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Dark Skies Over Exmoor

On a cloudless night - and there are many of them on Exmoor - the sky just stretches out forever over the quiet landscape where often the hooting of owls is the only noise to be heard.  Lift your  head and you will see stars everywhere, twinkling bright and so close that you think you could touch them. 

The Milky Way is easily spotted as are all the star formations most of us know. Depending on the time of year, the Great Bear and Orion can easily be recognised.  Some very lucky people have even been able to watch the Northern Lights on Exmoor as there is no light pollution on the moor. What else could be better than camping out on the top of the moor, with only the stars above you?

For those who wish to take a closer look, telescopes are available to hire from the National Park centres. Stargazing can be taken to an entirely new level on Exmoor!

The skies over Exmoor are actually so amazing that the International Dark Skies Association designated the Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve in 2011. The core of the reserve reaches from Brockwell Farm near Wootton Courtenay in the east to Challacombe Common in the west, covering 83 square kilometres. Within this core area there is no housing, not even a farm. Blackpitts Bungalow and the Pinkery Education Centre, which are both owned by the Exmoor National Park Authority, are the only two occupied buildings within those 83 square kilometres. Heather and grass moors cover the lonely landscape.

A buffer area of 98 square kilometres surrounds the core.  Only a few small settlements can be found here. Simonsbath, Exford, Luccombe and Wootton Courtenay have no streetlights and only a few houses. The rest of the Dark Skies Reserve is mainly farmed landscape.

Many people come to camp at Wimbleball Lake to watch the stars.  Others trek up to Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor’s highest hill, where the view reaches across the Bristol Channel far into Wales in the north.  If they stay long enough, they will be able to watch the sun rise over the Quantocks in the east.

But even if you are more a fan of creature comforts, and spending a night in a tent is not quite your thing, you will be stunned by the brightness of the sky on your way home from one of Exmoor’s many rural pubs and restaurants.  If you are walking back to your B&B or take a stroll back to your car, stop, look up and be amazed: The number of stars twinkling back at you is breathtaking.

On the other hand, if it is a cloudy or moonless night, be prepared to be engulfed by total darkness.  With no light showing from buildings or the sky lit up by streetlights in nearby towns, it is dark. Very dark. You will hear the wind rustling through the leaves, and bats whizzing past. There is always an owl nearby to say hello, and usually never-sleeping sheep will be muttering in a field nearby.  It is the perfect place to heal your soul and revive your senses.

We do recommend, however, to carry a torch, just in case, when you are walking in total darkness.  And when you are driving across the moor on a dark night, be prepared for animals on the lane.  Cattle and Exmoor Ponies roam free as do sheep who like to rest on the warm road. More often than not they consider that they were there first and thus need not move.  Don’t get worked up about this - you are on holidays, and until they eventually move, just enjoy the moment.

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