Recently I have been lucky enough to have two holidays in Dumfries and Galloway. At Easter we visited Westerkirk Mains which was a great base for exploring the area. The previous summer we were lucky enough to stay in Knockbrex Castle. Whilst we were in the area I learnt that Galloway Forest is actually a designated Dark Sky Park.
You might be wondering what a dark sky park is. Have you ever gone out to look at the sky at night? If you live in a city it is often very hard to see the stars as there is lots of interference from the street lights. This is a problem in much of the country, even rural areas, as light from the city can be visible for around 50 miles. A dark sky park is an area that is free from light pollution allowing you get to get an uninterrupted look at the sky. Galloway Forest was the first dark sky park in the UK.
When we were on holiday we noticed how much darker the skies were at night, the stars looked so much larger and clearer. I was able to talk to my son about the different constellations and we were able to find them in the sky. He was really interested in learning more about the stars and has since picked up several books about astronomy.
I was interested to learn that Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland is bidding to become a Dark Skies Park. They also have an observatory with a number of different events taking place throughout the year. Kielder Water is much nearer to me so I hope to take my son along to some of these events.
There are a number of different things you can do with children to encourage them to learn about the night sky. You do not need a dark sky park to do these, just a reasonably dark area and a set of binoculars or a telescope.
- Get a close up look at the Moon. With a pair of binoculars you can see the craters on it and children love to look for the man in the moon.
- Get a star chart. You can get types that you rotate to a certain date and it will show you the stars in the sky at that time. There are a number of easily recognised constellations and children love to look for these.
- Find the North Star and talk about how sailors used to use it to navigate by the stars at night.
I also noticed a number of forest parks offer activities at night time. You can go on a bat walk at twilight and spot the bats taking off into the night sky. I would love to do this and will be seeing if there is one near me. In some parks you can even go on a walk in the morning and listen to the dawn chorus, the birds singing to greet the dawn. This must be a magical experience. Why not have a look at the Forestry Commission Website and find out what is going on near you?