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The Wonder of Dark Skies

Light pollution constantly robs us of a spectacular wonder of the night - the chance to star gaze and view the awe-inspiring Milky Way by exploring dark skies.

Areas of dark sky are getting rarer and rarer in the modern world - an estimated 85% (possibly higher) of the UK population has never seen the Milky Way due to the rapid rise of light pollution over the last 50 years.

Cumbria is home to some of the darkest skies in the UK - as a regular visitor to walk in the area I can vouch for that – and every time I am lucky enough to look up into the heavens there and see such incredible astral views it feels such a privilege.

It reminds you how for the vast extent of human history dark skies were the norm – no neon lights, no street lamps, city glare or light pollution even in the countryside. Imagine it – the magnificent Milky Way there for you to enjoy whenever the clouds let you.

The most magnificent dark sky I have ever seen was on the shores of Lake Tekapo in New Zealand’s South Island a couple of years ago. This is a very special, magical place and one of the country’s very many natural treasures. Wandering down to the edge of the Lake as night fell, the Milky Way in all its celestial wonder was on glorious show. Utterly mesmerising and never to be forgotten.

New Zealand's Lake Tekapo - a magical place with a huge dark sky

Trying to protect dark skies is important work, not just for the way pollution obscures the ability to search the heavens, but for the effect on nocturnal animals who are blinded and confused by excessive light.

So, as a member of the Friends of the Lake District, I am looking forward to the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival 2021 from 5-21 February – live events over 17 evenings giving the opportunity to explore the area’s dark skies with astronomers, astrophotographers, authors, filmmakers, lighting and design professionals, performers, poets and outdoor adventurers.

Wild signs and star paths, life in the mountains after dark, what’s the future for the UK’s dark skies, dark sky imaging and a universe planetarium show are just some of the highlights from what promises to be an exhilarating, fascinating programme.

If you have never experienced the majesty of a dark sky then you have as yet missed out on one of the wonders of the world and the universe. Check out the Cumbria Dark Skies Festival 2021 and it will give you a great introduction to the secrets of the night.


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