North Pennines AONB
The oft-repeated phrase “It’s grim up north”, could not be further from the truth. Yes, the stunning landscapes and heather-glad moorland can be desolate walking in winter driving rain, but they are exhilarating, dramatic, tranquil, and peaceful with exceptional wildlife habitats, offering some of the most unspoilt countryside in England. This is home to the North Pennines AONB designated in 1988 and the second largest AONB. Reflecting the geological significance, it is also a UNESCO Global Geopark with a legacy of mining and quarrying for minerals and stone which allows for picturesque timeless cottages.
This is the northernmost section of the Pennine range and the AONB lies between Carlisle to the west and Darlington to the east. Bounded to the north by the Tyne Valley and to the south by Stainmore Gap. There are four accredited Walkers are Welcome towns in this area. Alston Moor and Middleton-in-Teesdale which lie towards the centre of the park with Brampton on the north-west edge and Kirkby Stephen teetering on the southern edge.
WaW Northern England towns https://walkersarewelcome.org.uk/waw-towns-n-england/
The lack of light pollution and wide-open vistas makes for amazing night skies. Here you will find some of the best places for stargazing with 16 Dark Sky Discovery sites within easy reach of WaW towns. This is the perfect family evening activity for autumn and winter months with the added predictable meteor showers, northern lights and moon phases. Anywhere within the AONB is suitable away from streetlights. For added information see
https://www.northpennines.org.uk/what_we_do/dark-skies/ and the individual towns.
The higher you go around Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria and the Upper Eden Valley away from the centre on a clear night you will see have a great dark skies experience. They have just produced a new booklet Upper Eden Dark Skies available in the Upper Eden Visitor Centre and other outlets. This includes local recommended sites just out of town, identifying constellations and what else to look for and how, even the local bat population has a mention. Easy family evening walks are included. Near this small town is Tan Hill known for the remote highest pub in Britain and the exceptional displays of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).
Middleton-in-Teesdale, Durham, offers magical experiences for walkers coupled with the beauty of the universe. There is a new major observatory at Grassholme Reservoir https://www.grassholmeobservatory.com/ just outside the town. Businesses offer Dark Skies Friendly venues including special Stargazing packages with walks featured on Middleton’s website. Along the road towards Alston and High Force waterfall (pictured above), you will find the AONBs Bowlees Visitor Centre where they hold exhibitions and participation events for all the family.
Alston Moor, Cumbria is a quieter part of the county, off the beaten track, so different to the nearby Lake District with stunning scenery and lots of Open Access Land of England’s last wilderness. There are usually seasonal special events to book. Just imagine watching shooting stars over Epiacum Roman Fort (Whitley Castle), considered to be the best-preserved fort ramparts in the entire Roman Empire.
Brampton, Cumbria consider their most stunning countryside is up above Castle Carrock and Talkin villages, at the start of the Geltsdale Trail, Jockey Shield and Low Hynam. There are hopes that Talkin Tarn Country Park will be given designated dark skies status being such a special place for viewing. A little further is RSPB Geltsdale a Dark Sky Discovery Site, well known for their birdlife and walks as well as stars, “it has a really wild feel to it” say Brampton. You might think of an evening stroll along with the wonder of Hadrian’s Wall.
Not to be outdone, there is lots of Dark Skies activity in and around other WaW towns including in the Mynyddoedd Cambrian Mountains of Wales with members Devils Bridge, Lam-peter Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llandysul & Pont Tyweli and Bro Tregaron See https://www.thecambrianmountains.co.uk/discover-dark-skies
Photo: Orion Constellation by Gary Lintern Photography