The sheer volume of lights in the UK’s towns and cities means that many of us never get to experience truly dark skies - in fact, it’s estimated that around 85% of people have never seen the Milky Way.
Luckily, there are still areas of the Lake District National Park where you can witness the night sky in all its glory with shooting stars, meteors, galaxies and a range of nocturnal wildlife.
So, grab a blanket, your binoculars and some warm clothing, and plan a stargazing short break with our guide to making the most of dark skies in the Lake District.
Where to spot stars in the Lake District
For skies to be as dark as possible, you need to head to quieter and less populated areas of the Lake District National Park. Remember, though, not to head too far off the beaten track - you don’t want to get lost in the dark.
The view from the top of this Lake District beauty spot near Keswick is always spectacular and on a dark night it’s illuminated by thousands of stars. There’s even a perfectly placed bench where you can soak up the romantic scenery.
Whinlatter Forest Park
England’s only mountain forest is tucked between two lakes, Bassenthwaite and Derwentwater, and the shelter from thousands of trees gives Whinlatter the dark skies necessary for stargazing.
This peaceful location is surrounded by mountains making it wonderfully dark at night and the perfect spot for a romantic evening surrounded by stars.
Where to stay: Stile End Cottage in Keswick
Grasmere and Ambleside
The Grasmere former home of William Wordsworth has ‘Dark Sky Status’ due to low light-pollution levels. It’s just a short walk from Grasmere village and the National Trust runs regular child-friendly stargazing events so it’s a good choice for families.
Another wonderful dark-sky location in the Lake District, the protection of the Langdale Pikes means this remote valley has virtually no ambient light. Head to the Blea Tarn car park in Little Langdale for the perfect stargazing spot.
One of the most popular Lake District dark-sky locations, there are regular stargazing events at Grizedale Forest and on a clear night, the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. A good choice for beginners, you can head to the Grizedale visitor centre to get started.
Where to stay: Carr Crag Cottage in Skelwith Bridge
Located in a large valley that’s surrounded by mountains such as Scafell Pike, Wasdale on the edge of Wastwater is a stunning Lake District spot that’s shielded from light pollution. The Wasdale Head Inn pub is a great place to call in for refreshments before or after your stargazing.
An accredited dark-sky discovery site in Ennerdale, Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre runs special stargazing events throughout the year.
Where to stay: Beehive Barn in Caldbeck
What to take with you
Stargazing in the Lake District is an activity that’s accessible to all and you’ll be surprised at just how much will be visible to you by just looking up and observing. There are some things, however, that it’s worth taking with you to help you get the most from your evening under the stars:
- Binoculars will allow you to see more of the sky and spot some of the stars and constellations that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
- A torch will help you get around in the dark but standard white torches can make it hard for your eyes to re-adjust to your dark surroundings. A better option is a red-light torch which will maximise your night vision while still allowing you to safely see your surroundings.
- Evenings in the Lake District tend to be on the cool side so remember to take warm clothes with you, even in the summer months.
- If you’re planning to be outside for a while, then refreshments and a blanket or folding chair will make your night of stargazing a lot more comfortable.
- A compass will help you look in the right direction to pinpoint particular constellations in the sky.
It’s up to you how long you spend stargazing, but you’ll find plenty of charming country cottages in the Lake District where you can warm up in front of a wood burner after your evening under the night sky.
Things to look out for
You can see different things at different times of the the year including constellations, shooting stars, planets, the moon, the northern lights, the Milky Way and even the International Space Station. Here are some of the things to look out for:
- The Milky Way - the best month to spot this light spectacle is during August. Look out for a large band of light with darker ribbons running through it.
- Aurora Borealis - best known as the northern lights, this beautiful phenomenon is caused when solar particles collide. If you’re lucky, you might catch the northern lights between April and August.
- Winter is the best season for spotting constellations in the sky with formations like Cassiopeia, Orion and The Plough visible.
- Spring is the best season to spot the planets in the night sky.
- Look out for the International Space Station - it orbits the earth every 90 minutes and always appears as one of the brightest objects in the sky.
Dark skies don’t just mean the chance to spot stars; you can also see a range of nocturnal creatures who prefer to sleep during the day and come to life at night. Always remember to respect the nature around you and to leave things exactly as you found them by removing any litter. Some of the animals you can see in the Lake District include:
- Bats - there are eight types of bat that can be spotted in the Lake District, and you are most likely to see them in woodland or forest areas after sunset.
- Badgers - the Lake District is filled with badger setts and good places to spot one of these distinctive black and white creatures is around Thirlwell Lake, Whinlatter Forest and the ‘Badger Bar’ near Rydal Mount.
- Deer - Roe deer are naturally shy so much more likely to venture out at night. Ennerdale is a good place to spot them but make sure you’re as quiet as possible, so you don’t scare them off.
- Barn Owls - There are six owl nesting boxes around Grizedale Forest so this is a good place to try and spot these nocturnal birds.
The Cumbrian Wildlife Trust is a useful resource for discovering more about the wildlife of the Lake District.
Useful websites and apps
There are lots of websites and smartphone apps available to help you get the most out of dark skies in the Lake District.
Some of our favourites include:
- Go Stargazing - this handy online resource includes details of upcoming stargazing events and a calendar which highlights the best dates for dark skies every month.
- Dark Sky Discovery - you can download star charts for each season showing the different constellations that can be spotted when you look either north or south in the sky.
- Star Atlas - this is a detailed interactive map of the sky which can be tailored to your specific location.
- Star Walk 2 - download this smartphone app, point it at the sky and it will identify the stars and planets for you.
Friends of the Lake District also has lots of useful information and will be holding its first ever Cumbria Dark Skies Festival from the 21 - 23 February. You can also download its Dark Skies Discovery Pack which is a great starter tool.
Plan your dark skies getaway to the Lake District
The Lake District is stunning throughout all the seasons of the year and hopefully we have inspired you to venture out at night and make the most of its dramatic dark skies during your next short break or holiday. Whether you are looking for something romantic to do during a holiday for two or for an educational family activity, stargazing is an easily accessible activity that everyone can enjoy.
Lakeland Cottage Company has a range of luxury cottages throughout the Lake District which make the perfect base for a stargazing holiday.