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Dark Skies Festival 2024: Where & When to Gaze at the Stars

Embrace the darkness with our guide to all the stargazing opportunities coming to Sussex over the next week…

This weekend the Dark Skies Festival returns to the South Downs National Park - one of only six sites in the UK designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) thanks to its low levels of light pollution, making it one of the best places in the country to view the stars in the night sky.

The festival runs from Saturday February 10 to Sunday February 18 and offers many different ways to enjoy a bit of stargazing, whether you’re a keen astronomer looking for the best locations to pitch up with your telescope, or just an admirer of the starry skies looking to learn more.

From guided walks through some of the South Downs’ most beautiful landscapes to gatherings on the beach, we’ve rounded up some of the best locations, activities and events to visit over the coming days.

Festival Events

Star Parties

Want to meet others interested in the night sky, or get a closer look at the stars through a telescope? (As long as the weather allows, that is!) Then why not pay a visit to one of these ‘star parties’ for a more sociable way of enjoying the festivities - neither require advance booking and admission to both is free!

Brighton: Feb 10, Brighton i360 Terrace

Brighton i360, Lower Kings Road, Brighton BN1 2LN

Presented by the SDNPA and Brighton-based astronomy group Astro, telescopes are provided for detailed stargazing, but there’s also plenty of room on the beach and the terrace to sit, chat and mingle with fellow stargazers. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also take part in the Stargazing Pod Trail on the Brighton i360 itself!

Goodwood: Feb 13, Goodwood Estate

Counters Gate Car Park, Goodwood, West Sussex PO18 0PH

Those based further West should head to the Goodwood Estate for a gathering hosted by the South Downs Astronomical Society on February 13, where telescopes will also be available for those wanting to get a better view, assisted by knowledgeable staff for those keen to learn more.

Guided Night Walks

Walk the Planets @ Queen Elizabeth Country Park

Feb 15 (6:00pm – 8:30pm)

Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Gravel Hill, Horndean PO8 0QE

Walk the Planets @ Seven Sisters Country Park

Feb 17 (6:00pm – 8:30pm)

Seven Sisters County Park, Exceat, Seaford BN25 4AD

Similar events taking place in two locations on two separate days, both of which involve a short trail with the planets laid out in a scale model of the solar system, making for a unique and interactive experience that can enjoyed by all ages. Best of all, admission is free!

Reclaim the Night

Feb 16 (6:30pm)

Older Hill National Trust, Woolbeding GU29 0BN

Organised by Rural strides, this night-time walk offers something a little different to the other, focussing on a sensory experience and pushing you out of your comfort zone (although the route itself is relatively flat and unchallenging). Attendance is free, but you’ll need to book your place via Eventbrite.

Family Fun

If you’re looking for something the whole family can enjoy, look no further than these fun-filled activities across Sussex to entertain kids and adults alike!

Cosmo’s Family Space Trail at Seven Sisters

Feb 10 – Feb 18 (12:00am)

Visitors’ Centre, Seven Sisters County Park, Exceat, Seaford BN25 4AD

Taking place each night during the festival, visitors on this exciting adventure are handed a map and a series of clues as you try and help Cosmo the Space Dog explore the Seven Sisters County Park to find the missing parts of his rocket. Free to attend and lots of fun – if the kids can stay awake!

Dark Skies Family Fun at Amberley Museum

Feb 10, 11 and Feb 14-18 (11:00am – 3:00pm)

Amberley Museum, New Barn Rd, Amberley, Arundel BN18 9LT

Over the festival’s opening weekend, you can take part in a family-friendly tour around the museum to learn about constellations and nocturnal animals, but if you’re looking for something even more fun you might want to hold off until the end of the half term week, as there will be additional activities from Wednesday to Friday including a session in the pottery studio with Nancy Scantlebury-Thompson making stars, planets, owls and moths (for an additional £2.50 each). Booking info here.


Something a little different...

Looking to try something new? The events below offer a different way to enjoy the dark skies...

Practical Astronomy Session with Eastbourne Astronomical Society

Feb 16 (8:00pm)

Arlington Village Hall, The Street, Arlington, Polegate BN26 6RX

Want to learn something a little more in-depth about studying the stars? The good people at Eastbourne Astronomical Society are here to help with an evening of practical advice on stargazing. Attendance is free and no booking is required (although donations are welcomed) – there will also be tea and coffee available to buy if you need a little warming up!

Star Trails & Ancient Journeys at Butser Ancient Farm

Feb 17 (10:30am- 3:00pm)

Butser Ancient Farm, Chalton Ln, Chalton, Waterlooville PO8 0BG

Among several events taking place at Butser Ancient Farm over the coming week is their Skies of Prehistory Planetarium Experience, taking place in the roundhouse and hosted by University of Bournemouth’s Dr Fabio Silva, who guides you through an interactive talk unlocking the mysteries of the ancient skies. Tickets are £5 and pre-booking is advised -you can find all the info you need here.


Where to gaze at the stars

If events aren’t really your thing, or you’re just looking to find a nice spot to gaze at the night sky, the South Downs National Trust have created a handy map of all the darkest areas and best vantage points the South Downs has to offer to help you find the right place to settle in for some stargazing…

(map image by SDNA)

1. Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium

Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium Car Park, Telegraph Way, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 1HZ

2. Old Winchester Hill

Natural England Car Park, Old Winchester Hill, Near Corhampton, Hampshire, SO32 3LF

3. Butser Hill

Hampshire County Council Car Park off Limekiln Lane, Petersfield, East Hampshire, GU31 5SP

4. Buriton

Village Hall Car Park, High Street, Buriton, GU31 5RX

5. Harting Down

National Trust Car Park, Harting Down, South Harting, GU31 5PN

6. Iping Common

Iping Common Car Park, Elsted Road, Midhurst, GU29 0PB

7. Bignor Hill

Slindon Estate, National Trust Car Park, Bignor Hill, Pulborough, RH20 1PH

Lee Farm Road, Sutton, Pulborough, RH20 1PH

8. Devil’s Dyke

Devil’s Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 8YJ

9. Ditchling Beacon

Ditchling Beacon National Trust Car Park, Brighton, BN1 9QD

10. Birling Gap

Beachy Head Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN20 0AB



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