5 fabulous: places to catch a falling star
I’m channelling my inner geek here, and risking your ridicule, but my science boffin pals tell me the uber stunning Perseid meteor shower this week is not one to miss – and Cornwall is the best place to see it. It’s a bumper one this year, with more sparkle than the Folly Mixtures and more than double the usual number of shooting stars expected at this annual event (maybe as many as 200 per hour). Peak time is 12 August (this Friday!), but the shower will continue to fizz for another 10 days after that. Night owls will get the best dibs – between 1 and 4 am is best, but you’ll still see loads from around 10pm.
We have some of the UK’s only Dark Sky Discovery sites designated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in our manor – which means we have some of the best stargazing locations in the UK.
Now if you’re a super rural type, you might get a glimpse from your own back garden. I’ve some magical memories as a moody teen lying on our shed roof watching the show. Now my own nippers are up there with me. But if you want a bit of drama (and ok and romance) the best places to catch a falling star are wild spaces well away from light pollution. You don’t need to be a science geek to enjoy it, the Perseid shower is the rock star of meteor showers offering a stellar show, so grab your woolies (I didn’t say it was sexy) and consider my hit list:
At the head of the Fal River, Trelissick Park at Feock offers a panoramic vista for star gazing. There’s not going to be anyone from the NT on site overnight, but the wider parkland is open and a great place for family stargazing. At the bottom of the park there’s a small pebble beach which would be my preferred spot. Head for the big gate at the top of the Park land.
Watch out for: snoozing cattle, resident wildlife.
How to get there: OS grid reference SW836396 (postcode: TR3 6QL)
St Martin’s and St Agnes
I’m cheating a bit here since I’m including two islands in one, but the Isles of Scilly are not only an Area of Outstanding natural Beauty (ANOB), but home to SIX Dark Sky Discovery sites! Light pollution is minimal due to the distance from the mainland. The best places I’m told are the cricket pitches on St Martin’s and St Agnes, but there’s good visibility on all islands.
Watch out for: all the sites are very safe and family friendly; the most dangerous thing you’re likely to come across is a golf buggy. Or maybe a cricket ball.
How to get there: check Scilly Dark Sky Discovery Sites
The Hurlers, Minions
If you like a bit of atmosphere with your stargazing, look no further than The Hurlers. This is probably the most remote (and fraught with obstacles) on the list, but one for the adventurous among you. On the east of Bodmin Moor, these ceremonial circles are (according to legend) the remains of men petrified for playing hurling on a Sunday.
There are two carparks on the outskirts of the village, and other places to park near the pub and post office. The stones can be found a short walk away from the car park across some pretty uneven ground, heading towards the Cheesewring. Wear good boots, lay your rug out and snuggle up for the show.
Watch out for: wildlife – the moor is home to wild ponies, cattle and sheep so you may have company; uneven ground. I take no responsibility if you fall into a mine shaft; the weather. It changes, well er like the weather up on the moor so come prepared – the site is remote and very exposed.
How to get there: OS Grid reference SX259713 (postcode: PL14 5LE)
Great if you’re staying in Mawgan Porth – there’s a short but utterly breathtaking coastal walk to Carnewas – a cliff top location awarded Dark Sky Discovery site status. Great to do at sunset. However, the view from the NT carpark is all you need – watch from the comfort (and warmth) of your car!
Watch out for: if you’re walking, please, please please be super careful! Much safer to catch the view from the carpark.
How to get there: OS Grid reference SW850690 (postcode: PL27 7UW)
NB: The NT rangers and Kernow Astronomers are holding a sun and stars event in September. Join them Sat 10 Sept (6:45 – 10pm) watch the sun go down and the stars come out. A free event, book with E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chapel Porth Valley, St Agnes
Another Dark Sky Discovery site is St Agnes Head – alot of sky and plenty of parking. A favourite with members of the Cornwall Astronomy Society. Set on the cloff top, the site is well away from light pollution. Not only meteors, but you’ll spot the milky way.
Watch out for: the cliffs! It’s best not to venture near the cliff edge while looking at the sky.
How to get there: OS Grid reference SW697494 (postcode: TR5 0NS)
What more do you need? Tips for getting the most out of your romantic night under the stars? (er Muddy is not that kind of publication!). Here’s some finger wagging warnings and reminders:
Make sure you take warm clothes and a torch and warm drinks. Ok and a hipflask (but just a small one if you’re heading to Minions). With clear skies above, stargazing can get chilly.
Safety first kids! – check the weather before you go and make sure you know how you’re going to get home. Don’t stray far from the path and always keep a torch handy – like maybe on your head.
Stargazing is best done before the moon is full (next one is Thursday 18 August), so go before then if you can.
The Perseid shower is best seen looking in a north-eastern direction after 10pm.
See if you can spot the glow of the Andromeda Galaxy. Two million light years away, this is the most distant object the human eye can see. Take binoculars – you should be able to see Andromeda’s elliptical shape.