This is a collaborative post.
Since our children have grown a bit older we are all happier on long car journeys. They can watch films or play Minecraft on the long roadtrips. When the roads get more scenic and winding, they are mature enough to appreciate the views. In recent years we have taken some long roadtrips through France and the American Midwest. We switched to a more fuel-efficient car and having saved such a lot on petrol we are able to travel further afield. We are stretching our imaginations about where we might go.
North Pennines Dark Skies
A short time ago we toured the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This vast and beautiful AONB is directly north of the Yorkshire Dales National park, and it’s about the same size. With no large towns and few settlements, the North Pennines AONB has perhaps the best views of the stars in England. There are 16 official Dark Sky Discovery Sites. Thanks to streetlamps in our towns, we don’t normally get to see the stars like this in their natural display.
Forest of Galloway Dark Skies
When the children were younger we visited the Forest of Galloway in southern Scotland to experience that particular dark sky park. There I tried to take a long exposure photograph. Sadly I managed to forget how to set the shutter to “bulb”. I did get some 30 second long exposures but it really needed to be four times that long.
County Kerry Dark Skies
It is better to do this kind of roadtrip with slightly older children. Now Fizz and Belle are in secondary school, they are a perfect age to enjoy a night-time adventure in the dark. I know the Milky Way and millions of other stars are out there. We want to see them burning bright in a really black sky, just like our ancestors would have done. To do this we can plan a roadtrip to Kerry in the republic of Ireland where the skies are even darker. The International Dark Sky Reserve in Kerry is one of only three Gold Tier reserves on our entire planet, and the only one in Europe. This is the pinnacle of roadtrips for anyone keen on seeing stars. With a reputation for outstanding beauty in daylight, a trip to Kerry is appealing anyway.
Tips for a dark sky family roadtrip
1. Check the phases of the moon on a calendar. Time your trip for when the moon is dark or new because moonlight will obscure a lot of stars.
2. Help your children to download an app onto a phone or tablet beforehand to identify the constellations. Or you could take a guide book.
3. Dark sky viewing areas are a long way off the main routes so be sure you have enough fuel. As with any roadtrip, make sure your car is properly insured – Chill Insurance are one company which has produced good information on cultural drives.
4. If you want to take photos make sure you practice beforehand and know how to put your tripod up in the dark. Set your camera to manual focus on infinity. Use a remote trigger or delay timer so that there is less camera shake.
5. Once parked, turn off your headlights. Don’t wave torches if there are other people there trying to enjoy the dark or take photos. Do put your parking money in the honesty box as the dark sky parks are all run on a charitable basis.
On our American roadtrip this year we saw another heavenly phenomenon – the total eclipse of the sun. Click the image below to read about it.