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Cumbria’s Dark Skies Festival line-up officially revealed

Photo by Steve Messam, courtesy of Forestry England

An exciting and packed programme of events has been revealed ahead of Cumbria’s very first Dark Skies Festival, set to take place over the weekend of 21-23 February 2020.

The three-day programme includes sensory twilight strolls, moonlight bike rides, art installations and even a chance to get up-close and personal with rocks from space during fascinating sessions from inside one of the festival’s highlights: A pop-up ‘Dark Sky Planetarium and Meteorite Workshop’, suitable for the whole family.

Further highlights including learning top-tips on astro-photography with the winner of the 2019 ‘Astronomy Photographer of the Year’ competition’s ‘People and Space’ category, Ben Bush. Plus there will be illuminated orbs floating on Grizedale Tarn, designed to interact with the stars and celebrate the forest as a beautiful place to experience dark skies.

The Cumbria-wide festival – which will be held at various locations across the county – has been organised by Cumbria Tourism in partnership with Forestry England, Friends of the Lake District and the Lake District National Park Authority, providing a great opportunity for people of all ages to fall in love with some of the darkest skies in the UK.

The complete programme of events is as follows:

Friday 21 February:

Lake District Dark Skies Weekend with Calvert Lakes, Keswick*: This fully catered residential weekend gives stargazers the opportunity to take part in a variety of night-sky activities including a special dark skies talk, film night and planetarium visit; and is largely accessible to those with both physical and learning disabilities. *This event also takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

Sounds of Dusk at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve: Experience the magic of Eycott Hill at twilight with a walk through this spectacular nature reserve. Keep your ears open for owls and your eyes peeled for badgers and deer, as you’re joined by experts from The Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Mountain Bike* and eBike Night Ride at Cyclewise Whinlatter: A great opportunity to meet new people and a chance to see the beautiful winter skies – away from urban light. As you take a break and pull off the trail, don’t forget turn off the lights and enjoy the tranquility of being outside at night. *The Mountain bike event will also be held on Saturday.

Nature’s Nightlife at Whinlatter Forest & Visitor Centre: Join us for a magical guided evening walk through the forest. Listen out for owls, learn about the wildlife in the forest, experience the wonders of the night sky and finish with hot chocolate and marshmallows around a campfire.

Intrastellar by artist Steve Messam at Grizedale Forest & Visitor Centre* (pictured): ‘Intrastellar’ is a new temporary art installation by Steve Messam, commissioned by Forestry England in Grizedale Forest. By day, the pure white float on Grizedale Tarn adding a purity of form in a wild environment, while by night the tarn is transformed by their gentle glow in the darkness into an echo of the stars in the dark skies above. *Also taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

Earth Photo Exhibition at Grizedale Forest & Visitor Centre*: This exhibition offers a series of stunning and thought-provoking images of the planet, including 35 captivating photographs. *Also taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

Exploring the Dark: Wildlife & Wonders of the Sky at Solway Wetlands Centre: Join the Solway Coast AONB team for a three-mile wander to watch the evening light disappearing behind the outline of the Scottish hills before scanning the night sky in search of heavenly wonders.

Whinlatter Dark Skies Walk at Whinlatter Forest & Visitor Centre*: Join Jo Gruchy, a qualified and experienced Mountain Leader, who will help you experience the forest like never before. Switch off your torch during this two-hour walk and gaze at the night sky high above you. *This event also takes place on Sunday.

Dark Skies and Landscape Photography Weekend at Beckfoot Retreat B&B, Ennerdale Water*: A two-night break giving you the opportunity to brush up on your photography skills. This course will include a combination of landscape photography by day and long exposure photography of the dark skies by night, along with post editing tuition. *This course runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday 22 February:

Stargazing with High Tea at Beckfoot Retreat B&B, Ennerdale Water: Witness amazing views of the night skies from Beckfoot Retreat, from where you can follow the path to the water’s edge to enjoy the amazing sight of stars, constellations and possibly the Milky Way reflected in Ennerdale Water.

