Starry, starry night: why Exmoor’s new dark sky walking trail is midwinter magic

The UK is a honeypot of dark-sky areas – but Exmoor is its oldest reserve and best-kept starry secret, says Megan Eaves

Thursday 09 December 2021 20:02
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<p>Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor, at night</p>

Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor, at night

Standing on open heath with a bowl of starry constellations above and the sound of nightjars calling across the moor, you could be in 2021 or 1821. This is Exmoor, Europe’s oldest dark-sky reserve, and standing under a light-speckled sky, it’s not difficult to imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago. Then, in the days before human-made light pollution, a night sky like this was visible everywhere. Now, less than 10 per cent of people in the UK can see a natural night sky, so you have to travel to special, unlit places like Exmoor to see the stars at their frosted finest.

Exmoor was crowned Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve back in 2011, but thanks to its remoteness and the fact that it takes a bit of effort to get here (there are no motorways or easy public transport options), it remains a wonderfully secret corner of Britain in which to gaze up at the cosmos. In 2021, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Exmoor unveiled a new “Dark Sky Discovery Trail”. This atmospheric, two-mile walk follows an easy track across utterly dark moorland, lit only by glow-in-the-dark waymarkers to keep visitors on the right route.

Standing under a light-speckled sky, it’s not difficult to imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago

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