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Best stargazing spots in the UK and abroad for International Dark Sky Week

Simon Calder’s Travel

A few summers ago, walking back from the pub at night, I happened to look up and was astonished to see the Milky Way cast clearly across the sky. I was just a couple of miles from my home in Brighton and it turned out that all I’d needed was lucky timing, a clear night – and a chance glance upwards.

But you don’t have to leave these cosmic encounters to chance. Yes, light pollution has dimmed our starry skies. Even rural areas are getting brighter at night – and it’s not just our stargazing that suffers; artificially lit nights are altering the natural behaviours of wildlife and disrupting our own sleep patterns, too.

But there’s good news for amateur astronomers. Dark Sky sites – areas where artificial light pollution is restricted or strongly discouraged – are growing in number. And many are right here in the UK. Just last year, Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), off the coast of north Wales, became Europe’s first designated International Dark Sky Sanctuary, with some of the best-preserved night skies in the world.

It looks as if 2024 will be a bumper year for sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere, with the predicted solar maximum increasing the chance of Northern Lights sightings and a total eclipse due to sweep across North America this week.

Here are some of the best places for out-of-this-world stargazing.

UK and Ireland

South Downs, England

Panoramic photo of the Milky Way over the dew pond at Ditchling Beacon (Pablo Rodriguez / SDNPA)

South Downs National Park was crowned an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2016. It’s one of the most accessible in the world, wedged between the south coast and the bright lights of London, with over two million people living within 10km of its boundary. Devil’s Dyke, Butser Hill and Bignor Hill are great viewpoints for horizon-to-horizon views.

Top tip: Visit in February for the activity-packed Dark Skies Festival.

Hop off the train at: Brighton, Lewes, Arundel.

Nearby: Vineyards, beaches, castle towns, South Downs Way.

Yorkshire Dales, England

Looking up at the galaxy in the Yorkshire Dales (Paul Clark)

Yorkshire Dales National Park is the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the UK. With such a huge expanse of unpolluted sky, you can see up to 2,000 stars anywhere in the park – even in the villages. However, your best bets are the four Dark Sky Discovery Sites, including the Hawes visitor…

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