Exploring the Dark – A walk for wellness at Staveley Roundhouse: Take a night-time stroll from Staveley Village through part of Staveley Woodlands to discover why it’s good for your health and mental wellbeing to get out at night. Experience how all of your senses change as the night draws in, using only red lights – if any!
Cockermouth Astronomy Society public stargazing at Crow Park: A range of telescopes will be available and several local members of the society will be on hand to show you how to use them to find your way across the night sky.

Planetarium and Meteorite workshops at Ambleside Parish Church (St Mary’s) and Rheged*: This workshop session is guaranteed to captivate adults and children alike, whether they are old or new to stargazing. Astronomers from Kielder Observatory will take visitors on a journey of discovery inside the planetarium and show-off real space rocks before teaching visitors more about our solar system. *The Rheged event also takes place on Sunday.

Darkening Skies Pottery Workshop at Grizedale: Learn how to reduce your own light pollution at this workshop with local makers Tom Philipson and Adam Sutherland. Create simple decorative cowlings to minimise light pollution from domestic outdoor lighting, including security timer lights.

Nature’s Nightlife at Grizedale forest at Grizedale Forest & Visitor Centre: Soak-up the wonders of the forest under the stars on this exciting walk into the forest under the cover of darkness. Even better: Hot chocolate will be provided!

Dark Skies Exploration Day in The Forgotten Lands at The Crossings Inn: Choose from three special events, to enjoy an interpreted walk along part of the historic Roman road Via Scotia; A guided bike ride; or bring your own telescopes along to a care and maintenance workshop for advice on repairs.

Supper & Stargazing at Whinlatter Forest & Visitor Centre: Our expert Andrew Gray will present an Introduction to the Night Sky, with opportunities to look through the telescope and admire the dark skies of Whinlatter. You’ll even be treated to a hot pie before a Q&A session to satisfy your enquiring mind.
Astrophotography Exhibition and Talks at Keswick Moot Hall: Spend an afternoon in the presence of some of the UK’s top astro-photographers for in-depth talks, featuring stunning images of the night sky, with hints and tips on how to take your own beautiful images of the night sky.

Sunday 23 February:

Stargazing at Alston Moor Golf Club: One of the best local venues to view the heavens, this stargazing session will be run by well-respected astronomer, Gary Lintern. Suitable for beginners to amateur stargazers, this two hour experience will also include a glimpse at plans for a new observatory at the golf club!

Further events are being held on Sunday, as part of Friday and Saturday’s schedule. See Friday and Saturday’s listings for details (marked with an *).

To find out more information about all of those events and more, visit the Dark Skies Festival websites at Golakes here and Friends of the Lake District here.

Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, Gill Haigh, says, “With more than 1,000 stars visible on a clear night complimented by part of our own galaxy, The Milky Way, which majestically stretches across the night sky, The Lake District, Cumbria easily outshines the city lights for a memorable getaway – making it the perfect destination for an unforgettable night of stargazing. We’re tremendously fortunate to be able to invite visitors to join residents to celebrate what we have on offer.”

Mark Holroyd from Forestry England, says, “We’re thrilled to be holding events as part of Cumbria’s Dark Skies Festival at both Grizedale and Whinlatter Forests. From night-time bike rides, to walks and exhibitions, we’re very excited to be able to offer such an extensive range of activities to people who are fascinated with the skies above us. We hope this will build on the growing popularity of stargazing activities which can already be enjoyed at both of these beautiful forests.”

Andrew Tait, Dark Skies Project Manager at Friends of the Lake District, says, “We’re passionate about celebrating and safeguarding Cumbria’s amazing dark skies and we hope that the public have a great time and enjoy this large variety of the amazing events that we’ve all worked so hard on to pull together. There really is something for everyone during the weekend, no matter their age or knowledge of the night sky. We can’t wait to share these experiences across what promises to be a fascinating long weekend.”

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