Make the most of stargazing In West Sussex
If you read our recent post about surviving winter, you’ll know that the South Downs National Park is an International Dark Sky Reserve. And those who are inspired by the night sky should head to West Sussex to experience four special new night-time itineraries which have been designed by Experience West Sussex. With a designated International Dark Sky Reserve, several Dark Sky Discovery Sites and Chichester Planetarium, this corner of the county is the best place to stargaze and admire the celestial skies.
Stargazing for walking and wildlife lovers
The best places to stargaze in West Sussex are also amidst great walking and wildlife.
- Iping Common is a Dark Sky Discovery Site covering more than 100 hectares of heathland. It’s peppered with burial mounds and mostly owned by Sussex Wildlife Trust, so a large amount of wildlife calls the common home, including nightjar’s at dusk in spring and summer.
- Harting Down Dark Sky Discovery Site is cared for by the National Trust and by night, the star-speckled view offers a prime spot for landscape astrophotography.
- Black Down, is the highest point in West Sussex (and the South Downs) and the sweeping views make for huge, star-studded skies. The National Trust has created an easy summer stargazing walking route but it works just as well in spring.
Those looking to learn a skill that equips you for remote stargazing adventures, West Sussex business Pied a Terre Adventures’ Night Navigation course teaches participants how to follow a route using a map and compass, without relying on any landmarks. It’s a fascinating way to explore Iping Common and, like any decent stargazing expedition, ends at a cosy pub.
Stargazing in Chichester Harbour
There’s as much to see in the skies above Chichester Harbour as there is on the ground. With several Dark Sky Discovery Sites and famous astronauts and astronomers under its belt, it’s no wonder that Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and surrounds is a stargazing hotspot.
Chichester Harbour AONB’s three Dark Sky Discovery Sites all have stargazing-worthy levels of darkness, ideal lines of sight, and good accessibility year-round. All three host regular stargazing events, usually in partnership with the South Downs Astronomical Society. Two of them have even featured on the BBC’s The Sky at Night. On the first Friday evening of the month (except August), you can join one of the South Down Astronomical Society’s meetings at The South Downs Planetarium. Non-members are welcome, for a small fee.
Nearby, RSPB Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve also holds astronomy nights, but the reserve is open all day and night, so you don’t need to wait for an official event to stargaze here.
Stargazing at Devil’s Dyke
This astronomic idea has a healthy helping of cosy pubs and country walks. The nights are dedicated to stargazing alongside amateur astronomers at Devil’s Dyke, the UK’s longest, deepest and widest ‘dry’ valley. Devil’s Dyke is easy to access, with a car park and The Devil’s Dyke pub to warm up in afterwards. Light pollution from the pub means the far end of the car park is the best place for stargazing if you don’t want to venture beyond the level car park.
Worthing Astronomers is a friendly local astronomy group that believes astronomy experiences are best when they’re hands-on, practical and shared. The group runs several community outreach events each year.
Stargazing from Bignor Hill’s ancient landscapes
Bignor Hill and the surrounding countryside are marked by Bronze Age burial mounds, Roman roads and beautiful natural habitats. It feels like time is standing still as you watch the Milky Way glimmer overhead.
Bignor Hill is part of the National Trust’s Slindon Estate, surrounded by chalk heathland and downland. Legend has it that the ridges winding around the hill were created by a giant worm curling its tail around Bignor. Stand atop one of the Bronze Age burial mounds to elevate your position even higher and add another layer of mystique to your stargazing.
Pied a Terre Adventures also offers guided Dark Skies walks during which you’ll learn about Bignor’s history and geology where you’ll learn night navigation skills as you listen for nocturnal wildlife and spot the area’s landmarks. These walks take place in the shorter months of the year, including during the annual South Downs Dark Skies Festival in February. Dr John Mason of Star Treks Night Walks is the South Downs Planetariums’ principal lecturer and he runs a night-time walk and talk on Bignor Hill and across the South Downs. He’ll talk you through everything from the myths and legends surrounding the constellations to current developments in space exploration.
Check the phase of the moon before planning your trip, as it’s best to go just before a full moon. You can do this with a quick search online or by using a lunar calendar app. Use a compass to help you find constellations or stars (you can use your smartphone, but this will impact your raw vision of the stars). SkyView Lite is available on both Apple and Android.
Even in the spring and summer months, it can quickly become cold underneath a clear sky. Make sure you wrap up warm to get the most out of your stargazing experience! Bring a hot drink and a mat to lie on.
If you want to try some of these walks in the daylight, you’ll find details here:
West Sussex Walk: Bignor Hill
West Sussex Walks: Ancient Black Down
West Sussex Walks: Up Harting Down
For more of the best places to stargaze in West Sussex visit the South Downs National Park Dark Skies.