Starry Starry Night, Look You – Dark Skies Tourism
What do the Brecon Beacons, NambiRand Reserve in Namibia, Mont Megantic in Quebec, and Aoraki Mackenzie in New Zealand have in common? At first glance you could struggle to find an answer – beyond all of them being wild places and perhaps guessing that they are each beautiful in their own way. A more precise link is that they (and indeed Exmoor National Park ) are ‘dark sky reserves’.
The Dark Sky idea is a deceptively simple one: reduce light pollution as far as is practical, to allow us the best possible chance of viewing the stars and other celestial bodies at night. Making it happen, inevitably, is tougher. But once achieved it opens the galaxy to our eyes, and a universe of experiences to our souls. There is nothing like gazing at the heavens to put your little work-related problems in perspective.
There are thought to be about 250,000 amateur astronomers of varying levels of commitment in the UK; but how many more of us have marvelled at the skies when other things – camping in the wilds of France, a safari in Africa, being on the deck of a ship at night – have given us a brief glimpse of what we can see when away from street lights, headlights and the general glow exuded by towns and cities?
Brecon’s International Dark Sky Reserve spreads over more than 500 square miles of beautiful countryside, where sheep it is said outnumber the 30,000 residents ten to one. Local involvement has enabled the park to achieve Dark Sky status, with actions as simple as homeowners tilting security lights downwards or as complex as public bodies surveying the light sources on their properties. And those toting their telescopes to Brecon will probably be met with understanding rather than suspicion – many people in the tourist sector have attended special training events built around the Dark Sky status.
In those 500 square miles there are many places to set up your telescope, but we can list a few of the most alluring to give a taste of the possibilities. Llangorse Lake is one that springs to mind, once you get a bit beyond the outdoor pursuits centre. This is easily reached from the A40 a few miles distant, and with Brecon perhaps a 25-minute drive away, and Talgarth north and Llangynidr south no further. As with other such spots, there is plenty to do in the daytime too – the lake is famed for pike-fishing, and maybe related to that has a legendary monster, the Afanc, to look out for.
Though not exactly Britain’s most built-up area, there are some special structures to enjoy here: Craig-y-Nos Castle and country park on the western edge of the Brecons , minutes away from Abercraf and Coelbren, and a reasonable drive from as far afield as Swansea , was once owned by a celebrated soprano who had the sense to retire to a fine Welsh home. If you are staying in the area don’t miss the caves at Dan-yr-Ogof the other side of the A4067.
Another lovely building to enjoy in the day, and with plenty of places suitable for your ‘scope at night, is Llanthony Priory , way to the east, just on the Welsh side of the border with Herefordshire , Hay-on-Wye , Crickhowell , and Abergavenny all a pleasant motor away through lovely scenery. Or at the very heart of the park is the mountain centre near the village of Libanus, south of Brecon itself. If you have the energy you could enjoy a hike in the daytime, and then revel in the glories of the night sky when the sun has gone down.
Information Britain lists a multitude of accommodation options in the area. If you are coming for the night skies you may want to go for a secluded cottage so the universe will be yours just a few paces from the door. Alternatively a B&B or country inn – all those Welsh cakes and big breakfasts to keep your energy levels up – could take your fancy. And if you are minded to mix astronomy and gastronomy we can direct you to some country house or town centre hotels that will fit the bill (of fare) perfectly.
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Previous destinations of the month:
Starry Starry Night, Look You – Dark Skies Tourism, South Wales | Mills and Hills in Central Lancashire, Lancashire | Get Fit on the North York Moors, North Yorkshire | A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December, Dorset | Nottinghamshire – Rural and Urban, Nottinghamshire | The Test Valley, Hampshire | Ashdown Forest, Sussex | The Rugged Northumberland Coast , Northumberland | The Resorts of North Devon, Devon | The Queen's London, London | Denbighshire , North Wales | York and Its Surrounds, North Yorkshire | The High Weald of Kent, Kent | Leisure, Luxury and Retail Heaven in Leeds , West Yorkshire | Rejuvenate Yourself in Rejuvenated Belfast , Belfast | Seasonal Fun in Brum, West Midlands | Autumn in the Southern Chilterns, Buckinghamshire | Cheshire Peaks and Plains, Cheshire | Essex’s Colne Valley, Essex | Cardigan Bay, West Wales | South Wales Valleys, South Wales | Highland Perthshire, Perthshire | South Downs National Park, Sussex | Royal Wedding London, London | Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire | The Oxfordshire Cotswolds, Oxfordshire | Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire | Edinburgh at Christmas, Edinburgh and the Lothians | Marvellous Manchester, Greater Manchester | The National Forest, Derbyshire | East Lothian, Edinburgh and the Lothians | Regency Brighton and Hove, Sussex | Isle of Purbeck, Dorset | The Somerset Levels, Somerset | Llandudno, North Wales | Hereford, Herefordshire | Cheltenham, Gloucestershire | Bristol, the Great West City, Bristol | Weardale, County Durham | Festive London, London | Islay, Isle of Islay | Blackpool and the Lancashire Coast, Lancashire | The Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire | Land of the Prince Bishops, County Durham | The North Cornwall Coast, Cornwall | Torbay, Devon | Dumfries & Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway | West Highland Way, Argyll | Caithness and Sutherland, Highlands | Harrogate & its Surrounds, North Yorkshire | Sheffield, South Yorkshire