Stargazing holidays in Yorkshire and how to take stunning night sky photography

Moonlit Ribblehead

Moonlit Ribblehead 'Pen-y-ghent is on the far left and planet Mars is over Park Fell. The Moon, which is just out of shot on the left, can be useful in lighting up distant dark landscapes, although it reduces the contrast in the sky, so fewer stars are visible' Pete Collins - Credit: Pete Collins diamond-skies.co.uk

The Dark Skies Festivals may be over for another year, but we can still enjoy starry nights in Yorkshire. We meet people who are inspired by life after dark - and see what's on offer to all.

Dark Skies for families

Sutton Bank National Park Centre

The dramatic escarpment of Sutton Bank on the eastern tip of the National Park is known for its daytime panoramic views. Arrive at twilight though and there’s a chance to grab the last of the views before enjoying the show stopping spectacle in the night sky. The beauty of Sutton Bank is its accessibility particularly with a large car park, the proximity from the main road between Thirsk and Helmsley and easy, well maintained walking routes that enable visitors to quickly get from the car to a spot where the horizon opens up and the sky is unsullied by light pollution. .northyorkmoors.org.uk/discover/dark-skies

To stay: Easterside Farm at Hawnby is a 15-minute drive from Sutton Bank where guests can stroll out into the perfectly secluded garden to carry on stargazing before turning in for the night.

Price: from £48 per person per night eastersidefarm.co.uk

Dalby Forest 

The inky sky above the 3,440 hectare Dalby Forest might take the phrase ‘pitch black’ to a whole new level but on a clear night it’s also crammed with stars. Drive to the visitor centre at Low Dalby and join one of Hidden Horizons regular stargazing safaris in the courtyard where adults and youngsters alike will be left feeling suitably star struck. There’s even a pop-up planetarium where families can go on a virtual space exploration if the weather outside doesn’t quite play ball.

Cost: £15 per person – maximum five people per session hiddenhorizons.co.uk/collections/dalby-explorer-hub-events

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To stay: Noelle’s cottages near Pickering offers families the choice of three lovely self-catering properties – the Barn, the Apple Store and the Coach House.

Price: from £415 for three nights noellescottages.co.uk

Pry House Farm B&B and Shepherd’s Hut, Keld, Upper Swaledale

Pry House Farm near Keld in Upper Swaledale is perfect for star gazing and has just joined the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Dark Sky Friendly scheme.  Free from street lighting or road glare and miles away from any industrial light pollution, the skies at Pry House Farm are huge, uninterrupted and very, very dark.  The couple running the B&B, Chris and Glenda, are passionate about the dark skies and will readily lend guests anything they need for their own stargazing safari including binoculars, astronomy guide books, rugs, special red light torches and a hot drink.

Stays at Pry House Farm B&B start at £72 per night. upperswaledaleholidays.co.uk

Lovely Seat Holiday Cottage, Angram, Swaledale

This holiday cottage is named after a local hill called Lovely Seat. However the owners have made sure guests also have their own great viewing perch, with a private balcony overlooking the Dales panorama and a front seat for when the the beautiful  dark skies above Swaledale put on a show.

Short breaks of four nights start from £425.00. Swaledale Country Holidays  

Sheffield sky at night

Sheffield sky at night - Credit: Parkdean Resorts

Dark skies in the city

recent study from Parkdean Resorts reveals that Sheffield is the second only to Bristol as the best UK city to stargaze by analysing the light pollution levels in the city centre. 

With the Peak District right on its doorstep, a perfect stargazing location, Sheffield has less light pollution than other major UK cities studied, and not only that, is elevated 88 meters above sea level, giving Sheffield an advantage to seeing the stars.

To stay: Brocco on the Park is a stylish boutique hotel situated on the edge of Endcliffe Park and is a short walk from Sheffield Botanical Gardens. 

Price: From £100 per room per night www.brocco.co.uk

NOrthern Lights looking out from Whitby cSteve Bell

Northern Lights looking out from Whitby - Credit: Steve Bell

Dark skies via public transport

Whitby

Despite being a town, with its cliff tops and expansive sea views, Whitby has some great vantage points for spying the heavens and even the possibility of glimpsing the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. Those travelling by train, can take the Esk Valley Line which runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby and make a beeline for the Bruce Observatory at Whitby School, a short stroll from the railway station. Here members of the Whitby & District Astronomical Society readily share their expertise and the use of their telescopes during regular public events between September and April. During the summer the society de-camps to a grassy bank on Whitby’s West Cliff where visitors can look through the telescopes at the darkening sky above the harbour during one of their popular star parties. gostargazing.co.uk/organiser/whitbyas

Danby

Just three quarters of an hour from Middlesbrough, the Esk Valley Line stops at the village of Danby and then it’s an easy stroll to the Fox and Hounds at Ainthorpe, a lovely 16th century inn that has embraced its dark skies position. Guests are encouraged to venture a few steps from the pub’s doorway, look up at the thousands of stars and capture their own photos. 

To stay: The Fox and Hounds offers nine cosy rooms, a Swedish sauna, and stargazing equipment.

Price: From £83 per room per night. foxandhoundsainthorpe.com

Stargazing with a slice of history

Cawthorn Roman Camps

In the days before opticians existed, the Romans would test their soldiers’ eyesight by asking them to identify the Big Dipper or The Plough constellation in the sky. Head to the car park at the ancient fortification site, the Cawthorn Roman camps between Cropton and Pickering and imagine how centurions felt as they were asked to spy the stars in the big skies above this high vantage point.

To stay: Rawcliffe House Farm at Stape has a selection of holiday cottages sleeping 2-7 people. Prices: from £465 for short breaks rawcliffehousefarm.co.uk

Gribdale Gate near Great Ayton

One of the nation’s best known explorers, Captain James Cook, spent his early life walking the land near his home in Great Ayton. Later his seafaring voyages relied on navigation by the stars. Why not head to the Captain Cook monument less than a mile from the car park at Gribdale Gate near Great Ayton and look skywards to imagine the enormous task that explorers faced as they searched out the moon and the stars while venturing into uncharted waters. 

To Ingleborough and beyond. View from the Chapel-le-Dale path up Ingleborough. This was shot using a DSLR modified for...

To Ingleborough and beyond View from the Chapel-le-Dale path up Ingleborough. This was shot using a DSLR modified for astronomy to make it more sensitive to the red light of nebulas, although it tends to make everything look pin. Pete Collins - Credit: Pete Collins

For astro photography

Pete Collins is an expert in astronomy and photography and has combined the two interests through digital photography. He has exhibited his work and also speaks to astronomy and photography groups about his night skies photography.  

Pete, whose work can be seen on the website diamond-skies.co.uk, spends time planning shots by looking at OS maps, visiting potential locations in daytime and checking planetarium software to see what is in the night sky - and checking the weather forecast for clear skies.  

Most of his nightscape imaging has so far been In the Yorkshire Dales with big landscape free from light pollution.  

These are some of his tips for keen photographers to make the most of the dark skies:  

  • Use a DSLR fitted with a wide-angle lens or wide zoom setting and a tripod. 

  • Use a cable release (or the camera’s self-timer function). 

  • Shoot in manual mode, manual focus, RAW file format. 

  • Focus manually on a bright star, take test shots and check for focus and star trailing. 

  • Limit exposure to around 20 to 30 seconds unless you want star trails. 

  • Shoot with the lens wide open and a high ISO – probably. 

  • Plan – what’s in the sky, shooting direction, weather forecast. 

  • Edit RAW images in Lightroom or similar. 

Byland Abbey in the North York Moors National Park by Steve Bell 

Byland Abbey in the North York Moors National Park by Steve Bell - Credit: Steve Bell

In North Yorkshire. Helmsley-based photographer Steve Bell specialises in dark sky images. He recommends seeking out Young Ralph’s Cross located conveniently on the side of the road between Hutton le Hole and Castleton and with a car park just a short stroll south of the landmark. 

Here it’s possible to capture a stunning photograph showing the Milky Way lined up with the ancient stone cross, particularly when the constellation is at its most visible (between March and April and then August-October). For a bit of expert guidance join Steve on one of his dark sky workshops. stevebellphotography.co.uk 

To stay: Crag House Farm is a short drive from Young Ralph’s Cross and offers two stylish family friendly barn conversions, each sleeping six.

Price: Four-night stays available from £746.25 craghousefarm.co.uk

For walkers

Gareth Williams of Large Outdoors often takes small groups out into the North York Moors at night to practice navigation skills and simply enjoy the feeling of being out in the wild after dark. He recommends starting out from the village of Lastingham, a village near Pickering with easy access onto wide open moorland where expansive dark skies filled with stars or the moon help guide walkers along the tracks. Back at the village there’s the welcome sight of the Blacksmiths Arms for an after-walk pint. largeoutdoors.com/dark-sky-festival-walks-north-york-moors

To stay: Wellspring Farm cottages at Sawdon, a half-hour drive from Lastingham, not only offer guests lovely indoor retreats but also a glass domed viewing pod on stilts in the secluded garden where they can sit on a comfy sofa with a glass of wine and look up to the stars.

Price: From £516 for a three-night stay. wellspringfarm.co.uk

Yorkshire Dales Dark Skies Friendly accommodation:

The Dark Skies Festivals will return to the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales next Spring. (February 18 to March 6, 2022)



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