Holiday in Northumberland – Day 6 (of 7): Night Sky Safari

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Today’s highlight is going to be our visit to the Kielder Observatory tonight. All we need is a change in the weather to make the most of the clear skies!

Well, as luck would have it, the local forecast, was the best it’s been all week – hardly a heatwave, but good enough.


Looking at Kielder’s forecast, it was much the same. Great stuff – a day without brollies!!!

Almost a heatwave!

Our Night Safari event at the Observatory begins at 7.45pm, and so we’re going to head in the general direction and stop off at points along the way. First stop was Otterburn Mill

…in Otterburn, but there’s no Mill! Instead, it’s a haven of commercialism, although there were some tasteful signs of the original industry in the shape of some of the old Mill machinery restored in an authentic and respectful way.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the royal connection with the Mill, but helpfully, there was a display in the cafe to remind me! Apparently, Otterburn Mill made a rug for the Royal Family.

After picking up a new atlas and an Indian cookery book, it was back in the car, and off towards Kielder. It was a twisty route, but very scenic, taking in parts of Northumberland National Park, some 400 sq. miles of unspoilt terrain. The scenery was simply breath-taking.

We arrived at Kielder Water, surrounded by Kielder Forest – and if we’d thought the vista of the National Park was unforgettable, then it was upstaged by the views across and around the reservoir. Simply stunning!

So we spent the afternoon driving around the Reservoir and through the Forest, taking in the views. The weather improved – no sign of any rain – making it even more enjoyable.


The final point around the water for us was Kielder Castle. Less of a castle and more of a hunting lodge, it contained an interesting exhibition about the place as well as some information about the Northumbria Dark Skies project.

We dropped into The Pheasant Inn in Kielder run  by Ralph and Karen’s friends, Angela and Robin at round 6pm.

It was busy, even at 6pm when we arrived, but they got us a table, and we tried out the menu.

Just after 7pm, we left for Kielder Observatory. It was a shortish drive along the Forest’s perimeter road around before taking the two-mile dirt-track road (in pitch black, it felt longer, much longer!) taking us to the Observatory. Nothing could have prepared us for the sensation when we arrived. There’s dark skies – and Dark Skies! It was sooooooo black up there, we literally couldn’t see a thing. It became pretty obvious that although I’d taken my camera and a tripod, it was going to take a pretty sophisticated setup to be able to take a snap of anything – simply because of the total absence of any ambient light.

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When we got inside the Observatory, we could see how well supported the event was. There was at least 50 of us there, all eager to appreciate what our ‘safari’ and the Dark Skies project was all about. Staffed by mostly volunteers here, we were in the good company of slightly nerdish experts – probably an ideal combo! In short, the Observatory is where it is because of the total absence of any artificial light. And it soon became obvious, when we looked overhead and stared at the sky – there it was, a totally clear patchwork of stars, filling the blackness, uncorrupted by any other ‘man-made’ light. Fantastic!

The volunteers worked very hard, armed with ultra-powerful hand laser pointers to pick out the more obvious constellations. As the evening progressed, we also got to look through some ‘proper’ telescopes too. It got a lot colder outside, and I think we were very appreciative of the now blazing log-burner in the main auditorium!

By about 10pm, with mild-frostbite setting in, we decided we’d seen enough of this unique location, and headed back to the car. It had been a GREAT experience, and all we had to do now was find our way back down the dirt track… and the main road. The weather played a nasty hand by giving us rolling mist throughout the journey back to Craggy – that, combined with the twisty and narrow nature of most of the return route, made it a trip that demanded 110% concentration. We arrived back at the cottage just before midnight! Phew!!!

Tomorrow: Our final full day here, so, weather permitting, we’re going to visit Bamburgh Castle.

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