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Our little black book of enchanting places


Where to watch the night skies by Maggie O'Sullivan

Posted in DESTINATIONS By Maggie O' Sullivan

You might not think it if you live in or near a city, but the UK has some of the least light-polluted skies in Europe, with the very darkest areas officially designated Dark Sky Parks and Dark Sky Reserves. Park or Reserve, they’re all fantastic for stargazing, or what the marketing folk call 'astrotourism'. Combine them with a great hotel, and you’ve got a recipe for a stellar weekend.

Brecon Beacons National Park, South Wales

The whole of Brecon Beacons National Park (above) was designated a Dark Sky Reserve in 2012 and on a clear night you can see all the major constellations, the Milky Way, bright nebulas and – if you’re lucky – shooting stars. Check the park's excellent website for the best spots for setting up your telescope. Stay at Gliffaes, in glorious countryside above the River Usk, in the heart of the National Park. Aim for Room 2 or 6 which have the best views of the river. From £118 per night for b&b.Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway

Galloway Forest Park was the UK’s first designated Dark Sky Park back in 2009. You can take a closer look at the stars at the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, on the park’s northern edge (booking essential), though you don’t need a telescope to be dazzled by the phenomenal night sky here. For somewhere special to stay, head about an hour and a half southwest to Portpatrick. Here you’ll find Knockinaam Lodge (above), with a Michelin star and a fascinating history that includes hosting a secret wartime meeting between Churchill and Eisenhower. Two-night weekend summer break from £310 per person.Exmoor National Park, Devon

Exmoor was granted International Dark-Sky Reserve status by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2011. Download a Dark Skies Pocket Guide from the park's website, hire a telescope from one of the three National Park Centres and prepare to be overwhelmed. Good spots include Holdstone Hill, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake. Stay at the family-friendly Woolacombe Bay Hotel, approximately 30 miles west of Exmoor on the North Devon Heritage Coast. From £75 per person, per night.Sark, Channel Islands

Sark, the smallest of the Channel Islands, was declared a Dark Sky Island in 2011. But serious stargazers have been coming here for years: with no public streetlights and a ban on cars, light pollution has never been a problem on this tiny island. Stay at the award-winning La Sablonnerie, a charming farmhouse hotel located in a part of the island known as Little Sark. You won’t need to go anywhere to see the night sky, just step outside and look up. From £156 per night, half board.Northumberland National Park, Northumberland

Northumberland National Park gained Dark Sky Park status in December 2013 and is the largest protected Dark Sky Park in Europe. There’s only one place for stargazers to stay: Battlesteads Hotel, near Hexham. Battlesteads recently built its own south-facing observatory, equipped with several powerful telescopes. The observatory is open all night and guests staying in the hotel’s five eco-lodges may come and go as they please. The hotel also runs courses led by Roy Alexander, a professional astronomer and teacher. Eco-lodges from £165 per night for b&b; astronomy courses from £15 per person.

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