Dark skies in Devon:

A beginners guide to stargazing

There are many great reasons to holiday in North Devon. Our magical Longlands location aside, people also like to explore the coastline, dine on a Devon cream tea or perhaps laze around Saunton Sands soaking up the sun.

But Devon is also hugely popular as home to one of the world’s finest International Dark Sky Reserves at the Exmoor National Park. Longlands sits on the western border of the Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve so is perfectly placed for night time excursions to the park, or to view the periphery of the reserve sky from the deck of your luxury safari tent.

What are dark skies?

The term ‘dark skies’ is used to describe areas of public or private land where the quality of starry nights, and natural darkness, is extraordinary. There are two classifications of dark sky areas; the core (the main area) meets the minimal dark skies guidelines and the peripheral area supports the preservation of the core, with no artificial light.

Why are dark skies important?

Dark skies are important to us all both mentally and physically. Humans have evolved to the circadian rhythms of day and night. Our reliance on artificial light to ward off the darkness (street lamps, lights, TV screens, mobile phones) has had a negative impact on our health as it keeps us awake. Darkness prompts the pineal gland in our bodies to produce melatonin which helps us sleep, boosts our immune system and lowers cholesterol. All the good things for a healthy body!

Where are there dark sky sites in the UK?

There are designated dark sky areas right across the UK. And of course the closest official viewing site to Longlands is the Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve. Because we have little artificial light on site, Longlands is a great place for beginners to stargaze. Stargazing glamping if you will! Each of our safari tents has its own hammock perched above it, so all you have to do is wait for night to fall, hop into your hammock and start studying the sky above. Perfect! There are four International Dark Sky Reserves in the UK, one is at Exmoor and the others are in Brecon, Snowdonia and the South Downs.

Dark Sky Reserve Exmoor

Should you wish to venture out of Longlands for the ultimate stargazing experience, the Dark Sky Reserve at Exmoor has many excellent resources for beginners. You can pick up a dark skies pocket guide from one of the National Park Centres, or it is also available to download here. The experts over at the Exmoor park recommend the following stargazing hotspots: Holdstone Hill, Webbers Post, Brendon Two Gates, County Gate, Anstey Gate & Haddon Hill.

Stargazing for beginners

The best thing about stargazing as a beginner is that you don’t really need anything to do it. On a clear night it’s possible to see many constellations with the naked eye, or a good pair of binoculars. Learn the star charts or start off by tracking the moon as it’s the easiest celestial object for a newbie. Dark skies during the monthly full moon are the best way to see planets, galaxies and the Milky Way. There’s a handy website called MoonGiant which will help you track full moons. As you start to enjoy stargazing a little more you may want to invest in a telescope, or whilst on holiday you can hire one from one the National Park Centres at Dulverton, Dunster or Lynmouth, then head out to see the starry sky. If you happen to be visiting Longlands just before we close, at the end of the October, you could pop along to the annual Exmoor Dark Skies Festival which is a series of events for families and people looking to enjoy darkness and the night sky.