Northumberland Dark Skies Festival

Officially, Northumberland has ‘the most pristine dark skies in England’ and in 2013 the National Park and most of Kielder Water and Forest Park became England’s first International Dark Sky Park (Gold Tier), as awarded by the International Dark Sky Association.

The festival is being hosted on the Northumberland National Park website and is led by four regional observatories: Battlesteads, Kielder, Stonehaugh and Twice Brewed and will take place from 12th – 21st February. There will be a wide variety of things to see and do – from fireside chats with Northumberland’s astronomers, to night sky guides and livestreams to help people stargaze from the comfort of their homes and neighbourhood.

Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, the focus will be on online events, but the organisers hope to see visitors come to the many venues dotted around Northumberland when they are able to reopen and it is safe to do so.

Online events

Online events include the CPRE Star Count from the 8th-14th February, and Kielder Observatory’s Escape Velocity astrophotography art project. Funded by Northumberland County Council, the project will be launched during the week and is a masterclass on nightscape photography encouraging children to image the dark skies with mobile phones.

Festival organiser Roy Alexander, Director of Learning at Battlesteads Observatory said: “The festival will showcase the absolute best that Northumberland and the International Dark Sky Park has to offer.

“Our 10-day programme is a result of the first collaboration between the four observatories and the Northumberland National Park Authority and we have put together an exciting range of online events.

“With speakers from Northumberland and around the world, we will be covering topics which will interest everyone from the stargazing newbies to the seasoned astronomers.”

Dark Skies

Duncan Wise, National Park Visitor Development and Tourism Officer said: “Our dark skies are very special, contributing to the sense of tranquillity and our health and wellbeing, which is particularly important during this difficult time.

“We hope people will be inspired to gaze upon the wonder of the Universe and not to take it for granted, as sadly, light pollution from over-lit urban areas and poorly installed flood lighting in the countryside is eroding this special quality.”

Catherine Johns, CEO of Kielder Observatory said:

“Northumberland and the North East have an enormous range of observatories and science centres, astronomy societies and stargazing locations – the festival aims to showcase and celebrate that, helping everyone to look at the stars, now more important than ever. We are delighted to be involved in the organisation of the festival and will be launching an astrophotography project for children for ongoing participation.”

Since the opening of world-class Kielder Observatory in 2008, and the designation of International Dark Sky Park in 2013, Northumberland is now regarded as one of the most successful dark sky destinations in the world, and in 2017, the value of astro-tourism to the region was calculated to be worth £25 million to the local visitor economy, as a result of many local businesses responding to the public interest in stargazing and astronomy.

The Dark Skies Festival will take place from 12th-21st February, and all online events will be free of charge. For more details on the event programme and to book events, visit:  https://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/northumberland-dark-skies-festival/.