Winter stargazing tips

With the darkness of winter in full swing, all too often we opt for the sofa and telly over an evening outdoors. Darkness doesn’t have to keep you confined to your home however – in fact, heading into the forest for a spot of stargazing can be an inspiring alternative!

It can be a little daunting knowing where to start, so our friends at Forestry Commission England have put together some top tips on getting yourself ready for a stargazing adventure.

Get started:

1. Wrap up! Keep warm by wearing hats, gloves and multiple layers of clothing.

2. Find something to lie on. Take a comfy blanket or soft mat so you can lie back and gaze up at the stars for longer.

3. Find somewhere dark. Choose a spot that’s away from artificial lights so you can see more stars.

4. Take a red light torch. Use a red light torch to help you see in the dark and to enhance your night vision.

5. Pick up a star chart. Find easily recognisable stars and constellations with a star chart, map or app.

Where to go stargazing:

The reason that so many of us rarely see the wonders of the night sky is due to the high levels of light pollution present in towns and cities, so it really does pay to escape to somewhere a little darker, like a wood or forest.

Here are a few of Forestry Commission England’s recommended spots for a truly magnificent view of the night sky:

Kielder Forest and Observatory (North)
Kielder Forest joins with Northumberland National Park to form part of England's first and only Official Dark Sky Park, making it England’s top forest location for stargazing.

For those really keen, the observatory gives stargazers a unique perspective on the wonders of space.

Hamsterley Forest (North)

Hamsterley Forest is County Durham's largest forest located in the North Pennines AONB. The Dark Sky Site is near the start of the Riverside Trail located by the bridge.

If you’d like to learn more about the stars above you, Hamsterley is one of many Forestry Commission England sites to host a ‘Why Stars Matter’ trail in the early months of 2017.

Dalby Forest (Yorkshire)

Yorkshire’s Dalby Forest was awarded the Milky Way Class of the Dark Sky Discovery award in January 2013. Domes are located adjacent to the main visitor centre.

Join Scarborough & Ryedale's Astronomical Society for free public stargazing sessions for a real flavour of the skies.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park (South)

Head up to Butser Hill located within the borders of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park to view the night sky like never before.

Being the highest observing point in Hampshire, it offers a great place to view the night sky all year round.

Gisburn Forest (North)

Gisburn Forest is Dark Sky Discovery Site and is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Throughout springtime you might catch a glimpse of glittering star clusters as magnificent constellations like Orion grace the sky, and in the autumn keep your eyes peeled as the Milky Way can be seen overhead!

Want to know more?

Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/stargazing to download their ‘beginner’s guide to stargazing’, winter star map or to find a Why Stars Matter trail at a forest near you.

Written in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine.