Finding time to get out and explore during the winter can be tough.
While working throughout the day, some of us are lucky to even get a couple of hours of daylight. But what if there was a way to see stunning views and explore the countryside, even under the cover of darkness?
Star walks are a great night-time activity, although often not for the faint of heart. For night owls who rarely make it up in time to see a morning sunrise, seeing the stars in a velvety black sky at night is an awe-inspiring alternative.
Here are four locations across the UK that are perfect for a moonlit stroll to take in the starry skies above.
The Yorkshire Dales
As one of only 18 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world, the Yorkshire Dales are afforded special protection from the International Dark-Sky Association, much like Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That makes the Dales a prime star-gazing location, with little light pollution to get in your way.
Walk a little way from almost any spot across the Yorkshire Dales and you’ll likely be able to see more than two thousand stars on a clear night, as well as meteors, planets, and even the Northern Lights at certain times of the year.
A particularly special spot for star-walking in the Dales is by the Scar House Reservoir Car Park, making it easily accessible by car. The footpaths here are far removed from other light sources, so you won’t have to walk far to quickly find stunning views of the night sky. Plus, if it’s a particularly clear and calm night, you can see the stars reflected in the reservoir water for double the effect.
Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park
Star-gazing can often blow people away by the sheer enormity of a night-time sky. The only view more breathtaking is when it’s reflected back by an inky-black ocean. Seeing the wavering stars shift across rolling waves is a truly breathtaking sight.
Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park is the perfect spot for a seaside star walk. The most picturesque route to take is to start by Martins Haven and follow the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path south to Deadman’s Bay. Walking along the cliffs here gives you a clear view of the sky above, accompanied with the sounds of crashing waves for dramatic effect.
Galloway Forest’s Dark Sky Park
For a star walk to remember in Scotland, visit Loch Doon in Galloway Forest’s Dark Sky Park. This is one of the areas of lowest light pollution in Scotland’s most astronomically impressive locations. Remember that finding spots as far away from villages and other areas with street lights will always be your best bet for seeing the stars above more clearly.
The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is perched on the northernmost tip of the loch. Starting there and winding your way down the western side of the water always makes for a reliable star walk full of night-time wonder.
For the more intrepid explorers who want to give themselves more of a challenge, the more mountainous area of Wasdale, Cumbria will add some adventure to your star walks. Although all but the most seasoned hikers should avoid the truly tall mountains at night-time, the higher you can get in the foothills, the better views you can get.
The viewpoint of Countess Beck towards the south end of Wast Water has plenty of footpaths to choose from. They all spiral out from the huge lake itself, so you’ll have no problems finding a path that takes you up higher and higher, perfect for a night of star-gazing.
Quick star walking tips for beginners
If it’s your first time heading out on a starry expedition, remember to wrap up as warm as possible - and really overestimate how cold it will be. Stars are best enjoyed while standing still, so you’ll likely be stopping regularly along your walk. Bring a flask of hot tea and wear a double pair of socks to make sure your view isn’t interrupted by the cold!
If you’re keen to settle in for a long time and don’t want to get neck ache, bring a waterproof blanket to protect you from any wet mud or dew on the ground. Lie down and rest your back, while enjoying the twinkling expanse up above.
Although you’re there to see the stars, don’t forget to bring a torch with you for the way there. Many of the best star-gazing spots are up hills, so a head torch is a great choice, leaving your hands free for balance.
Finally, be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get lost at night, so make sure someone else knows your general location before you go. Don’t get so caught up in the wonderful sights above that you lose track of the route you took down on the ground.
Otherwise, keep your eyes up above and enjoy the sights!