How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn

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Did you know, the North Pennines Area Of Outstanding National Beauty, part of the Durham Dales, has more recognised Dark Sky Discovery Sites than any other part of the UK? If you've not managed to see a truly dark sky yet, you really are missing a treat and it's a wonderful, magical and exciting thing to see for all ages and something you could never get bored of. Autumn is a perfect time to experience Durham's Dark Skies and there are lots of events taking place across the region for you to get involved with:

How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn - dark sky map Hamsterley Forest



The North Pennines Star Gazing Festival


The North Pennines Star Gazing Festival takes place this October Half Term and is the ideal time to catch a glimpse of Durham's glorious dark skies. There's a whole programme of events taking places for all levels of experiences and most are available to book now. Highlights include:


  • 23 October - 3 November - Family Moon Trail at Bowlees Visitor Centre (all ages): There's no need to book, simply turn up, discover the secrets of the moon and win a prize. Trails cost just 50p. Find out more here.
  • 29 October from 6pm - Family Stargazing at Raby Castle (ages 5+): Explore the night sky using astronomy binoculars and take a guided tour of the night sky. Find out more and book here.
  • 30 October from 8pm - Star E-Bike Adventure (ages 14+): Join a local astronomer as you tour Derwent Waterside Park on e-bike. Find out more and book here. 
  • 1 November from 6pm - Skywatch at Killhope (all ages): Join local astronomers who will show you around the night skies. Check out the display and try out some activities in Buddle House. Tickets are available from just £2.50. Find out more and book here. 
  • 29 October (various times from 10am) - Pop-up Planetarium at Barnard Castle: Enjoy a special screening of 'CAPCOM GO! The Apollo Story' which documents the moment 50 years ago when man first walked on the moon. The film lasts 30 minutes and is best-suited to over 7s. Find out more and book here.


This is just a snapshot of what's on during the festival and many events have already sold-out. Take a look at the full programme of events here. 

The North Pennines Stargazing Festival is just one of the fantastic events taking place as part of #Durham19 , the county's Year of Culture. There is so much to enjoy in the region from Kynren and Lumiere to a Viking Exhibition at Durham Cathedral.

Plan your own Star Gazing Night



If you're unable to attend a specific event, why not plan your own Star Gazing night? Nothing is more exciting for kids than heading out after hours. This map shows you the best places to enjoy the night sky - the numbers are 'Dark Sky Discovery Sites' which are especially dark.  Click on the numbers for more info.



How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn - dark sky map Hamsterley Forest

You don't need expensive equipment to get started. Binoculars, telescopes, a red torch and a star map (or app on your phone) are all useful. This is Durham has put together a handy guide for getting started here.  I'd recommend wrapping up warm, fitting the kids with head torches for when you're walking to/from the car and taking blankets, chairs and a flask of hot chocolate.


Our Experience of Durham's Dark Skies 


We joined Bruce from Wild North Discovery on a night safari around Hamsterley Forest at the start of this month (keep an eye on their website here for future events). Tickets were only £5 per person and all equipment was provided. Exploring the forest with our own private guide at night really was a treat and it really gives you a sense of perspective. We spotted hedgehogs, called for owls, used specialist equipment to detect bats, learned how to attract moths and more. It was such a good night and one which was loved by both grown-ups and kids. We were blessed with a clear night and the stars above Hamsterley Forest were just incredible. The sky really was twinkling above us and I feel very lucky that we managed to experience Durham's Dark Skies which really are a sight to behold. I'd say they're magical! Wild North Discovery also offers private stargazing events from £12.50 per person (see here for details). Here are a few snaps from our evening at Hamsterley Forest:



How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn - dark sky moth catcher Hamsterley Forest

How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn - dark sky map Hamsterley Forest

How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn - Hedgehog at Hamsterley Forest

How to Explore Durham's Dark Skies with Kids this Autumn - dark sky map Hamsterley Forest

Other events taking place at Hamsterley Forest this Autumn include a Twilight Trek on 21 September and Family Bushcraft on 27 October.

Have you experienced Durham's Dark Skies?


Check out some of my other Durham-based content below: 




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