You may or may not know that the South Downs National Park (SDNP) is an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR). An International Dark Sky Reserve is “public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment.”
There are only seven International Dark Sky Reserves in the UK (and only 18 in the world) so we’re extremely lucky to have one of them in Sussex. And every year, in February, the South Downs National Park holds a two-week Dark Skies Festival. This year it runs from the 4th of February until Friday the 17th of February.
How to enjoy the dark skies of Sussex
As you might expect, SDNP has a programme of events which you can find here: Dark Skies Festival. It’s rather good and includes guided night walks one of which is at Seven Sisters, stargazing, storytelling and folklore. It’s a good mix of free, paid-for, live and virtual events.
Where to enjoy the best dark skies and star gazing in Sussex?
The South Downs Visitor Centre at Exceat near Seaford has an interactive station that explains more about our Sussex dark skies so it’s another good place to start. There are a recommended six sites in Sussex for stargazing, namely: Harting Down, Ipping Common, Bignor Hill, Devil’s Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and Birling Gap. Importantly, these spots all have car parks. You don’t have to be part of an organised event to enjoy these dark skies but do take the necessary precautions if you’re heading out.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to be on the Downs for your stargazing, you can always head to the beach and the less built-up areas of our coast. Chichester Harbour, Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap, and Camber can all provide fabulous stargazing spots.
What else is on?
If you miss the festival, you can head to Beachy Head on the 25th of February and if it’s a clear night, you can explore the skies with the Eastbourne Astronomical Society using their telescopes! Or on the 11th and 25th of February, The Observatory at Herstmonceux will also be hosting stargazing through some of the largest telescopes in the country.
For budding astronomers, there are various Astrological Societies across Sussex including Lewes, Worthing and Adur. It’s worth contacting these clubs individually to find out more about their stargazing activities and whether you can join. The South Downs Planetarium in Chichester has a calendar of events going on (I’m tempted by their “Wintertime Stars, Moon And Planets”) and these have the advantage of being indoors in the warm!
If you’ve enjoyed this post about Sussex stargazing and the Dark Skies Festival, you may also like: