As the Dark Skies Festival returns, nature lovers are gearing up for an immersive experience under the night skies of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. Running from 9 to 25 of February, the festival promises an array of activities that celebrate the International Dark Sky Reserves, showcasing the skies above these iconic landscapes.
Art under the stars
This year’s festival presents a unique blend of art and astronomy, offering participants the opportunity to immerse themselves in creative activities inspired by the stars. Among these offerings is the nocturnal journey led by electronic dance poets Claire Hind and Robert Wilsmore. As participants traverse Blakey Ridge after dark, they will be treated to the duo’s creative score, The Long Dead Stars, a composition inspired by the North York Moors landscape. The return walk will then encourage individuals to unleash their creativity using performance writing techniques.
Meanwhile, artist Ione Harrison is set to conduct starry night watercolour workshops in picturesque locations such as Helmsley and Nunnington. Accomplished photographers will also guide visitors in capturing mesmerising nightscape and astro images, with workshops taking place in a variety of locations, including Castle Howard and Whitby.
Journeying into the cosmos
For those fascinated by space travel, the festival offers a unique experience at Stump Cross Caverns in Nidderdale. Here, participants can discover how Nasa uses underground cave systems to train astronauts, and visitors will be able to follow in the footsteps of a rocket scientist who spent 105 days in this subterranean environment, collecting valuable data to help advance space science.
Visitors with children can explore the new dark skies-themed trail at Sutton Bank or Danby Lodge National Park Centres. The trail involves using paper and crayons to reveal brass plaques portraying images of ten star constellations and is a great activity for adventurous youngsters.
No Dark Skies Festival would be complete without astronomy evenings, and this year introduces new locations such as Birkdale Farm, Ashes Farm, and Low Mill Outdoor Centre. Mountain Goat offers a special minibus journey to iconic spots in the Yorkshire Dales, culminating in a stargazing safari at Bolton Castle in Wensleydale. Astrophysicist Professor Carole Haswell will also host an online interactive presentation, discussing the latest research and discoveries in the field.
Active adventures and accommodation
For adventure seekers, night runs in Reeth, dark skies walking adventures to beauty spots like Rievaulx Abbey and Robin Hood’s Bay, and cycling events add an active dimension to the festival.
Throughout the festival, dark skies-friendly accommodations like The Stone House Hotel and The Fox and Hounds offer ‘out-of-this-world’ experiences with special ‘Stay and Gaze’ packages.
Phoebe Smith, marketing assistant for the North York Moors National Park, said of the festival:
“This will be the ninth Dark Skies Festival since we organised the first event back in February 2016, and it is safe to say it has now become a popular annual fixture for so many people because of the broad range of events that appeal to all ages.”
Derek Twine, member champion for promoting understanding at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, added:
“While enjoyment and discovery are at the heart of the festival, it’s also a reminder to us all of the vital need to do everything we can to protect one of nature’s greatest wonders, the night sky, from light pollution so that we can help safeguard the natural world as well as our own health and wellbeing.”
The Dark Skies Festival includes venues across four protected landscapes – North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale National Landscape, and Howardian Hills National Landscape and offers a variety of activities to enable visitors to enjoy the night sky in creative new ways. More information about the events on offer, prices and how to book is available here.