Reach for the stars this year at Galloway Forest Park, in south-west Scotland, just named the first Dark Sky Park in the UK (visitscotland.com/whitestars) by the International Dark Sky Association. Its 300sq-miles has so few buildings within its boundary that light pollution is at a minimum, making it one of the best locations for stargazing in the world.
Observation is also on the agenda in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, where a 90-metre viewing platform will be one of the improvements to the new-look Grand Pier (pictured), which reopens this summer after the fire of 2008. The town is also celebrating 200 years of tourism, with other seafront enhancements and a year-long programme of special events (weston200.co.uk; grandpierwsm.co.uk).
From summer, visitors will be able to explore the capital on two wheels with ease, thanks to the launch of the self-service London Cycle Hire scheme (tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/12444.aspx), which will make 6,000 bicycles available across central London. Bikes will be offered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to anyone over 14 years old. Prices are to be announced.
From Easter, for the first time, it will be possible to make the 40-mile trip across Snowdonia without a car. The eagerly awaited final extension of the Welsh Highland Railway, linking it to the Ffestiniog Railway, has been built entirely by volunteers, and trains will feature bicycle carriages and new viewing cars with panoramic windows to maximise the experience ( festrail.co.uk).
Orchard Acre Farm in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, is adding to its programme of courses and events with the launch of a Festival of the Willow from 5-9 February, which will include activities such as basket-making workshops and poetry readings, and, more interestingly, the chance to participate in the building of a public structure (orchardacrefarm.com).
Meanwhile, Broadway, in the Cotswolds, will host a brand new festival from 11-20 June. Celebrating its 125-year link with the painter John Singer Sargent, the Broadway Arts Festival (broadwayartsfestival.com) will include walks and talks; theatre and music; as well as open studios, and lantern and fireworks displays.
The fruits of an extensive restoration project will be unveiled at Chatsworth in Derbyshire from this spring. A new visitor route – complemented by revised guide books and audio tours – will highlight a new gallery displaying art and treasure from the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire's collection, as well as the once-private restored courtyard at the heart of the house (chatsworth.org). The National Trust is celebrating a major coup, having saved the much-loved Seaton Delaval Hall (nationaltrust.org.uk) in Northumberland and securing it for the public to enjoy. A masterpiece of 18th-century English Baroque architecture, the Vanbrugh house, gardens and 400 acres of land will be accessible to visitors for the first time, hopefully from spring. It will also host a varied programme of events.
A new family attraction comes to Manchester's Trafford Centre (www.legolanddiscoverycenter.com/) from Easter, the first Legoland Discovery Centre in the UK. The 3,500sq-metre space will feature interactive and educational fun for three- to 12-year-olds, including a 4D cinema, a Lego Master Model Builder revealing his secrets, and the world's most iconic buildings reconstructed in Miniland.
In contrast, at one of the south's most established theme parks, Blackgang Chine, on the Isle of Wight, adult visitors will be able to explore the mysterious past of the local coastline from 29 March, including Wight Flight – a cinema where viewers can take a virtual flight around the island (blackgangchine.com).
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