The dark sky destinations to go stargazing in Wales this winter
The night sky is one of the joys of a winter in Wales. While much of the UK and Europe is blighted by light pollution, in Wales there are hundreds of places to experience the natural wonders above under dark skies. Some of them are obvious; Wales now has a network of International Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Parks that astronomers have singled out as world-beating places to go stargazing. However, there are hundreds of other places, from small and accessible Dark Sky Discovery Sites to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As the nights draw in and the skies get dark for longer, these dark sky hideouts in Wales come alive.
Nash Point Lighthouse, Glamorgan Heritage Coast by Alyn WallaceIt might be where most people in Wales live, but escaping the light pollution of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea is easier than you might think. The most obvious way is to head to the Brecon Beacons International Dark Sky Reserve, but there are plenty of other options in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan.
1 – Nash Point Car Park, Llantwit Major
This headland on the Monknash Coast of the Vale of Glamorgan can get very windy, but its night skies will blow you away. Parking is easy, as is a pre- or post-stargazing pint at The Horseshoe Inn or The Plough & Harrow.
2 – Usk Reservoir, Brecon Beacons
There are dozens of places in the Brecon Beacons, but the Usk Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Site in the park's west is among the darkest and quietest. Car parking is provided, and you can walk out onto the dam itself.
3 – Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire
This 15th-century fortress forms a picturesque backdrop to some guided stargazing, which will take place on 24 Nov 2017 from 19.00-21.00pm, hosted by Dark Sky Wales. As well as a constellation tour and the chance to use a telescope, you can play with an indoor planetarium.
4 – Cwmdu, Crickhowell, Brecon Beacons
This quiet valley within the Black Mountains hosts the twice-yearly AstroCamp at Cwmdu Campsite, where astronomers and stargazers gather to share telescopes and the valley views.
This central area of Wales is all about the 45,000 acres of the Dwr Cymru Welsh Water-owned Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park, the only privately-owned such place in the world.
1 – Craig Goch Dam, Powys
Popular with stargazers and astro-photographers, the Elan Valley's Craig Goch Dam near Rhayader has easy parking. Stargaze from the dam itself or take the path on the east side of the reservoir to find stunning views of the night sky.
2 – Claerwen, Elan Valley, Powys
About 12 miles from Rhayader, Claerwen Dam in the Elan Valley has a car park on the western side, and no through traffic to worry about.
3 – Llangoed Hall Hotel, Powys
South towards Brecon along the A470, this country house hotel close to the River Wye has stunning skies. The owners will switch-off the outdoor lights if asked, and even have a telescope and binoculars on hand.
Gower Peninsula by Alyn WallaceBy day enjoy a stroll along the world-famous Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, and by night pay a visit to one of Pembrokeshire's seven Dark Sky Discovery Sites. However, in wider West Wales there are many more places to stargaze.
1 – Broadhaven South Beach, Pembrokeshire
The National Trust car park at Broadhaven South Beach is the darkest of all Pembrokeshire's Dark Sky Discovery Sites, which gets 'Milky Way'-class designation.
2 – Penbryn Beach, Ceredigion
With the ocean on one side, the rugged and rural west coast of Wales is a haven for dark skies. Penbryn Beach is less than a mile's walk from the National Trust Car Park at Llanborth Farm in Penbryn.
2 – Port Eynon, Gower Peninsula
Although nearby Rhossili Bay is more famous, there are few darker spots in Wales than tiny Port Eynon in the Gower Peninsula Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Carreglwyd Caravan and Camping Site here is perfect for meteor, and the Milky Way in summer.
Snowdonia by Alyn WallaceIt's home to the Snowdonia International Dark Sky Reserve, but don't forget the magical Isle of Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsula; both are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) hosting the darkest of nights.
1 – Llanelian Community Centre, Llanelian
This village south of Colwyn Bay is a regular meeting place for the North Wales Astronomical Society, which hold regular observing nights at 7:30 pm on the second Tuesday in each month.
2 – Capel Garmon, Betws-y-Coed
Deep within Snowdonia National Park, Capel Garmon Burial Chamber is a neolithic tomb above the Conwy Valley. Access is easy and there are great views of Snowdonia and the sky.
3 – Penmon Point, Isle of Anglesey
This pebble beach promontory on Anglesey is known for sightings of puffins, seals and dolphins, but it also has perfect conditions for stargazing. To the north is Trwyn Du lighthouse and Puffin Island beyond.