Dark Skies Festival

Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard

Guide to the Dark Skies Festival 2019, with events, places to be and more information. A great family activity to enjoy in February half term.

Dark Skies Festival promotional banner

In the past due to unpredictable weather and short days I have found February half term can be a tricky holiday for planning active outdoor activities. It can be tempting to restrict adventuring and even flee abroad. However, there is now a very special festival that takes place in several the National Parks that makes this holiday my new favourite time of the year. The Dark Skies Festival runs from 15th February to 3rd March 2019.

The festival is jointly hosted by Northumberland, North York Moors, South Downs and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. The National Parks remain some of the darkest places in England and are therefore perfect locations to promote the Dark Skies.

The Dark Skies Festivals are all about discovering, learning and enjoying the outside in the dark and the stars you can see as a result. This could mean getting out for a led activity such as cycling, walking, running or caving at night, or even attending a stargazing party. Even if the weather is a bit brutal or you have young children there are loads of ways to take part in a daytime event, such as learning more about star constellations or making and flying a rocket.

Bike against fence at night overlooking starry sky

Don’t worry if you are not quite Brian Cox in your knowledge of our solar system. There are events for families, first-time stargazers and those wishing to expand their knowledge or astrophotography skills further. The events are provided by an array of local organisations in each location including the National Park Authorities, local councils and businesses.

Northumberland National Park

The National Park together with neighbouring Kielder Water & Forest Park makes up Northumberland International Dark Sky Park. Nearly 1,500 square kilometres of protected dark, starry skies. It is one of the best areas in England to indulge in the glory of the natural world, night or day. Click here for more information and lists of activities.

Lone Sycamore, Sycamore gap, Hadrians Wall, Northumberland By Michael Walker

North York Moors National Park

With several Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Danby and Sutton Bank National Park Centres plus Scarborough & Ryedale Astronomical Society Observatories in Dalby Forest. It is a fantastic place to see the sky scattered with stars! Examples of the many family suitable events scheduled for February 2019 include:

Why Stars Matter Trail

Did you know that no matter where you are, stars have an effect on you. From their illuminating glow to their gamma ray bursts follow the Why Stars Matter trail to find out how stars play an important role in your life. Click here to find out more.

Owl Prowl Evening

Join us late into the evening as we scour the forest for one of the most iconic birds on the planet. Will they spot you before you spot them? The Owl Prowl is a great way to spend the evening with your family and friends. Find out more here.

Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales is one of the prides of Britain, playing host to beautiful scenery and many walking routes. Visiting the festival which is a brilliant start to the outdoor season, and is a very memorable experience. The Yorkshire Dales boasts the 2nd darkest spot in England and several Dark Sky Discovery sites.

My business Stage1Cycles is situated in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Visitors centre in Hawes. We are extensively involved in the festival which is a brilliant start to the outdoor season.

Big Moon Ride

Can you take on the dark skies and follow the rise of a super moon?

Three levels of Mountain Bike rides will challenge your skills to chase the moon. Upon finishing, return to bacon/veggie/sausage butties £15 (all proceeds to Swaledale Mountain Rescue).

There will be an instructor on each ride route or you can go independently with a route map and try and beat the clock. For more details get in touch with Stage1Cycles.

There are also loads of events all over the Dales, check out the Dales Countryside Museum for stories of local people and places.

Big Moon ride promo banner

Glow in the dark crafts

Another event during the festival is the Glow in the dark crafts. It gives children an opportunity to make different weaved crafts using reflective and glow in the dark materials. The children weave a space mat and create a galaxy to take home. Entry is included in museum admission.

The Dark Skies Festival in the Yorkshire Dales has become well-established over the last 3 years and is definitely worth a visit. Find full listings of what's on here.

South Downs National Park

South Downs National Park is doing fantastic work protecting the Dark Skies in the South East of England which are under significant threat from light pollution emitted by large urban areas.

Their International Dark Sky Reserve status is an honour that proves the skies of the South Downs are worth protecting. Full details can be found here.

It's amazing what you can see and do in the dark!!!

Vibrant Milky Way composite image over landscape of English countryside

Where else can I see Dark Skies?

Don’t worry if you can’t get to any of the festival sites this February. Truly dark skies can be found in many of the National Parks - allowing us to see far-off stars and galaxies, without the artificial poison of city lights.

Next time you're visiting one of the 15 National Parks to enjoy the great outdoors, why not investigate what events they are hosting to support visitors access the Dark Skies. National Parks are working hard to establish International Dark Sky Reserves and Sky Discovery Sites which are a nationwide network of places that provide great views and organise special events and are accessible to everyone, as natural beauty should not have restrictions.

Participating National Parks include:

  • Brecon Beacons National Park: International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Cairngorms National Park: Dark Sky Discovery site at Glenlivet Estate
  • As well as star gazing, our most northerly National Park offers the best chance for a view of the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). The Borealis is an event so beautiful yet so violent, and is caused by the earth protecting us from deadly solar flares. This natural phenomenon can be seen at few places in the UK, however, these areas are lucky enough to host it:
  • Exmoor National Park: International Dark Sky Reserve
  • Lake District National Parks: Dark Sky Discovery Site at Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre. Low Gillerthwaite field centre runs special star-gazing events throughout the year.
  • Peak District National Park: Dark Sky Discovery Sites at Surprise View, Parsley Hay and Minninglow
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: 5 Dark Sky Discovery sites
  • Snowdonia National Park: International Dark Sky Reserve

Here's more information about Dark Skies activities in all the National Parks and all year-round events.

Northern lights

Essential Dark Skies gear

Apps on phone or tablet

There are lots of great astronomy apps available including stargazing guides to help you learn about the night sky. But remember that a bright screen will stop your eyes fully adjusting to the dark.


A good pair of binoculars is as useful at night as they can be in the day. Zoom in on the stars to get the best view.

Torch with red light

Keep your eyes in night vision mode. Use a red bike light or paint a cheap torch lens with red nail varnish. Keeping a dim light is essential if you want to see the wonders of the Dark Skies.

Warm clothing

Even on a sunny day, after the sun goes down temperatures plummet. Layers of clothing work best rather than one big, bulky coat.


Waiting for wildlife, for clouds to clear or simply for your eyes to get used to the dark (about 20 mins) takes patience!

Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard


Helen spends her days, managing a cycling business, chasing her daughter Daisy, running with dogs, falling off her bike, and hopefully encouraging others to do something similar.

Find out more about Helen Pollard.


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