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How to celebrate North Norfolk's spectacular night-sky star show

A man looks out at the stars - North Norfolk has some of the darkest night skies in England. (pic  Khamkéo Vilaysing)
The dark skies of autumn and winter are a great time to go star gazing (Photo: Khamkéo Vilaysing)

North Norfolk has some of the darkest skies in Britain which makes them perfect for star gazing - and that’s official.

Small villages with little or no street lighting mean this part of England has virtually no light pollution. On a dark, cloudless night you don’t have to walk far to be treated to an amazing celestial display.

Most people visiting North Norfolk for the first time are stunned by the blanket of stars and planets they can see in what for many are the darkest of night skies.

Just stepping outside at night in Blakeney and there's a ready-made star show overhead.

But for a truly spectacular view of the night sky you can walk less than a couple of miles from Blakeney to Wiveton Downs and the Blakeney esker. You are high up and almost standing among the stars with a panoramic view.

This ridge is a Dark Sky Discovery Site – part of a select nationwide network of just 150 places away from direct lighting with great views in all directions not blocked by buildings or trees.

Local groups and organisations nominated this particular spot, a two-mile elevated ridge stretching from Blakeney to Glandford as one of four top places to see the stars in North Norfolk.

The eastward extension of this glacial ridge, formed by terminal moraine, has also been nominated as another Dark Skies Discovery Site at Salthouse and Kelling Heath.

Both sites are recognised as among the darkest spots in Britain at night.

To the west of the county two new sites have been granted Orion Class Dark Sky Discovery status. They are at Barrow Common near Brancaster, the site of a World War II radar station, and also RSPB Titchwell Marsh - both sites to the west of Blakeney. Both now host astronomical events after work done by John Craythorne, the chair of the King’s Lynn & District Astronomy Society .

The skies are so black at each of these sites that stargazers can identify the seven stars which form the constellation of Orion and observe the Milky Way in a glittering 180 degrees of skyscape.

These sites are accessible and free to everyone all year round but an annual North Norfolk Dark Skies Festival is held in September and October involving these and other venues.

The theme for the 2021 festival, from September 25 to October 10, is Wildlife and Dark Skies. This is the third Dark Skies Festival. It investigates how different species use and need the night for different reasons, whether it is migration, feeding, reproduction, rest or to escape predators or hunt their prey. It also examines how light pollution affects wildlife and what can be done to preserve dark landscapes and skies to help wildlife and retain the tranquil, rural character of the Norfolk Coast – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Events this year include wildlife walks at night, stargazing, soundwalk, talks, podcasts and other activities. The two-week festival kicks off in Thornham Village Hall with the King’s Lynn and District Astronomical Society celebrating the stunning dark skies and landscapes of the area and raising awareness about issues of increasing light pollution.

Among the events taking place are:

September 25 from 6.30 to 8.30pm a night-time walk around Holkham National Nature Reserve with an expert wildlife guide. It starts as the sun sets over the marshes and some creatures settle down for the night while others are waking up. Bats, owls, moths and more will take centre stage on this night-walk which starts at The Lookout, Lady Anne's Drive, Holkham. Booking is essential and places limited. To book email:

September 26 from 8 to 10.30pm, Stargazing at Wiveton Downs Dark Sky Discovery Site organised by North Norfolk Astronomy Society It provides a chance to be guided to see the Milky Way and other celestial wonders. This free event is weather dependent. More information from Booking is not essential.

October 2, from 7.30 to 10.30pm Stargazing from Kelling Heath Dark Sky Discovery Site at the holiday park near Holt. North Norfolk Astronomers will help you discover the stars above Kelling Heath. The event is free and weather dependent. Booking is essential by phoning Kelling Heath Holiday Park on 01263 588181.

October 7, from 5 to 7pm, a dark skies evening stroll at Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes Reserve. The walk around the Cley reserve at dusk is led by one of the NWT volunteer guides. It provides a chance to experience the unique atmosphere of this beautiful coastal reserve as darkness descends with the possibility of seeing some unusual wildlife, weather permitting. Booking is essential via the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Eventbrite page and the walk costs £4.50 for NWT members or £6.50 non-members plus booking fee.

Online events:

September 26, 7.30 to 8pm, Ponds at Night, an online podcast by Norfolk-born Professor Carl Sayer from University College London.

A podcast focused on what happens at ponds in the night will cover animals and plants, including bats, mammals and eels. The recordings of what can be seen or heard above and under the water, were to be made during night walks in late summer at ponds at Bodham near Holt. See the list of events.

October 5, 7 to 8pm, online talk organised by King's Lynn and District Astronomical Society , Jupiter and Saturn - Giants of the Solar System. John Craythorne leads a tour of our solar system particularly the planetary giants Jupiter and Saturn which will be visible in the night sky during the festival.

To find out how to join this online event, phone John Craythorne on 01945 701038.

October 8, 7.30 to 8pm, film Eely Dark Nights. Watch some pre-recorded footage of elvers migrating into Norfolk rivers during the spring. Experts from the Norfolk Rivers Trust discuss in a live online session how important dark skies are for eels and other aquatic creatures for migration, to avoid predators and more. Online link from Norfolk Rivers Trust

There are other events at Thornham, Horsey and Titchwell during the festival with more information at Norfolk Coast AONB

From October 4 to 11 Kelling Heath near Holt stages the UK’s largest star-gazing party organised by Loughton Astronomical Society. Hundreds of amateur astronomers attend this annual event which is open to the public. Details at

There are many meteor showers throughout the year and the Perseids, at its brightest in August, is perhaps the most stunning with up to 100 shooting stars an hour at its peak. And Norfolk is a perfect spot to see this aerial show.

Like all meteor showers, the Perseids shower is caused by particles of comet debris entering our atmosphere. The particles appear as shooting stars, creating bright streaks in the sky as they burn up. The meteors are called the Perseids because the point from which they appear to come lies in the constellation Perseus.

Find out more about North Norfolk Astronomy clubs and societies at:

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