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Exploring Exmoor National Park - Europe's First Dark Sky Reserve

Written by Betheny Ellis on

Stars lighting up the night sky over a group surrounding a camp fire

Cassiopeia, Orion, The Plough… for centuries man has gazed in wonder at the night sky; fascinated by the stars and the stories that the constellations tell. Unfortunately for many of us the orange glow of light pollution means that the simple pleasures obtained from star-gazing have been lost.

Exmoor is home to some of the darkest skies in the country thanks to low levels of light pollution, and on a clear night the sky is breathtaking. Exmoor National Park Authority, together with local councils and communities have worked together to reduce light pollution and as a result Exmoor National Park was designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve: a place that has exceptionally starry skies and has made a commitment to work to protect them. One of the joys of stargazing is that it’s free and no real equipment is needed as many astronomical sights can be seen by the naked eye. It’s also great for children and included in the National Trust’s ‘50 things’ list of activities so now that the clocks have changed, and the nights are getting longer, it’s a perfect opportunity to turn off the television, wrap up warmly, fill a flask and get the whole family outdoors!

Dunkery Beacon is Exmoor’s highest point and is a spectacular location for stargazing. Some of the best other viewing spots are Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lake.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of the night sky:

  • Allow the sky to become properly dark before you embark upon your stargazing adventure - an hour and a half after sunset should be perfect.
  • The best time to see the stars is when the moon isn’t in the sky as moonlight can make it harder to see the dimmer stars.
  • Although you don’t really need any specialist equipment, if you’ve got a pair of binoculars hidden away, now’s the time to dust them off and bring them along! There are many simple star charts or  smart phone apps available which show you what you are looking at as the position of the stars and planets are constantly changing. Exmoor National Park produces a handy downloadable guide to help you make the most of the sky.
  • Finally, although we’ve mentioned it before, don’t forget to wrap up warmly and bring an extra layer; even on a mild night the temperature will soon drop... Happy stargazing!! 
Betheny Ellis

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