accommodation, dinner and a stargazing evening costs from £189 for two people (twicebrewedinn.co.uk).
Moon-gazing in style
The Galloway Forest Park, pictured, is one of less than 20 Dark Sky Parks in Europe with low-light pollution to aid observation
Further north, Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire adds the possibility of spotting the northern lights. Experts predict there will be an improved chance of seeing an aurora this winter.
But if the lights don’t appear to be in order, the plush coastal hotel has its own astronomer and telescopes for romantic star-searching and moon-gazing — and keep an eye out for owls swooping past in the evening.
The hotel is close to Galloway Forest Park, one of less than 20 Dark Sky Parks in Europe with low-light pollution to aid observation. The ‘A Night with the Stars’ break includes dinner and costs from £425 per person per night (glenappcastle.com).
Self-guide in Scotland
A DIY getaway more your thing? Be your own guide to the heavens with Visit Scotland’s free video tutorials to stargazing and downloadable astronomy packs for children. It also has a directory for accommodation, such as the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage at Noss Head in Caithness (visitscotland.com).
See Saturn’s rings
The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, pictured, offers star-spotting experiences previously only available to professional astronomers
On the other side of Galloway Forest Park are the enormous telescopes and hilltop domes of the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory. It re-opened this month and now offers star-spotting experiences previously only available to professional astronomers, from £8. Expect spectacular close-ups of features such as Moon craters and Saturn’s rings (scottishdarkskyobservatory.co.uk).
And wherever families are staying in Scotland, one of Visit Scotland’s approved Dark Sky Rangers could make any evening memorable. Book Elizabeth Tindal in the Galloway area, for example, and your options include an after-dark ‘star picnic’ or a homemade rocket session (freelanceranger.com).
There is a detailed list of star-friendly holiday venues elsewhere in the UK at gostargazing.co.uk/stay-gaze. They include a Yorkshire campsite with regular astronomy events, star-themed holidays in an Isle of Coll bunkhouse and a Norfolk holiday park which has a designated Dark Sky Discovery Site in an adjoining sports field.
A more cosy way for couples to enjoy a starry, starry night is at The Hide at Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswolds. This steel-and-glass holiday home stands on stilts above a 70-acre lake and was voted Britain’s Best Small Building.
From this autumn it’s available for couples to rent as a secluded romantic escape, complete with its own telescope. Two nights cost from £600 for two (habitatescapes.com).