10 Great Camping Spots For Stargazing
Cast your eyes to the skies and discover some of the best destinations in Britain for stargazing
Stargazing is becoming increasingly popular with a growing number of designated dark sky reserves and parks scattered throughout the UK.
These areas actively promote stargazing and, as many are in National Parks and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you’ll have plenty of scope to find a suitable campsite. The nature of camping means many of these sites are located in ideal places – well away from built-up, well-lit areas.
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You can also find ‘unofficial’ dark sky locations close to where you live by visiting parks, picnic areas and even your own back garden. The criteria is simply a lack of street lights and a good view of the heavens overhead.
Once you’ve decided where to go, all you really need is a pair of binoculars and a map of the night sky.
GALLOWAY FOREST PARK
Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries and Galloway became the first official UK Dark Sky site in 2009 and it is estimated that more than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye in this area. To give an idea of the sky quality here, the official reading is 21-23.6 on a scale that runs from 0 – 25. A photographer’s dark room would rate 24 on the same scale! Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre overlooks the darkest part of the park and is one of the best places for stargazing from – try one of the viewing points at either end of the Carrick Forest Drive. Also worth a look is The Scottish Dark Skies observatory near Dalmellington. Visitors here can observe the sky through its research-grade telescope. For campers there are lots of choices with plenty of decent sites where camping spots can be found in dark corners away from any lights.
GLENTROOL CAMPING AND CARAVAN SITE
Bargrennan, Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway DG8 6RN
A well-landscaped site that has been nicknamed Expedition Base Camp. Located next to the owner’s house, the site takes tents on a well cut pretty grass area. Campers get to pitch among low bushes and there are mature trees around the edges for screening. For campers there is a bothy with a fridge, microwave and kettle and an on-site shop selling basics, plus there is a pool near the camping field. The toilets and showers are clean and there is a laundry facility. On the camping field you will find picnic benches and eight electric hook-ups.
NORTH YORK MOORS
The North York Moors National Park has three dark sky discovery sites where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and up to 2,000 stars can be observed. These are Danby, Sutton Bank and the observatories in Dalby Forest. Other excellent locations for a bit of stargazing include Rievaulx Terrace, Old Saltburn, Boulby Cliff, Kettleness and Ravenscar. As well as this the Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society often run public stargazing events in Dalby Forest and it’s well worth seeing what is on offer in advance. Each August, Starfest (a three night camp) is held in Dalby Forest and is always popular. Northumberland has great stargazing sites inland but a lot of the coastal regions are worth checking out as there often huge skies and little light pollution to contend with. The Northern Lights are often visible from the coast if conditions are favourable.
ROSEDALE CARAVAN AND CAMPING PARK
Rosedale Abbey, Pickering, North Yorkshire, YO18 8SA
Rosedale Caravan and Camping Park is set right in the heart of the North York Moors. This is a well laid out site taking over 200 units. The camping areas are located near the centre of the site – electric hook-ups need booking in advance. They are bush and tree screened. The toilets are in the centre of the camping area so are very handy. They are clean and tidy and kept heated in cold weather and there is a launderette too. Near the toilets is a children’s play area. You can visit the remains of the ancient Rosedale Abbey next to the site.
There is so much scope for stargazing in the Lake District it is hard to know just where to start. There are lots and lots of campsites, usually of a high standard, and a lot of them (particularly the farm sites) are set in dark locations where a good view of the night sky is guaranteed. As well as this there are car parks down all the main valleys and car parks next to the lakes - all of which make for a good observation post on a dark clear night. Then you have the higher roads and the ones that go over the passes, which give you an elevated view of the night sky. Some are very narrow and would require care if negotiated at night. One location to check out is Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre in remote Ennerdale. Due to the lack of light pollution here the night sky can be spectacular. The grounds are very dark so torch is best carried and the approach track requires care at night. Also worth a look is Allen Bank at Grasmere which is a short walk up the hill from Grasmere Village. Access is only allowed here when an organised stargazing event is taking place.
Brotherswater, Hartsop, Patterdale, Cumbria CA11 0NZ
Sykeside Camping Site is set in a small valley near Brotherswater and right among the Lake District Mountains. The setting is spectacular and the site offers great views of the overhead night sky. The site is set below a pub and has a walkers’ bar and shop. Pitches are located around a walled field with a good access track and are grass for tents. Tents mostly go on the flat bottom of the field but there are some elevated rougher pitches that some campers like to carry their gear to. The site is open all year but there are no hook-ups for tents.
Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and its adjoining forest park provide a superb location for camping stargazers. A good network of sites throughout the region offers a great deal of choice for pitching your tent and facilities are usually very good with sites being un-crowded. The National Park and Kielder Water are designated Dark Sky Parks which have gold tier status. This means that “the full array of visible sky phenomena” can be viewed. Things that are rarely seen in other areas can be spotted here if conditions are right, including the Northern Lights, airglow (an atmospheric light), the Milky Way, Zodiacal Light (which is sunlight scattered by space dust) and frequent meteors. Locations worth a look are Stonehaugh, which has a stargazing pavilion and Kielder Observatory which hosts daily events such as sky safaris and full moon parties.
BELLINGHAM CAMPING AND CARAVANNING CLUB SITE
Bellingham, Hexham, Northumberland NE48 2JY
Bellingham is a sheltered site operated and run by the Camping and Caravanning Club. The site is open to non-club members who pay an addition pitch fee. It can take 70 units overall and there are grass and hard standing pitches with some being fully serviced. There are plenty of electric hook-ups available. Set in a field on the outskirts of Bellingham, the site has pods and a clean and tidy shower and toilet block behind the reception area. The site has Wi-Fi. and a small children’s play area. It often hosts stargazing nights and astronomy events – check with wardens for details.
Wild and ruggedly remote, Snowdonia has plenty of tucked away places to get a good clear view of the night sky with your binoculars. The abundant campsites are generally of good quality and often set in remote locations in sheltered valleys or by lakes and far from light pollution. There are several recognised dark sky locations scattered around the park and these are the lakes of Llyn y Dywarchen, Llyn Geironyedd and Llynnau Cregennen all of which are remote and offer really dark stargazing locations to try out. Ty Cipar is an excellent dark sky location to head for and the mountain pass of Bwlch y Groes often yields stunning skies. Snowdonia is traditionally very busy with walkers, climbers and mountain bikers but is gaining in popularity with those campers who have an interest in observing the night sky.
Llanrwst, Conwy, Snowdonia LL26 0RB
Cilcennus Farm Caravan Park is a superb site set on a working farm at the head of the Conwy Valley in Snowdonia and from its field you get a great view of the night sky. The site is down a track in a clearing in woodland and the bottom of the field is the flattest and this is where the tents mostly go. Pitches are grass and there are plenty of electric hook-ups. The site has Wi-Fi. Near the farmhouse you will also find the toilet and shower block in a low stone building. The facilities are superb and very clean and include a disabled toilet and wash room and a campers’ kitchen plus a pool table area.
Exmoor is one of four national parks that jointly host the Dark Skies National Park Festival and it is a Mecca for getting views of huge star-filled skies. Camping sites are abundant and range from remote farm locations to full facility fields and all are of good quality. It has been calculated that on the clearest and darkest nights on the Exmoor moors the human eye will be able to see about 3,000 stars. Small surprise that Exmoor became Europe’s first international dark sky reserve in November 2011. The best sites to go to for stargazing are at Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill and Wimbleball Lakes. Organised events often include forest and full moon walks and summer family campouts. It is well worth checking out just what is going on before bringing your tent to Exmoor and planning your visit around things. However, if you just want to go it alone there are numerous quiet high lanes and roads where you could stop the car and get out the binoculars!
CLOUD FARM CAMPING SITE
Oare, Lynton, North Devon EX35 6NU
Cloud Farm has an enchanting riverside location on the flat bottom of a steep sided Exmoor Valley and is a wonderful camping spot for people who want to see dark skies. The site does not have many electric hook-ups and does not take advance bookings so you should aim to arrive early if you need one. The site allows camp fires as long as they don’t get out of hand and sells logs for burning. There is a tea room and a shop.
Wester Ross, and indeed the whole of the north west of Scotland, is a great area to get big dark skies. It has little in the way of light pollution and, particularly in the coastal regions, offers huge panoramas over the sea and down sea lochs. It has no official ‘dark sky’ status but is a fine example of the sort of place for the camper to seek out if he wants to stargaze to his heart’s content. Wester Ross is a magical name for campers who enjoy the wild and remote places of North West Scotland. It is part of the old traditional county of Ross-Shire which later became Ross and Cromarty. Geographically this is a big area and takes in the likes of Ullapool (the largest settlement in Wester Ross), Achiltibuie, Gairloch, Achnasheen, Applecross, Lochcarron, Aultbea and Kinlochewe. Overall, it is a loosely defined area and for most of us looking at a map of The UK it is a long long way north. However if you are looking for star filled skies it’s worth the drive. The only drawback is that it doesn’t go dark until really late in the summer months!
NORTHERN LIGHTS CAMPSITE
Croft 9, Badcaul, Dundonnell, Wester Ross, IV23 2QY
Northern Lights Campsite sounds like it was made for stargazing! It is a small location set above Little Loch Broom with incredible views across the loch. This is a basic site but there is a clean toilet and shower block set near the entrance in a stone building with a tin roof. Tent pitches are grass but there are only about eight electric hook-ups and they are usually reserved for caravans. If you are bringing your tent and want electric then try booking a hook-up in advance to avoid disappointment. The site is slightly sloping and in an elevated position with the end of the site facing The Loch having a low fence so the view is not obstructed.
