New ways to see the cosmic wonders during Dark Skies Festival

Aurora Borealis above Reeth.

New art experiences, simulated space walks and a recently-opened constellation trail will all be part of this year’s Dark Skies Festival which runs from February 9 to 25.

The annual event aims to showcase the International Dark Sky Reserves above the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks.

A number of artists have come up with creative ways that people can enjoy the national parks’ dark skies and be inspired by the experience to create their own pieces of art.

For instance electronic dance poets Claire Hind and Robert Wilsmore will walk with a group after dark along Blakey Ridge before reaching a place to listen to the duo’s creative score, The Long Dead Stars, inspired by the North York Moors landscape.

During the return walk people will be encouraged to write their own material using performance writing techniques.

There are also several new starry night watercolour workshops being run by artist Ione Harrison at locations including Helmsley and Nunnington, while photographers will share how to create mesmerising nightscape and astro images at locations such as Castle Howard and Whitby.

Those who are in awe of space travel can experience how NASA uses underground cave systems to help train astronauts by heading to Stump Cross Caverns in Nidderdale and follow in the footsteps of a rocket scientist who once spent 105 days in the subterranean environment collating data that helped advance space science.

Parents with younger children can try the new permanent dark skies-themed trail at either Sutton Bank or Danby Lodge national park centres where paper and crayons can be used to rub across a series of brass plaques to create images of ten star constellations such as Orion or Ursa Major.

Alternatively there’s the Planet Trail at Aysgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales where youngsters can learn fun facts about the universe while spotting planets in the woods.

Astronomy evenings will take place at several new locations, including Birkdale Farm at Terrington in the Howardian Hills, Ashes Farm near Ribblehead Viaduct and a weekend combining stargazing with yoga, hiking and live music at Low Mill Outdoor Centre in Askrigg.

Travel company Mountain Goat is laying on a minibus journey touring some of the iconic spots in the Yorkshire Dales during an afternoon before ending up at the atmospheric surroundings of Bolton Castle in Wensleydale as darkness falls for a stargazing safari.

Astrophysicist Professor Carole Haswell will also be holding an online interactive presentation talking about the latest research and discoveries of worlds beyond Earth.

Following on from the success of its first event during last year’s Fringe Festival, Sutton Bank Bikes will be repeating their night bike ride in February, while over in the Yorkshire Dales, Stage 1 Cycles will be running an afternoon cycling and planet pizza making event and an evening’s mountain biking followed by a warming meal at the Firebox Café.

Activity-seekers can also join a night run at Reeth or go on a dark skies walking adventure in the company of experienced guides at beauty spots such as Rievaulx Abbey, Robin Hood’s Bay, the Hole of Horcum or over moorland to the mysterious rock formations known as the Wainstones.

Throughout the Festival, dark skies-friendly accommodation will be offering guests an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience including stay and gaze packages at The Stone House Hotel near Hawes and The Fox & Hounds at Ainthorpe near Danby.

Phoebe Smith, marketing assistant for the North York Moors National Park, said: “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, said: “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 festival runs from 9-25 February at venues right across both national parks and national landscapes.

The events are individually priced and some are free.

For more programme information, including individual event booking details and pricing go to www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk