EXMOOR DARK SKIES FESTIVAL PROGRAMME

Over 50 events in celebration of Exmoor’s spectacular starry skies are set to take place across the National Park this autumn, as bookings open for the region’s third annual Dark Skies Festival.

From 14 October to 3 November, venues across the National Park will take advantage of its status as one of three designated International Dark Skies Reserves in the country, to host a range of experiences inspired by the wonders of the night sky.

Following many sell-out events during the first two years, the Festival will this year span three weeks, covering the half term breaks for both Devon and Somerset as well as some quieter spells when the children are back to school.

Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The tranquillity and stunning landscapes of Exmoor make it the perfect place to walk, stargaze and take a break from the bustle of busy modern lives and we hope that through the Festival many more people will discover the magic of its night skies.”

The Festival caters for a wide range of ages and interests, with highlights for families including this year’s Astro Party at Wimbleball Lake, a 360-degree planetarium experience in Dunster, Bampton or Barnstaple, or the National Park’s first ever Dark Skies Big Adventure with the National Trust.

Wildlife lovers may wish to partake in a guided starlit walk or dusk safari, ending with warming local produce supper or hot chocolate and marshmallows. Meanwhile, the more adventurous might enjoy night mountain biking or a guided walk with an Exmoor National Park Ranger to see the Orionids meteor shower in peak flow.

Foodies will find countless opportunities to indulge in delicious astronomy-inspired suppers married with expert talks and stargazing.

And not forgetting astronomy enthusiasts, who will be spoilt for choice with guided stargazing opportunities, talks on choosing the right telescope or the latest astronomy apps, plus the chance to hone astrophotography skills.

This year children up to 16 years can also enter an Exmoor dark skies-inspired story writing competition, with the winner getting a free astronomy and space workshop for their school, hosted by Jo Richardson of Somerset-based company ‘Space Detectives’.

Katrina Munro of Exmoor National Park Authority coordinates the festival, which is sponsored by rural broadband providers Airband UK. She said: “Many people have never experienced what it’s like to look up into a truly dark sky, see the thousands of stars and feel that inevitable sense of wonder. Exmoor tourism businesses, farms and organisations including the National Trust, Forestry England, South West Lakes Trust and Exmoor Pony Centre have all teamed up with the National Park to ensure there’s something for everyone throughout the three-week festival period.

“We have such a variety of great places to stay, many within the darkest areas of the National Park, but all within easy access of the various events. Events can all be booked separately, allowing people to pick and choose those that interest them most.”

The full programme of events is available at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/darkskiesfestival or from National Park Centres at Dulverton, Dunster or Lynmouth. Details of places to stay are included and further accommodation can be found at www.visit-exmoor.co.uk . For more information phone the Lynmouth National Park Centre on 01598 752509, open 7 days a week.

PHOTO: Dark Skies over Exmoor by Peter Hendrie.

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