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If you explore Cumbria at night, something magical happens. With our secluded valleys and fell tops, we have some of the darkest skies in the land. Come, explore, wander and enjoy the mystical experience of a dark sky, full of stars. Look closely and you might just see the man on the moon!

These dark skies are critical to our own health and well-being and that of wildlife and nature. This wild tranquillity brings with it a stillness that is hard to describe – you can just feel it. It’s an amazingly different way to be at one with nature in a different way, get in touch with your inner self and enjoy a different type of mindfulness.

Come, be a stargazer, it really helps put life in perspective. Here are some ideas for stargazing locations, with the help of our local photographers, Ben Bush and Terry Abraham. All we ask in return for these secrets is that you move silently around like a night-creature, leaving no trace and making as little noise as possible…

Ben tells us about his love of dark skies, ‘I’d always loved the Lakes but wanted to experience a quieter more ethereal time, so I started exploring the hills and lakes at night. This is when the Lake District completely changes and becomes almost otherworldly, with completely new and interesting sights to see and experience. Even the most famous views look completely different at night with a sky full of stars.’

Where to explore dark skies

Ennerdale: Possibly the remotest valley tucked away in the North West of the Lake District, this is a place that probably feels one of the wildest in the county, with some of the darkest skies too. 2 car parks at the Western end of the valley.
Muncaster & Ravenglass: The area around this spectacular castle is renowned for its dark skies. You’ll also be sure to hear owls and other night birds here too.

Grizedale Forest: Between Windermere & Coniston, it’s easily accessible and has car parks, walking trails and cycle routes. They also host talks and have telescopes on hand too.

Wasdale Valley: If you’re looking to be inspired, head to remote Wasdale where the mighty Scafell Pike towers over the valley and our deepest lake, Wastwater with its screes gives you a wild and rugged feel. Dramatic dark skies and amazing landscapes.

Borrowdale Valley: South from Keswick & Derwentwater, the ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’ give drama and wildness in spades. You’ll see Scafell Pike from a different angle, and the remote valleys of Watendlath, Stonethwaite & Seathwaite offer peace and darkness to explore.

The Langdales: Sitting in a v-shaped valley, Great & Little Langdale are ideal places for star-gazing, as well as very hospitable for pubs and eateries.

Photo by Bush Bush Photography

How to explore dark skies

1. Create your ‘nest’ – take blankets, wear warm clothes, hats & gloves and find somewhere safe and sound to just look up. Carry a torch to help you find your footing safely.

2. When you do switch off your torch, your eyes take about 20 minutes to adjust so be patient. Don’t rush it!

3. Check the dates when you want to go – decide if you want to enjoy the magic of a full-moon rising but obviously this will limit the number of stars. You might prefer to go for a new moon cycle, with very little light and lots of stars

4. Take binoculars or a mini telescope, both can help you see more than the naked eye.

5. There are lots of great apps that can map out and name the stars and constellations above you.

6. If you want to try night photography, you’ll need an entry-level DSLR and a tripod. Do your homework on long-exposure photography. Our 2 photographers say the best thing is just getting out there and try different things – the sky is literally the limit!

Terry says: ‘I often say the Lake District is as beautiful at night as it is during the day. I’m thrilled to be an ambassador for Friends of the Lakes Dark Skies Cumbria campaign. We’re spending this autumn and winter raising awareness about our precious night skies’

How dark is dark?

Well, to give you an idea, light ‘pollution’ is measured as luminosity, with the highest levels being in Glasgow and London with an average of 1500. Other cities have an average of 950. By comparison, the Lake District has an average of 12 in the towns of Carlisle, Keswick, Kendal, Barrow & Whitehaven. The rest of the actual National Park is darker, with many measurements at zero. Just how we like it!

Select from our cottages off the beaten track, and more likely to give you that Dark Sky experience.