When you gaze up at the deep-hued night sky, what do you see? If you live in a busy town or a bustling city, chances are, not much. Maybe 20 stars – if you're lucky – are visible on a clear evening in a built-up area. That's a crying shame, because our galaxy alone, the Milky Way, contains a whopping 400 billion stars or so!
If you take a trip to the countryside or coast, it’s
an entirely different story – you can see thousands of twinkling stars, alongside the hazy band
of the Milky Way, arcing across the dark sky.
Marvel at that, while mulling over that the Milky Way is
just one of about 200 billion other galaxies existing in the universe.
Feeling teeny? Us too!
Certain parts of the UK are much better for stargazing than others – basically, anywhere away from local light pollution. Over a hundred places across the country are designated 'Dark Sky Discovery Sites', from Cornwall to Caithness, with the darkest known as ‘Milky Way class’. Why? Because you can see our galaxy with the naked eye – a very cool thing indeed.
National parks have some of the darkest skies around – in particular, the Cairngorms, Northumberland, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors are fantastic regions to get the dark skies bug. This video by the North York Moors National Park highlights the type of experience you’re likely to have if you trade an evening in front of the TV for a night beneath the stars. Given the right weather and conditions, it's pretty extraordinary what you can see from rural spots – meteor showers, the Northern Lights, and even the International Space Station passing overhead.
This luxe Lake District hotel supports Cumbria's Dark Skies Festival – unsurprising, given its tranquil location on the shores of Ullswater, known for some of the darkest skies in the UK. During the fest, enjoy stargazing while taking a night swim dip and a waterside horsebox sauna, plus telescope and binocular workshops.
"We're right in the South Downs National Park and the skies are amazing," says this Sussex pub just outside Lewes with four stylish rooms and top-notch food that's all about seasonal produce from local suppliers. Rates include an unmissable breakfast featuring the likes of homemade bacon and locally foraged mushrooms.
"If you're in luck, the skies reveal the aurora," says Esther, owner of this five-star boutique B&B in the Cairngorms National Park. Offering four plush rooms with magnificent en-suites and dramatic mountain views, Esther serves a fab breakfast too, with homemade bread and specialities like venison sausages – yum.
"There's no light pollution whatsoever," says this quirky yet luxurious hotel in Cornwall that nestles in an idyllic bay between Looe and Polperro. Smack bang on the South West Coast Path, this award-winning getaway focuses on fabulous sea views, sub-tropical gardens, and tasty local cuisine.
Here you have a collection of deluxe dog- and eco-friendly properties: Angel Barn sleeps six and has a wood-fired hot tub for admiring the dark skies from; Shepherd's Cottage houses two and has an outdoor bath. "Both are perfect for stargazing – we have many sightings of the Aurora," says owner Debbie.
"We have amazing dark skies, and it’s even better stargazing from our outdoor bathtub," says Holly, owner of Choo Choo Moo's pair of lovingly restored railway carriages. Situated on a working farm in Norfolk's Waveney Valley, each is fully equipped, off-grid, and dog-friendly.
You'll find this picture-perfect, 16th-century timbered cottage by the River Stour on the Essex-Suffolk border, in the heart of the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – about as idyllic and peaceful as it gets, yet close to sister hotel the Talbooth House & Spa, where you can use the facilities.
Tucked up a long, winding drive in the serene Shropshire Hills, this gem of an estate is home to 15 self-catering holiday cottages and apartments across a variety of buildings, from a reconstructed chapel to a renovated wagon wheel repair hub. Whichever you choose, enjoy dazzling dark sky vistas.
Ideally located in Somerset in Exmoor National Park, Europe's First Dark Sky Reserve, this luxurious, dog-friendly B&B has wonderful views, an honesty bar and a wellness suite. Star enthusiasts can hire telescopes from Dulverton, Dunster (closest) and Lynmouth for a spot of gazing from Bossington's manicured grounds.
This special three-bedroom rural hideaway sits within a privately owned estate and boasts exceptional views over the glorious Northumberland countryside. The same people own The Bothy, a spacious yet romantic retreat for two. Owner Emma says: "Both properties are dark skies friendly."
"We have seriously dark skies where we are on the Hartland Peninsula in North Devon," says owner Melissa. One of the top UK places to stay for dark skies, book one of their luxury custom-built cabins and get ready for stargazing galore from the 'Wild Spa' hot tub area – bliss.
This designer house near the sea is the ideal base for exploring Sheringham and the North Norfolk Coast. It's also "perfect for dark skies," says owner Charlotte. The four-person property is all about 'reverse living', with bedrooms at ground level and the living space at the top, offering superb views of the nearby woodland.
This charming Sussex cottage sleeps two to four and is located in the High Weald AONB next to ancient woodland and within walking distance of Ashdown Forest – a walker's paradise. "Beautiful clear skies and lots of stars," says owner Serena, who's received over 50 five-star reviews!!
You'll find this quintet of homely eco-conscious cabins deep in the Highlands in the Aberdeenshire woods – a real get-away-from-it-all destination. The same people own 12 cosy bothies nearby – off-grid forest boltholes. Both are excellent for hiking, cycling, and taking in the night sky in all its glory.
Images courtesy of North York Moors National Park:
Star Trails Whitby Pier by Mark Bulmer of Ebor Images
North York Moors Starry Skies and Milky Way by Paul Taylor
Pleiades by Stuart Atkinson