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The Dark Skies Stargazing Events You Won't Want to Miss in Yorkshire

dark skies Twistleton Scar. Image: Danny Lawson
What's on
October 2022
Reading time 4 Minutes

As the Dark Skies Fringe Festival takes over the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales once more, Martin Whipp of Ripon’s Lime Tree Observatory tells us why you mustn’t miss this chance to take a closer look at our night sky

Martin has been involved in astronomy for more than 30 years. The Lime Tree Observatory was opened in 2016 following the recovery of a large telescope and dome from an observatory in Kent, and since then Martin has taken the observatory under his wing. ‘You could call me a project leader but essentially I’m just a volunteer; there are three or four of us who regularly run events,’ he explains.

They recently opened a planetarium which Martin describes as an ‘impressive plan B’ to stargazing. ‘Whenever people come up and can’t see the real night sky, we’re able to simulate it for them from there,’ he explains. ‘It’s been a bit of a lockdown project. I’ve always wanted to build one and it was suggested that we convert the main barn on the farm (because it’s no longer a working farm). It’s been done in our spare time and thankfully we had a few sources of funding which have been really helpful. Bit by bit we’ve built an immersive planetarium and those that have visited have been impressed by it.

When stargazing conditions aren’t the best, novice astronomers can retreat to the planetarium to gain a better appreciation of the night sky. ‘Sometimes when you’re looking outside the solar system through a telescope without taking photos, a lot of the objects you’re seeing are just grey smudges,’ says Martin. ‘That smudge might be a galaxy or a nebula but the planetarium means we’re able to take a closer look at those smudges and find out exactly what they are. It adds another level to what you’re actually seeing, so there’s much more of a sense of wonder. It really does help to illustrate things.’

The return of the Dark Skies Fringe Festival is something Martin is pleased about, and he says you shouldn’t miss this chance to get involved in the wide range of events. ‘Anything that gets the public out under dark skies and doing astronomy can only be a good thing,’ he adds. ‘So any event is a good event. In general, there is a public thirst for knowledge for all things astronomy. Brian Cox might have something to do with that; he’s been a very good populariser over the last few years.’

Martin Whipp, Lime Tree Observatory Martin Whipp, Lime Tree Observatory

The festival is also a great opportunity to showcase what the observatory is all about. This year they’ve set up a new talk that has been developed specifically for the planetarium called The Creepy Cosmos – with the festival falling over Halloween season, Martin and his team have gone with a spooky theme. ‘It’s an exploration of the universe, looking at various objects, but we’ve put a Halloween twist on it,’ he explains. ‘There are lots of objects out there that you can see through a telescope that look like something else (for example, the Sombrero Galaxy) but there are also those such as the the Witch Head Nebula and the Wizard Nebula – so there are plenty of Halloween connotations that we’ve been able to loosely tie together. There’ll be a few special effects along the way and we’re encouraging people to dress up too.’

With plenty of fun to be had the festival has something for all the family, and it’s important to take this chance to see the dark skies while we still have them, as Martin explains. ‘Unfortunately outside of the protected sites, light pollution is still very much on the increase,’ he says. ‘There’s still a misconception that security lights actually help protect your home, but all they do is provide brighter lights and therefore darker shadows for people to hide in. We are losing the night sky. A lot of the street lights have been changed into LED ones and although they’re brighter and use less electricity, so are more environmentally friendly in that sense, they’re full spectrum so we can’t filter them like you could with the old ones. I think there will be people in our lifetime who will never see the Milky Way, and that’s a shame because it’s so beautiful.’

Before you do head out, Martin share’s his top tips for first-time stargazers. ‘Wrap up warm: put more pairs of socks on than you think you need. There’s nothing worse than going out and getting really cold, because it makes the whole thing miserable. Observe: if you’ve got a pair of binoculars, take those along. If you get the opportunity to look through a telescope, don’t just have a quick glance. The atmosphere above us can be turbulent, but if you keep staring at an object occasionally you’ll get a little glimpse of clarity as the air stabilises and you’ll see more details. That’s the difference between looking and observing.’

North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales Dark Skies Fringe Festival takes place between 21st and 30th October. Find out more at

Five Dark Skies Events You Won’t Want To Miss
owl at night

Winter Owl Evening


National Centre for Birds of Prey, Helmsley
Warm up with a mulled wine or hot spiced apple juice then head out to the main flying ground to watch the owls fly. You’ll take a guided tour of the owl aviaries and see the owls flying free in the darkness, lit only by torchlight.

Pie at Night


Fairhurst’s at Berry’s Café And Farm Shop, Swinithwaite
Enjoy an evening of stargazing with Martin Whipp from the Lime Tree Observatory. At Berry’s the event will take place under some of the darkest skies. You’ll enjoy a warming supper and presentation before stepping outside for some astronomy with Martin’s expert guidance.

night sky over a cliff Ben Bush Photography

In the Night Sky Live


Online at
You’re invited to learn about constellations and how our ancestors would have viewed the night sky. Then you’ll become a Dark Sky Ranger and understand just how important it is to care for our dark skies for future generations.

image of stars moving over the night sky with the northern lights Go Stargazing

Stargazing Beneath Ingleborough


Ingleborough Cave 
Join Pete Collins from Diamond Skies for a guided tour of the night sky over the Dales, and experience the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail like you’ve never experienced it before. If the sky is clear, there’ll be an opportunity for stargazing, and constellations, star clusters, galaxies and planets will all be made clear to you.

night time photo of a harbour and lights Richard Burdon

Whitby Night Photography


YHA Whitby
Join local photographer Richard Burdon and learn how to shoot images of the streets, buildings and Whitby Harbour at night. The workshop will begin at Whitby YHA tearooms and you’ll spend two to three hours on locations.

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