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Helen Pollard By Helen Pollard

Guide to the Dark Skies Festival 2020, with events, places to be and more information. A great family activity to enjoy in February half term.

It is that time of year again when the weather attempts to defeat us. However, there is a secret weapon to motivate us to #GetOutside… the National Parks Dark Skies Festivals.

Locally to me, it's the 5th year of the annual Yorkshire Dales National Park Dark Skies Festival, running from 14th February to the 1st March 2020. Hosted in collaboration with The North York Moors, the festival offers visitors to the two National Parks and the local community the opportunity to discover the thrills, fun and excitement that comes with getting outside after dark. This celebration of all things celestial can be found in many of the other National Parks and areas of Outstanding Natural beauty.

This year the festival in the Yorkshire Dales will focus on activities that promote the experience of being outside in areas of great beauty and finding “peace, calm and tranquility. An essential breathing space to us all in this hectic world. National Parks are places were remoteness and solitude can be easily found with limited negative influences from light pollution and artificial lights.

Perfect then for fans of yoga, or enjoying a dip in a warm hot tub, running or biking to free the mind or just anyone who likes to take time out in the great outdoors. There is a fantastic range of activities on offer that will suit all tastes, and ages.

Events including cycling, walking, wildlife-watching, photography courses, stargazing parties, movies or quizzes, talks and presentation from star gazing groups and expert astronomers, rocket-making workshops, and fun activities.

Childrens night ride

Don’t worry if you are not quite Brian Cox in your knowledge of our solar system. The range of events for are suitable 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.

Dark skies in Northumberland

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival

7-22 February 2020

An ambitious new annual programme of events at An Lanntair and across Lewis, including theatre, live music, film, visual art, food, astronomy talks, and stargazing.

You can find the full listings for An Lanntair here.

Norfolk Coast

Following the success of their first Dark Skies Festival in September 2019, the second festival is planned for late 2020 (dates to be confirmed). The aim once again will be to celebrate the night skies of the Norfolk Coast through a range of events across the coast.

Find more information on the Norfolk Coast Dark Skies Festival here.

Scotland Dark Skies

South Downs

7-23 February 2020

Designated an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2016, the South Downs National Park is one of the best places in the UK to enjoy the sight of constellations, planets and distant galaxies. The reserve status aims to keep the dark skies un-spoilt future generations to enjoy. Held over two weeks, the Festival celebrates their International Dark Skies Reserve designation with star parties, talks, observations and other family activities.

As 2020 also marks the 10-year anniversary of the South Downs becoming a National Park, the festival will focus on 10 actions that individuals can do to protect the night skies.


Star Party on Brighton Seafront

19 Feb: Head down to Brighton Seafront for an evening of moon-gazing with astronomers from the South Downs National Park Authority, Sussex University and Brighton Astro.

Space Explorers

20 Feb: Find out more about what life is like on the International Space Station by coming along to our Space Explorers day at the Novium Museum. Learn about working in zero gravity, discover where astronauts get their water from and learn about some of the dangers that can be found in space.

North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales

14 February-1 March 2020

Since 2016's inaugural event, the Festival has become an unmissable fixture in the calendar, with the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Park Authorities celebrating the jewels of the night sky. With over 100 events, join in on a nebula adventure to explore the cosmos for the fifth Dark Skies Festival. There's a selection below, or check out full listings here.

Night Navigation Experience - Nocturnal Adventure at Keldy​

15th Feb 18:00-19:30: Discover the forest by night. Venture out with the Forest Ranger stalking through the woodland to try and catch a sound or glimpse of wildlife with your night vision equipment – patience and stealth are key. Also, on a clear night learn about the stars and revel in the beauty of the night

Pitch Black night ride promo banner

Sunseekers Ride

February 19th 11am-12: Children's Bike Ride. Follow the solar system in search of the sun! Suitable for balance bikes and beginners. This is a short traffic free route along a footpath to Cotterforce fall. Book through Stage 1 Cycles on 01969 666873

Exmoor Exmoor Dark Skies Festival

16th to 31st October 2020

As daylight hours begin to fade, October is a great time to celebrate the skies at the annual Exmoor Dark Skies Festival. Full listings can be found here.

Essential Dark Skies Gear

Not sure what to look for or what kit you need to be a budding astronomer? Below is our top tips plus a helpful booklet to download.

  • 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.
  • Binoculars. A good pair of binoculars is as useful at night as they can be in the day.
  • 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.
  • Warm clothing. Even on a sunny day, after the sun goes down temperatures plummet. Layers of clothing work best rather than one big warm ‘all or nothing’ coat!
  • Patience. Waiting for wildlife, for clouds to clear or simply for your eyes to get used (about 20 mins) to the dark takes patience.
Dark sky stars

Information about all of the festivals and full listings for each of the main host National Parks Dark Skies events can be found here.

Published 06/01/2020

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.