Eyes up for the best spots to catch spectacular starscapes

Battle lines are being laid down in a new draw for tourists – the best place to look skywards.

Shropshire is close to all areas of the West Midlands. It boasts fantastic landscapes by day and dark skies at night. Photo by Steven Keating, @old_rectory_house_bandb on Instagram.
Shropshire is close to all areas of the West Midlands. It boasts fantastic landscapes by day and dark skies at night. Photo by Steven Keating, @old_rectory_house_bandb on Instagram.

Stargazing has become more popular, thanks in no part to mobile phone apps that open up the skies to those without a degree in astronomy. That means regions are now having to think of how to market themselves as the best place to escape the street lights and head for the darkness.

The West Midlands might be among the most populated regions of the country but it is also surrounded by areas that are good for stargazing. Parts of Shropshire enjoy official recognition as a dark skies park. Cannock Chase sits on the doorstep of urban areas as does the Staffordshire Moorlands.

All, however, find themselves on the back foot after being left out of a survey of dark places by holiday rentals marketplace HomeToGo. It instead named Snowdonia as the best place to seek a dark spot to look at the skies, with the Brecon Beacons also mentioned in the top 10.

The NEOWISE comet, (Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), pictured over Whittington in July 2020 by Peter Williamson of Shropshire Astronomical Society..

The study said of Snowdonia: “Visitors can head to Beddgelert to marvel at the stars above the Moel Hebog mountain, or stay in the coastal Aberdyfi to enjoy starscapes by the sea.”

Shropshire has UK Dark Sky Discovery status in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society, because of its absence of light pollution and easy accessibility.

It is very much part of marketing used by the county to attract tourists.

The National Trust describes the winter views from Shropshire’s Long Mynd as “eye popping”.

A spokesman said: “Four locations across Shropshire’s Long Mynd have been designated as Dark Sky Discovery Sites. This is because it is possible to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

“Carding Mill Valley and the Long Mynd has been awarded Dark Sky Discovery Site status for four locations across the valley and the hill. The extra clarity and darkness winter affords is a great draw.”

The four Dark Sky sites in the Shropshire Hills are all accessible from National Trust car parks at Carding Mill Valley and on the Long Mynd.

The Stars in Your Skies group organises astronomy events in Carding Mill Valley in winter months to take advantage of the earlier nightfall. Members of Shropshire Astronomical Society also supports the group with observing events.

Organised events are held regularly and the dark skies of the Long Mynd mean that, from time to time, you may even be able to see the Northern Lights.

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