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A look ahead to the 2024 Yorkshire Dark Skies Festival

Aurora Borealis above Reeth Yorkshire Dales National Park <i>(Image: Paul Clark)</i>
Aurora Borealis above Reeth Yorkshire Dales National Park (Image: Paul Clark)

A frosty February may mean chilly days and nights, but this month is when we get gorgeous clear skies too – and when Yorkshire’s Dark Skies Festival lures us to telescope territory. Check out stargazing events for all the family to enjoy

It was back in 2016 when the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks decided to join forces and stage their first Dark Skies Festival as a way of showcasing the wonders of a truly inky black sky studded with thousands of stars. The festival also became an important platform for highlighting the damage caused by one of the least talked about pollutants, light, on the natural world and our own wellbeing.

Fast forward to 2024 and with both National Parks having been awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status, the popularity of the festival not only remains undiminished but it has also acted as a catalyst for businesses and communities to come together and do more to preserve the pristine qualities of the skies above them.

Early last year, Hawnby in the North York Moors became the first village in England to start a whole-village dark skies friendly project where not just the street lighting but also other public buildings and residential homes would be fitted with external lights that would minimise pollution.

Great British Life: An AstroDog Dark Skies event in 2023. An AstroDog Dark Skies event in 2023. (Image: Duncan Lomax/NYMNP)

Similarly over in the Yorkshire Dales, the likes of the Station Inn at Ribblehead, the Wensleydale Creamery and the Stone House Hotel in Upper Askrigg have all worked with the National Park to install lighting that minimises the glare and beams of light being thrown across the surrounding landscape.

The Howardian Hills National Landscape produced a leaflet last year as part of its own Dark Skies Community project, giving people information on how they can improve their external lighting in a bid to help protect the habitats of the estimated third of UK wildlife that is active at night.

Residents in the Howardian Hills have also been treated to a stargazing roadshow as part of the project; of which the last two evenings, at Slingsby and Terrington, happen during the Festival; another sign that the dark skies momentum is continuing apace.

And so to this year’s Festival, which includes a sprinkling of new events alongside those perennial favourites such as the stargazing safaris, night cycle rides, astro photography sessions and canoeing evenings.

Great British Life: The Constellation Trail at Danby and Sutton BankThe Constellation Trail at Danby and Sutton Bank (Image: NYMNP)

Take for instance, the new family friendly Constellation Trail in the grounds of both Danby Lodge and Sutton Bank National Park Centres where youngsters can create drawings by rubbing a crayon over 10 brass plaques depicting star constellations such as Orion and Gemini.

Or there’s the Mountain Goat bus tours where festival-goers can venture across the Yorkshire Dales aboard a minibus in the afternoon, stopping at beauty spots such as Aysgarth Falls before heading across Grinton Moor at sunset and reaching Castle Bolton for a stargazing evening.

Up at Askrigg, the Low Mill Outdoor Centre has shaped a whole weekend around a celebration of its dark skies starting with an astronomy evening and then following on with guided walks, yoga and live music.

Grassington Bunk Barn plays host to an evening of stargazing where families will get to handle rocks from space which are over four billion years’ old as well as using powerful telescopes for spying distant constellations and galaxies.

Great British Life: Broughton Sanctuary's outdoor firepit. Broughton Sanctuary's outdoor firepit. (Image: Simon Jauncey)

Over in the North York Moors people can spend a night on the moon thanks to an evening with dark skies hunter Richard Darn at the Sutton Bank Star Hub; join Adventures for the Soul for a magical moonlit coastal walk at Robin Hood’s Bay; or landscape photographer Richard Burdon for an astro photography evening at Whitby.

People will also be able to listen to an online presentation and pose questions to Carole Haswell, who originally hails from Saltburn and is now Professor of Astrophysics at the Open University with a special interest in exoplanets.

Meanwhile visitors wanting to stay longer at the festival can choose from accommodation pulling out all the stops to make DIY stargazing easy. For instance there’s Alum House near Staithes where B&B guests have access to their own private terrace complete with lounger, blankets, binoculars and hot chocolate; or Stay Lambing Live self catering cottage at Kirkby Stephen with its wood fired hot tub open to stars above.

The Dark Skies Festival takes place February 9-25, 2024. For further programme details including individual event booking information go to

Dark Skies Festival: Dark Skies Festival (darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk)



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