Perthshire is another example of an area that holds no official dark sky status but has long been known as a region to come to if you want big open skies with little light pollution where you get vast star filled night skies to gaze at. The county is famed for its dramatic mountains, glens, lochs, ancient castles, unspoilt nature and its outdoor possibilities. Perthshire is located at the geographical heart of Scotland and is home to some of Europe’s most remarkable woodlands which are easily accessible on a large network of paths and way marked trails. For the fledgling stargazer there are plenty of remotely placed campsites where you can find yourself a quiet dark corner to get out your binoculars and star map and sit with a glass (or two) of wine and take it all in! The sky is at its darkest around the lochs and lakes and the likes of Loch Rannoch and Loch Tay are both worth a visit after dark as they have large sky vista and when the clouds clear the panorama can be quite stunning.
STRATHFILLAN WIGWAM VILLAGE
Crianlarich, Perthshire FK20 8RU
01838 400251 or 01838 400298
Strathfillan Wigwam Village offers a landscape of vast wide open skies and high mountains. It is located on the opening stretches of Rannoch Moor – sometimes known as the last true wilderness in the United Kingdom – and the site promotes its wooden wigwams. However, this is also a true wilderness site for anyone who has a tent. The camping field is flat and gloriously positioned overlooking towering peaks and feels literally ‘in the middle of nowhere’. On site you will find a shop that selling basic requirements and hot snacks and drinks - you can also buy logs and kindling as the site has fire boxes in place. The shower and toilet block are small but neat and clean and there is a well stocked camper’s kitchen.
Nidderdale is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is bolted on to the southern regions of the Yorkshire Dales National Park near Harrogate. It has a few dark sky locations and has long been recognised as a great place to come star gazing due to its huge dark skies and freedom from light pollution. Niddlerdales large areas of open moorland and small remote villages mean that you get some of the darkest skies in Yorkshire here with Upper Nidderdale also being one of the remotest spots to visit in the dales. There are a few campsites scattered around and these are of good quality and often in very dark locations so you can get out your binoculars and have a great evening of watching the night sky! Locations to try out are remote and lovely Scar House Reservoir, Coldstone Cut and The Bivouac at High Knowle Farm in Upper Nidderdale which is accessible to visitors and officially recognised as an excellent place to stargaze and offers free overnight carparking. Nidderdale AONB is usually less crowded than the main Yorkshire Dales and a haven of peace and quiet.
Studfold, Lofthouse, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Studfold Camping and Caravan Site is located in a quiet setting amongst rolling dales countryside. The site caters for caravans, campervans and tents and the main field is set by a quiet lane. There are electric hook-ups for those who need them. The main field also has three camping pods on it. The field is lovely and open and the farm house and check in is signposted for you to walk to from it. There is a good track around the field and a little wall down the middle. The toilets and showers are located in a little wooden building which is near the site entrance. This is a lovely and well maintained site.
THE ISLE OF WIGHT
Everyone loves a trip to the Isle of Wight and as half of it is designated an AONB it has much to offer the visitor. You may not have considered the island as a destination to come camping and do a bit of stargazing but it has plenty to interest the fledgling astronomer. For campers there are good sites to choose from and a lot of these are dotted around the coast, although there are plenty inland too. Facilities are generally excellent and camping on the island is an enjoyable experience. Currently the Isle of Wight does not have full dark sky designation mainly because the larger towns in the north and east are just too bright. However it has much elevated ground and the coastal regions of the south offer good dark skies over the sea with many of the inland sites being elevated and great for getting the binoculars out on. Good cliff top locations for stargazing are Atherfield and Compton. The Vectis Astronomical society has stargazing nights at the observatory in Newchurch and gives regular talks in Newport. There are also stargazing weekends at the Island Planetarium in Freshwater.
GRANGE FARM CAMPING SITE
Grange Farm, Grange Chine, Brighstone Bay, Isle of Wight, PO30 4DA
Grange Farm Camping and Caravan Site is set in an elevated location overlooking the sea is set on the south west coast of The Isle of Wight. The site is of medium sized and also has static vans, holiday cottages and pods for hire. The toilet block is in a long low building and the facility is heated in colder weather. The site has a coin operated bath and laundry facilities too. In front of the toilet block there is a large adventure playground and collections of small animals on site too! All the camping areas are separated into smaller bays by neat fencing and you can choose to camp back from the cliffs a bit or quite close to them. Electric hook-ups are available.