North Pennines Stargazing Week
Top ten stargazing spots
24 October 2020
Where to see the stars in the North Pennines AONB
The North Pennines is the darkest mainland AONB with some of the darkest skies in the country, and to help you find the perfect place to see the stars, we’ve chosen our top ten places to stargaze. Some of these are designated as Dark Sky Discovery Sites, official recognition that there are high quality dark night skies with opportunities for astronomers to stargaze and car parks open after dusk.
The darker autumn, winter and early spring evenings offer the best time to see the stars, especially when there is a new or quarter moon. A full moon is often quite bright and can obscure the stars.
Check astronomy websites and related news to find out if there’s anything to look out for. There could be a meteor shower, a particularly bright planet, or the International Space Station could be passing over that night.
1. Bowlees Visitor Centre, Upper Teesdale
Run by the North Pennines AONB Partnership, Bowlees Visitor Centre’s car park is a Dark Sky Discovery Site offering excellent dark skies. To make stargazing even more fun – and comfortable – the car park has a sky hammock for easy viewing of the stars through a space in the trees.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could walk down to Low Force to watch the stars from there, with the sounds of the river in the background.
Bowlees Visitor Centre, Bowlees, Newbiggin in Teesdale, County Durham, DL12 0XF
Take the B6277 from Middleton-in-Teesdale towards Alston. Bowlees Visitor Centre is about three miles along this road on the right. The Dark Sky Discovery Site is in the car park – follow the brown signs.
Bowlees at night. Image by Graeme Peacock, (c) Visit County Durham
2. RSPB Geltsdale – Clesketts Car Park
This is a great place for stargazing in the North Pennines AONB and has been recognised as a Dark Sky Discovery Site for the quality of its night skies.
RSPB Geltsdale is also home to black grouse, birds of prey and breeding wading birds so you may also hear some good night-time sounds. The reserve is great for walking and is a working farm.
RSPB Geltsdale, Hallbankgate, Brampton, CA8 2PN
Turn off the A689 at Hallbankgate in front of the Belted Will pub. Follow this road to the RSPB Geltsdale reserve car park.
3. Bollihope Common, near Frosterley
A popular place for picnics and plodging during the day, Bollihope can be a great spot for stargazing. With a large area to pull in from the road, it is an easy place to stop off for a quick view of the Milky Way if you’re travelling between Weardale and Teesdale. It is a popular choice for night landscape photographers too, with spoil heaps and trees creating foreground interest.
From the A689 at Frosterley turn off onto Mellbutts Bank, towards Hill End. Go through Hill End and down the hill to Bollihope.
Image (c) Gary Lintern
4. Allendale Golf Club, Dark Sky Discovery Site
Allendale Golf Club is away from the light pollution of towns and cities and, on a clear night, the major constellations can easily be seen. Good access to the viewing area from the car park.
Allendale Golf Club, High Studdon, Allendale, Northumberland, NE47 9DH
Signposted from the B6295 south of Allendale Town in the East Allen Valley.
5. Cow Green Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Site
Far away from towns, villages and roads, Cow Green Reservoir is a great place for stargazing in the North Pennines AONB with incredibly dark skies.
If you’re ready to venture off the main road and climb up the single track road into the vast open spaces of the Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve, you can enjoy fantastic views of the constellations.
Cow Green Reservoir, Barnard Castle, DL12 0HX
Turn off the B6277 at Langdon Beck and follow signs to Cow Green Reservoir.
6. Hamsterley Forest
Just outside the AONB, Hamsterley is County Durham’s largest forest, and has a mixture of deciduous woodland, meadows and coniferous woods with a variety of walking, cycling and horse-riding trails. It combines commercial forestry with a variety of natural habitats and is also a Dark Sky Discovery Site.
Hamsterley Forest, Redford, Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL13 3NL
Follow brown signs to Hamsterley Forest from the A68. The viewing area is located near the bridge, below the visitor centre.
Hamsterley Forest at night. Image by Graeme Peacock, (c) Visit County Durham
7. Derwent Reservoir
The area around Derwent Reservoir is brilliant for astronomers with a large uninterrupted view of the northern sky. The car park at the Derwent Waterside Park visitor centre offers a safe environment for disabled visitors and families to stargaze.
A little further around the reservoir are Pow Hill Country Park (south side) and Millshield (north side), where the car park and picnic area at both sites are designated dark sky sites. Millshield is well away from the main road and local villages and protected from the wind by surrounding trees, whilst Pow Hill provides access to a flat, good quality surface and an easy access trail on the shore of the reservoir.
Derwent Reservoir, Edmundbyers, DH8 9TT
Located just off the A68, west of Shotley Bridge and north of Castleside, just off the B6278
The Milky Way and sunlit clouds above Derwent Reservoir © Cain Scrimgeour
8. Allen Banks Dark Sky Discovery Site
The peaceful countryside of the National Trust’s Allen Banks site offers good stargazing opportunities well away from light pollution.
This car park is easily accessible to members of the public and if you arrive at dusk you may glimpse a red squirrel or two!
Allen Banks National Trust car park, NE47 7BP
Signposted from the A69 between Haydon Bridge and Bardon Mill.
9. Tan Hill Inn
Famous for being the highest pub in Britain, at 528m above sea level, Tan Hill Inn is situated just inside the North Pennines AONB (to the north) looking over the Yorkshire Dales National Park (to the south. The open moorland landscape, well away from any light pollution, provides fantastic horizon-wide views of the skies so that nearly all features in the northern hemisphere can be seen.
This location is a long drive on dark lanes from the A66 but accessible. Tan Hill Inn also offers a warm welcome, food, drink, and overnight accommodation should you need it after an evening’s stargazing.
Tan Hill Inn, Reeth, Richmond, Swaledale, North Yorkshire, DL11 6ED
Signposted from the A66 Bowes to Brough road.
10. Wherever you are
There are dark skies across the North Pennines AONB and UNESCO Global Geopark so you may be able to find a place near to where you live where you can view the night sky. It might be in your garden or somewhere nearby where you can get away from streetlights.
Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness and see whether you can spot a planet, a constellation or the Milky Way in the sky above you. Share what you observe on social media using #NorthPennStarWeek20 and #NPennDarkSkies