Dark Skies - Stargazing on the Isle of ManSituated far away from the UK’s large cities, the Isle of Man is well known within the astronomy community as a great location for dark skies. From the amateur to the expert, when clear skies permit, it is a stargazing spectacle for everyone.
The long autumn and winter nights are the best times to observe the night sky with January and February often providing the clearest nights of the winter months. The Milky Way is particularly prevalent in the autumn and the planets in the spring. Various meteor showers occur at periodic times of the year too. And, for really dark skies make sure you avoid a full moon – although this is a spectacle in itself!
If you want to join in with others, there’s plenty of opportunity for that as well. The Isle of Man Astronomical Society meet during the evening of the first Thursday of every month during the Autumn through to Spring at their observatory near St Johns and Foxdale. Construction of the site was started by the society in 1999, being 195 metres above sea level it is excellent for observations. Tours are also available on request.
Where to go?
Out of around 100 official Dark Sky Discovery sites in the British Isles, the Isle of Man boasts the largest concentration of them within one area, with a whopping 26 official sites. So, being spoilt for choice, here are some of our personal favourites.
The Chasms/The Sound
Situated right at the south of the island, these coastal locations can provide a great setting for stargazing. Not only that, but you can listen to the cry of the seals on the rocks at night.
A beautiful spot day or night, let your eyes adjust and make out the skyline of the south-western hills of the island.
The Northern beaches
The expansive sandy beaches of the northwest of the island provide lots of opportunities. From Kirk Michael northwards there are a number of access points to the coast, most of which are remote and isolated so you will avoid streetlights. This is also a great location for observing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) which occurs occasionally throughout the year. Download the app to check whether there could be a chance of seeing them: http://aurora-alerts.com/
Cronk Ny Aree Laa
Manx for hill of the rising day, this is a great place to visit, day or night with panoramic views from all round. Park at the top of the Sloc on the A36. And take the 10 minute walk to the summit. From here, lie in the soft heather with a flask filled with your favourite beverage and let your eyes adjust.....
A brisk walk from the mountain road to the summit on a clear night is well worth the walk. As well as making out the twinkling lights of the UK and Ireland, feel on top of the world overlooking the island. If you are lucky enough to time your visit with one of Isle of Man Railways Pie in the Sky events you are in for a real treat. Hosted at the summit of Snaefell Mountain this is an evening of astronomy, together with return transport on the Snaefell Mountain Railway and evening meal at the Summit restaurant. If skies are cloudy you’ll enjoy a lecture from a guest speaker. Check the dates for late summer / autumn.
Another site in the south of the island, whilst close to the bright lights of the airport you can really appreciate the big sky feel here. The ancient fort provides a great backdrop, especially if you fancy a spot of night photography!
Why not also download a stargazing app, it’ll help you spot stars, constellations and planets more easily. One of our favourites is Night Sky.
Where to Stay?
Well, all of our holiday cottages are only a short drive from a dark skies site, but we've picked out a small selection below where you can also enjoy dark skies from the garden!
With a spacious garden to the rear, escape from it all in the quiet village of St Johns, a real dark skies spot. And when it all gets too cold, come back inside to the warmth of the log burner!
A stunning retreat at Pooil Vaash, providing big skies, fantastic sunsets and panoramic coastal vistas. And pitch black after sunset.
This set of three holiday cottages in a barn conversion located together near Glen Maye provides the perfect dark sky setting. And warm up in the sauna or hot tub within the new leisure area afterwards!
Find out more:
http://www.iomastronomy.org/ - The Isle of Man Astronomical Society - Regular astronomy sessions on the island, together with tours of the observatory.
http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk - A huge resource for stargazing in the UK.
https://www.heavens-above.com/main.aspx - Real-time satellite and ISS orbital pass information, maps, and star charts.
Night sky photography courtesy of James Brew – www.jamesbrew.com