Stargazing spectacular extended in North Yorkshire

The Dark Skies Festival has been extended for its third year. Picture by Steve Bell.
The Dark Skies Festival has been extended for its third year. Picture by Steve Bell.
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Ordinarily visitors flock to National Parks so that they can admire at the splendour of the landscape around them, but a thriving festival in North Yorkshire is instead bringing people to the area to cast their gaze upwards in the dead of night.

Buoyed by the popularity of the Dark Skies Festival since it was first held in 2016, joint organisers the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park Authorities have expanded the programme for next year’s incarnation.

The festival will take place over 17 days, up from nine this year, when it returns between February 9-25 to coincide with both UK half-term holiday weeks.

The extra dates mean visitors can spend longer discovering nocturnal wildlife and marvelling at night skies in some of the country’s best locations for low light pollution. Both National Parks have three Dark Sky Discovery locations where skies are dark enough, conditions allowing, to view the Milky Way with the naked eye.

Among more than 50 events, new activities include a rare opportunity to zip wire more than 200 metres into the darkness of Dalby Forest, while a celestial safari will be held in the grounds of Bolton Castle near Leyburn.

More caving, cycling, walking and running activities are also included, such as a new gravel biking event at Newburgh Priory near Easingwold.

The nocturnal festival is part of a joint Moors and Dales project to boost rural tourism and is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Mike Hawtin, outdoor activities tourism officer for the North York Moors National Park Authority, said: “The festival is now an annual fixture which taps into the nation’s growing fascination with space.

“Importantly it also helps support local businesses and attractions by opening people’s eyes to the enjoyment of visiting areas that might not have been on their radar out-of-season.”