Almost 300 people saw stars at our pop up planetarium events over two days at Ambleside and Rheged, as part of Cumbria's first Dark Skies Festival.

Although outdoor events at our Dark Skies Festival, run in partnership with Forestry England, Cumbria Tourism and the Lake District National Park, suffered from February's stormy weather, indoor events were well attended, including our planetarium events which saw nearly 300 people find about about the universe from experts from Kielder Observatory, and get to handle their collection of space rocks.

The Dark Skies Weekend at Calvert Lakes also went ahead as did other astronomy events in Ennerdale and near Carlisle, and the Astrophotography Talks afternoon in Keswick, run by Cockermouth Astronomical Society.

Andrew Tait, of Friends of the Lake District, said: "The vast majority of the 20+ events publicised as part of the festival weekend were either sold out or nearly full, which shows the level of enthusiasm there is for all things dark skies-related, and we’ve had many positive comments from people who attended the events that did happen.

"The organisers of some of the events may re-schedule them over the coming weeks.  As we can see from the enthusiasm for the festival, it was so popular, and inspired so many people to get involved, that we will be likely to run it again next year."

Photo above: Inside and outside the pop up planetarium.

A planetarium goer who attended the Ambleside event said: "Last week I took my grandson Max to the event organised at the Parish Centre. Max is in his first year of Astronomy GCSE. The event was well organised and hugely enjoyable. The two presenters were both very impressive. Informative, interesting and very professional. Thank you and very well done."

Jeremy Hunt, of Cockermouth Astronomical Society, said: "Our Astrophotography talks event in Keswick Moot Hall went very well.  It was full despite the weather causing some people to cancel on the day. We filled their spaces on the door.

"All said they enjoyed it very much. We had a really good range of speakers, covering various types of night sky photography, from widefield landscape/starscape images through to deep space robotic imaging with a 2m telescope."

Nina Ludgate of Beckfoot Retreat B&B, Ennerdale said: "Our Star Gazing/Dark Skies night went very well despite the fact we didn’t have any stars! We were lucky to have no rain or flooding and 32 guests attended. 

"Chris Darwin, of Cockermouth Astronomical Society, started the evening by showing the group how to read a Planisphere, followed by a talk about distant stars turning into Supernovas.

"After checking a couple of times for stars - some peeped out for a few minutes - we had a fascinating talk on telescopes. Chris brought five different telescopes with him and showed us how they all worked with refraction, reflection, etc. At the end of the evening, quite a few guests were inspired to ask about buying a telescope.

"We were very pleased with how well the evening went and will repeat Dark Skies/Star Gazing nights again - possibly in April and certainly in October when the skies get dark earlier again. We will have talks on different aspects of astronomy. Telecopes will feature again and hopefully be used next time!"


Above, Rachel and Jackie with the reflecting telescope mirror at the Forgotten Lands Dark Sky Day, photo Tim Coombe.

Tim Coombe of the Forgotten Lands Dark Sky Day, in Roweltown, north east Cumbria, said: "We enjoyed a most worthwhile Dark Sky day although the weather forced us to cancel a walk and bike ride. However the telescope setting up and maintenance workshop went ahead indoors.

"Maddy Prior (of Steeleye Span) led a group learning 3 delightful songs on the theme of ‘stars’ in the Crossings Inn bar which we performed to others who joined us for supper. We were entertained after the meal with a fascinating presentation on astrophotography by Dave Wright, a self-taught enthusiast who gave clear explanations of the techniques involved, illustrated with examples of his own work, including stunnning noctilucent clouds taken from his house in 2019.

Photo: Noctilucent clouds by Dave Wright.

"We were very glad to have taken part in the Dark Skies festival week-end and would be happy to do so again, if nothing else than to let people know that the Lake District isn’t the only place in Cumbria where you can have fun in the winter!"

If you're keen for more dark skies events, the next Ennerdale Dark Sky event is on 21st March 2020 at the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre.