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Where to Go Stargazing in Durham – Best Stargazing Spots & Dark Skies

Looking to experience the magic of the night sky in Durham? You’re in the right place. Durham offers some of the best stargazing spots and dark skies in the UK, and some of the best dark sky areas in County Durham are slightly further afield. Let’s dive straight into where you can find these celestial wonders, what you can expect, and the amenities that will make stargazing in Durham unforgettable.

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Places to head for Dark Skies in County Durham

Explore the Best Stargazing Spots in Durham

1. Durham Heritage Coast

Durham Heritage Coast

Durham Heritage Coast is a stunning stretch of coastline that runs along County Durham, known for its dramatic cliffs, scenic beaches, and rich biodiversity. This area, which extends from Sunderland to Hartlepool, is recognised for its historical significance and natural beauty, making it a popular destination for walkers, birdwatchers, and history enthusiasts during the daytime. The coastline features a variety of habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, and rocky shores, providing ample opportunities to explore and observe a wide range of flora and fauna. With little light pollution and expansive views, it is also a perfect destination for an evening stargazing in Durham.

Visitors to Durham Heritage Coast can enjoy well-maintained walking trails with breathtaking views of the North Sea, and the night sky. The coast is also home to several nature reserves, ensuring the protection of its unique ecosystems. Key highlights include the Crimdon Dene beach, famous for its colony of little terns, and the new Crimdon Coastal Hub, which offers facilities like a café and restrooms. Whether you’re looking to relax on a peaceful beach, hike along the cliffs, or are looking for the best place to see the Northern Lights near Durham, the Durham Heritage Coast has plenty to offer. Just remember, at night time, you may need to look for some popular Durham local takeaways that are open late to keep you fed and watered!

Activities and Features

Walking Trails: Explore miles of scenic paths, perfect for finding a secluded spot to observe the night sky.

Wildlife Watching: Get a different perspective on the wildlife during the day and at night.

Crimdon Coastal Hub: Daytime visitors can enjoy the new facilities, including a café and visitor centre.

Stargazing Views: Explore the panoramic view of the night sky in many different locations.

Community Events: Participate in beach clean-ups and educational programs.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Open year-round, but check specific sites for seasonal hours.
  • Cost of Entry: Free entry to most areas.
  • Location: Stretching from Sunderland to Hartlepool along the County Durham coast.
  • Parking: Available at various points, including Crimdon Dene and Nose’s Point, often with fees.
  • Accessibility: Some areas may be challenging for those with mobility issues.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Durham Heritage Coast

2. Hamsterley Forest

Hamsterley Forest

Hamsterley Forest, located in County Durham, is a fantastic destination for stargazing in Durham, outdoor enthusiasts and families alike. This expansive forest covers over 2,000 hectares and offers a diverse range of activities amidst beautiful natural scenery. Day visitors can explore numerous walking and cycling trails that cater to all abilities, including the popular Gruffalo Trail, which is a hit with children. The forest also features an exciting Go Ape treetop adventure course, providing thrilling experiences for those looking for an adrenaline rush.

In addition to its trails and adventure activities, Hamsterley Forest is well-equipped with family-friendly amenities, including picnic spots, a café, and clean restrooms. The forest is a haven for wildlife, making it a great spot for birdwatching and nature photography. Mountain biking enthusiasts will appreciate the extensive network of trails designed for all skill levels. At night, regular stargazing events take advantage of the forest’s remote location and the best dark skies in County Durham. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful walk, an adventurous day out, or one of the most picturesque stargazing spots in Durham, Hamsterley Forest has something to offer.

Activities and Features

Walking and Cycling Trails: Numerous trails for all skill levels, including the popular Gruffalo Trail for kids.

Go Ape: An exciting treetop adventure course.

Mountain Biking: Extensive trails catering to all levels.

Play Areas: Adventure play areas perfect for children.

Stargazing: Take advantage of some of the best dark skies in Durham to enjoy stargazing at night.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Open daily from dawn to dusk.
  • Cost of Entry: Free entry; parking fees apply.
  • Location: Hamsterley, Bishop Auckland, County Durham, DL13 3NL.
  • Parking: Ample parking available on-site with daily and annual passes.
  • Facilities: Café, picnic areas, and clean restrooms.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Hamsterley Forest

3. Tan Hill Inn

Tan Hill Inn

Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Great Britain, stands at 1,732 feet above sea level in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales. This iconic inn is renowned for its historic charm and stunning panoramic views of the surrounding moorland and the night sky. The remote location provides a unique experience, making it a popular destination for both locals and tourists seeking a tranquil retreat. Tan Hill is arguably the best place to see the stars in County Durham because the pub stays open until 11pm!

Visitors to Tan Hill Inn can enjoy the cosy, historic atmosphere with exposed beams and stone floors dating back to the 17th century. The inn regularly hosts live music events and offers comfortable accommodations with modern en-suite facilities. It’s a dog-friendly venue, perfect for those travelling with pets. The nearby walking and cycling routes in the Yorkshire Dales add to the appeal, making it an ideal spot for outdoor enthusiasts and stargazers. The inn also serves quality food and drink, featuring locally sourced dishes and real ales.

Activities and Features

Live Music: Regular events featuring local and national artists.

Cozy Atmosphere: Historic 17th-century pub with exposed beams and stone floors.

Dog-Friendly: Welcoming to dogs, perfect for pet owners.

Accommodation: Comfortable rooms with modern en-suite facilities.

Outdoor Activities: Ideal base for walking, stargazing and cycling in the Yorkshire Dales.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Open daily, 10 AM to 11 PM.
  • Cost of Entry: Free entry; food and drink prices vary.
  • Location: Tan Hill, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL11 6ED.
  • Parking: Ample free parking available on-site.
  • Accessibility: Accessible facilities available.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Tan Hill Inn

4. Grassholme Observatory

Grassholme Observatory

Grassholme Observatory in County Durham is a fantastic destination for stargazing in Durham. Located in the picturesque Teesdale area, the area around the observatory offers stunning dark skies – ideal for observing celestial wonders. The site is well-equipped with high-tech telescopes and other astronomical instruments, making it a prime location for amateur and professional astronomers. The observatory hosts various educational programs and events that cater to all ages, enhancing the stargazing experience with informative sessions and hands-on activities.

Visitors to Grassholme Observatory can enjoy a serene setting away from city lights. Some of the best dark skies in County Durham provide optimal conditions for stargazing. The observatory is also situated near Grassholme Reservoir, adding to its scenic beauty. With knowledgeable staff and well-organized events, including astrophotography sessions and themed stargazing nights, the observatory ensures a memorable experience. Family-friendly activities make it a great spot for visitors of all ages to learn about the night sky.

Activities and Features

Stargazing Events: Regular events including meteor shower viewings and themed stargazing nights.

High-Tech Equipment: Access to state-of-the-art telescopes and astronomical instruments.

Educational Programs: Informative sessions led by knowledgeable staff.

Astrophotography: Opportunities to take your own night sky photos.

Family-Friendly: Activities and programs suitable for children.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Check the website for event schedules and timings.
  • Cost of Entry: Prices vary by event; check the website for details.
  • Location: Grassholme Reservoir, Teesdale, County Durham.
  • Parking: Available on-site.
  • Accessibility: Facilities cater to all visitors, including those with disabilities.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Grassholme Observatory

5. Wynyard Planetarium

Wynyard Planetarium

Wynyard Planetarium and Observatory, located in the serene Wynyard Woodland Park near Stockton-on-Tees, is a premier stargazing and astronomy education destination. Managed by the Teesside Astronomical Science Centre, this facility offers a variety of engaging programs and events designed to captivate visitors of all ages. The planetarium hosts public star shows on the first and third Friday of each month, providing a fascinating glimpse into the wonders of the night sky. Without a doubt, Wynyard is one of the best places to see the stars in County Durham.

The observatory is equipped with impressive telescopes, including an 8-inch refractor and a 19-inch reflector, the latter being the largest of its kind in northern England. These tools offer clear views of celestial bodies, making it an ideal spot for both amateur and seasoned astronomers. Visitors can also participate in educational programs and interactive displays that enhance their understanding of astronomy. The planetarium’s family-friendly environment ensures a welcoming experience for everyone, from young children to dedicated skywatchers.

Activities and Features

Public Stargazing Events: Held on the first and third Friday of each month, offering insights into the night sky.

Telescope Viewing: Features an 8-inch refractor and a 19-inch reflector telescope, the largest of its kind in northern England.

Educational Programs: Engaging programs for schools, colleges, and community groups.

Family-Friendly Events: Special shows designed for children and families.

Interactive Displays: Enhances learning with interactive technology and displays.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Events mainly on Fridays; check the schedule for details.
  • Cost of Entry: Adults from £5, children from £3, family tickets from £13.
  • Location: Wynyard Woodland Park, Thorpe Thewles, Stockton-on-Tees, TS21 3JG.
  • Parking: Ample on-site parking available.
  • Accessibility: Facilities cater to all visitors, including those with disabilities.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Wynyard Planetarium

6. Derwent Reservoir

Derwent Reservoir

Derwent Reservoir, nestled in the North Pennines AONB in County Durham, is a picturesque spot perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. The reservoir offers stunning views, well-maintained walking trails, and a peaceful environment, making it ideal for nature lovers, stargazers and photographers. Spanning over 1,000 acres, it provides ample opportunities for activities such as fishing, birdwatching, and picnicking. The surrounding landscape, with its rolling hills and diverse wildlife, enhances the natural beauty and tranquillity of the area.

Visitors to Derwent Reservoir can enjoy a variety of recreational activities. The reservoir is well-known for its excellent fishing facilities, particularly for trout, attracting anglers from all over. The walking trails around the reservoir suit all ages and abilities, offering scenic routes that showcase the area’s natural beauty. Several picnic spots are also perfect for a relaxing meal amidst nature. Additionally, the reservoir’s dark skies make it a great location for stargazing in Durham. 

