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The best locations for stargazing across the county of Kent

Star trails at Kingsgate Bay by Chris Cork <i>(Image: Chris Cork mangoprint.co.uk)</i>
Star trails at Kingsgate Bay by Chris Cork (Image: Chris Cork mangoprint.co.uk)

The Milky Way, meteor showers, even the enchanting, dancing lights of the aurora borealis: all can be viewed right here in our very own Kent. Anna Lambert finds out where, when and how

Meteor showers, the milky way, aurora borealis - it's all going on here in Kent, with plenty of opportunities both for gazing at stars and finding out more about them. Chris Cork (chriscorkphotography.co.uk) is a Maidstone-based photographer who's been capturing extraordinary images of the night sky for over eight years. A favourite area for star-gazing is at Dungeness 'one of the most reliable dark spots in Kent,' he says, with core milky-way viewing season running from April to September. Whether you're looking just with the naked eye or through a camera lens, it's a great place to start. For photographers, Chris reckons the most popular place in Kent to shoot the night sky currently is at the beautiful Church of St Thomas Becket, at Fairfield on Romney marsh: 'The landscape can be quite dramatic when there's a mist rising from the surrounding river and there's a wealth of angles and styles to shoot at this location, which helps explain its popularity.' If looking a Chris's gorgeous photos has inspired you, you may be interested to hear he runs astrophotography courses throughout the year: 'I generally arrange a two-week window for would-be participants to be on standby when there is no moon present, and then arrange within 24 hours based on the weather.'

Great British Life: Milky Way, taken at the Church of St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Romney MarshMilky Way, taken at the Church of St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, Romney Marsh (Image: Chris Cork mangoprint.co.uk)

Great British Life: The Milky Way in all its glory, at Dungeness beach.The Milky Way in all its glory, at Dungeness beach. (Image: Chris Cork mangoprint.co.uk)

Elsewhere in Kent and for those of us just looking to wrap up warm, head out and see what we they can spot, the main thing, of course, is to head for safe, large open spaces and avoid light polluted areas - something that's increasingly tricky these days. By the sea and beyond Dungeness, Minis Bay has a great reputation for beautiful sunsets, followed by clear star-spangled skies: 'I'll often tell guests to head off with a bottle of fizz and a blanket to sit on the beach and see what they can spot,' says Kat Webb, who runs The 20th Century B&B nearby (twentiethcenturybandb.com). Botany Bay and Margate come recommended too, but if you're heading for water be sure to check tide times, wrap up especially warm and stay safety aware.

If you're looking to make a stay of your star-gazing experience, somewhere else to consider is the hauntingly beautiful private nature reserve Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey (elmleynaturereserve.co.uk, whose isolation means wonderfully clear skies on cloudless nights. Port Lympne near Hythe, is another good options - and, as with Elmley, there's the benefit of all the wildlife you can spot during daylight hours too, though at Port Lympne it's of the decidedly exotic variety, so think lions and giraffes rather than the waterbirds, hares and rare bees you'll find in Sheppey. Camping is another great way to get back to nature while star gazing and at Caracol Camping in the High Weald near Groombridge (caracolcamping.co.uk) they've even got a telescope you can borrow too...

Great British Life: Aurora at Reculver BeachAurora at Reculver Beach (Image: Chris Cork mangoprint.co.uk)

A passion project

Lifestyle and branding photographer Rebecca Douglas, from Ramsgate, has been pursuing colourful, dancing aurora borealis for several years now. She explains their mesmerising appeal:

'Chasing the aurora has been an absolute passion of mine spanning nine years, marked by nights under the expansive sky in bitterly cold Arctic landscapes. It isn’t widely known, but the thrill of witnessing this celestial phenomenon is something that is possible under the starry skies above Kent.

In March last year, my dream became a reality, as the aurora glowed and I captured it beaming across the horizon at Botany Bay. It was such a moment to see it here, as I stood alone witnessing this at 1am.

The anticipation of this cosmic phenomenon echoes through the memories of my grandfather, who, amidst the blackouts and uncertainty of the war, would marvel at vivid aurora displays with his friends in the fields of Jackey Bakers in Ramsgate. It's a testament to the enduring magic of the night sky—a connection that transcends generations and fires up curious hearts and minds.

As we approach the solar maximum, a phase in the sun's 11-year cycle that sees intensified solar activity, Kent becomes a stage for the aurora's performance. For the next two to three years, the night sky holds the promise of unveiling its radiant secrets. No longer confined to the Arctic Circle, the aurora is set to make a celestial appearance right here in our beloved county.'

In the spirit of sharing her sense of enchantment, Rebecca is launching Become an Aurora Chaser - 'not just a course,' she says, 'but an invitation to explore the cosmos and capture its beauty, covering everything you need to know to be able to see it and with options to learn the art of capturing these celestial wonders using the technology that accompanies you on every adventure, be it your phone or camera. For more details, contact Rebecca at rebeccadouglas.co.uk/become-an-aurora-chaser-the-course

Where to find out more

Three astrological clubs to consider joining this year:

CADSAS (Cranbrook and District Science and Astronomy Society)

Founded in 2006 and based at Cranbrook School, the society benefits from a purpose-built observatory building and its own telescope. Regular lectures (open to non-members, too) cover a truly diverse range of topics, from how Cranbrook's telescope works to the development of space food. cadsas.org

Mid-Kent Astronomical Society

Based in the village of Bredhurst near Gillingham, this society says its mission is 'making astronomy accessible to all'. Lively, understandable-to-the-lay-person talks are regularly on offer (this month, for instance, you can find out about the cutting-edge European Southern Observatory), and there are guided visits too, weather permitting, to the James Irwin observatory on the outskirts of Canterbury. midkentastro.org.uk

Crayform Manor House Astronmical Society Dartford

Yes, even busy Dartford can find a dark space for star-gazing, with help from CMHASD. The society isn't just for those with a well-developed interest in astronomy, but for anyone, it says, who has, '... ' ever looked up at the night sky and thought "wow!", but then wished they knew more about the stars and the planets, or for people who've been given or bought telescopes but found them too difficult and confusing to set up and use.' A wealth of talks and events are on offer, there are mentoring schemes to pair newcomers with more experienced astronomers and the society stresses that expensive equipment isn't necessary - just using your eyes is a great place to start. Membership also offers access to the society's new Dick Chambers Sutton-at-Hone Observatory - 'a lovely dark and safe venue - as dark as can be found in the local area.crayfordmanorastro.com



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