Activities and Features

Walking Trails: Well-maintained and accessible paths for all abilities.

Wildlife Watching: Great spot for birdwatching and nature lovers.

Fishing: Excellent facilities and well-stocked waters for anglers.

Picnic Areas: Enjoy a meal at Pow Hill Country Park or Millshield.

Stargazing: Wonderful dark skies make the reservoir a popular stargazing spot at night.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Open year-round; specific facility times may vary.
  • Cost of Entry: Free entry; fishing permits required.
  • Location: Located between Consett and Blanchland in County Durham.
  • Parking: Ample parking available at key points.
  • Accessibility: Trails suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Derwent Reservoir

7. Cow Green Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Site

Cow Green Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Site

Cow Green Reservoir in the North Pennines AONB is a premier destination for stargazing and appreciating the serene beauty of nature. Designated as a Dark Sky Discovery Site, it offers some of England’s clearest and darkest skies, making it an ideal spot for observing stars, planets, and meteor showers. The reservoir is surrounded by a rugged moorland landscape that adds to its charm and provides a perfect backdrop for night-time sky-watching.

Visitors can enjoy more than just stargazing at Cow Green Reservoir. The area features well-maintained walking trails that lead to the impressive Cauldron Snout waterfall, offering spectacular views along the way. The reservoir is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, with ample opportunities for birdwatching and spotting other local fauna. Fishing is another popular activity here, with the reservoir being well-stocked with wild brown trout. The combination of these activities, along with the stunning natural scenery, makes Cow Green Reservoir a must-visit location for astronomy, outdoor and nature enthusiasts. 

Activities and Features

Stargazing: Excellent dark skies for viewing stars, planets, and meteor showers.

Walking Trails: Scenic paths including the route to Cauldron Snout waterfall.

Wildlife Watching: Great for birdwatching and spotting local wildlife.

Fishing: Renowned for wild brown trout fishing.

Nature Reserve: Protected areas to preserve local flora and fauna.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Open year-round; best stargazing times vary with moon phases.
  • Cost of Entry: Free entry; fishing permits required.
  • Location: Accessible from Middleton-in-Teesdale, follow signs towards Langdon Beck on the B6277.
  • Parking: Available on-site.
  • Accessibility: Trails suitable for all, including pushchairs.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Cow Green Reservoir​ 

8. Burnhope Reservoir

Burnhope Reservoir

Burnhope Reservoir, nestled in the picturesque County Durham, offers a tranquil escape for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The reservoir, constructed with an impressive earth embankment dam, is surrounded by scenic landscapes perfect for leisurely walks. Its circular walking trails provide breathtaking views and numerous opportunities to observe local wildlife, particularly a diverse array of bird species.

Burnhope Reservoir offers a range of activities, including excellent trout fishing in its well-stocked waters. The area is family-friendly, with picnic spots ideal for a relaxing day out. The reservoir also features woodland trails that enhance the walking experience and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s natural beauty. As a protected nature reserve, Burnhope ensures the preservation of its rich flora and fauna, making it a prime destination for wildlife enthusiasts and those seeking a peaceful retreat. Its remoteness and tranquillity, allied with low light pollution, make it a great option for budding stargazers at night. Remember, too, every two years, Durham is lit up with the Lumiere display, which is well worth adding to your list of night-time jaunts!

Activities and Features

Walking Trails: Peaceful circular paths and woodland trails.

Stargazing: Excellent spot for stargazing.

Fishing: Well-stocked waters, especially for trout.

Nature Reserve: Part of the area is protected, preserving diverse flora and fauna.

Picnic Areas: Several tables for a scenic outdoor meal.

Practical Information

  • Opening Times: Open year-round.
  • Cost of Entry: Free entry; fishing permits required.
  • Location: Near the village of Wearhead, County Durham.
  • Parking: Available on-site.
  • Accessibility: Trails suitable for all abilities.
  • Contact Information: For more info and bookings, please visit: Burnhope Reservoir

FAQ

Where are the best stargazing spots in Durham?

The top spots include Cow Green Reservoir, Derwent Reservoir, Grassholme Observatory, Hamsterley Forest, and Burnhope Reservoir.

What time of year is best for stargazing in Durham?

The best times are during the winter months when the nights are longest and darkest, typically from October to March.

Do I need any special equipment for stargazing?

Basic equipment includes a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, and a star chart or stargazing app can be very helpful.

Are there any local stargazing events or groups in Durham?

Yes, local groups like the Durham Astronomical Society host regular events and meetings. Check out Grassholme Observatory for organized stargazing nights.

What should I bring with me for a stargazing night out?

Bring warm clothing, a blanket, a reclining chair, binoculars or a telescope, a red flashlight, and a star chart or app.

Are there any safety tips for stargazing in Durham in more remote locations?

Ensure you have a fully charged phone, let someone know your location, carry a first aid kit, and be aware of the local wildlife and weather conditions.