Kielder Star Camp

I  came across a story in the Grauniad about the Kielder Forest Star Camp at which scores of amateur astronomers are gathering along with their tents this week to exploit the darkest skies in England.  The skies are pretty dark above  Cardiff right now, but that’s because of the thick cloud rather than lack of light pollution. I hope they have better weather in Kielder which, if you didn’t know, is in Northumberland. With an area of 250 square miles, Kielder Forest is  England’s largest forest (although it’s actually more of a plantation, being man-made under the auspices the Forestry Commission) and it surrounds Kielder Water, the largest man-made reservoir in the UK. Anyway, as the time-lapse video shows, it’s  a fine spot for astronomy when the clouds stay away; at the end you’ll see the excellent new Kielder Observatory too!

Good luck to all the participants (and, more importantly, clear skies…) .

10 Responses to “Kielder Star Camp”

  1. Chris North Says:

    I’m up neat Durham ready to go camping at Kielder with the Sky at Night crew. Hopefully the weather will be clear, but even if it’s not we should get to chat to some of the participants.

    In the meantime, we’ll have to imagine the stories some of these BBC tents must have – I think some have recently returned from places like Afghanistan and Libya!

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I always planned to see the RAC car rally pass through Kielder – its most testing stage – but never got round to it. Wouldn’t have done much for astronomy oberving. Now the entire rally is held in Wales, which I believe sponsors it. At least it’s nearer to Shropshire. It’s coming up in the next fortnight and the Great Orme leg at Llandudno is on Nov 10th.

  3. telescoper Says:

    I’m old enough to remember Kielder before they made the reservoir, work on which began in 1975, I have to say that Kielder Forest isn’t particularly attractive; Forestry Commission sites never are. Give me the windswept desolation of natural Northumberland anytime – that really is beautiful.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Wasn’t that ‘natural’ desolation a forest many centuries ago?

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s a good point, at least for the lower lying areas. These were originally densely forested but early farmers cleared them and the landscape changed to accommodate sheep farming. However, I’m not sure this is true of the high moors near the sea, which are probably too exposed to have allowed woodland to flourish. There are iron age remains all over the place, though, so there presumably must have been some trees to supply them with building materials, etc.

      What I was getting at, though, is that the Forestry Commission style of planting trees in regimented lines looks very artificial.

  4. Mark McCaughrean Says:

    Apropos Northumberland and ancient times, I spent a handful of my early childhood years living in a house on the grandiosely-named Antonine Walk in Heddon-on-the-Wall.

    A quick glance at a map shows that this modest street is part of an estate which lies immediately downslope towards the Tyne from a well-preserved section of Hadrian’s Wall. Antonine Walk is the last street down the hill before you reach some woods and then open fields.

    All of which goes to inform the story I was told at the time about a large boulder that was in our back garden and on which my brothers and I spent many hours scrambling around. Large in this context probably means a just a metre or two in size, but we were small 🙂

    The story went that this was a piece of Hadrian’s Wall which had fallen off in centuries gone by and rolled downslope. As the estate was built, the builders progressively rolled the boulder downhill out of the way until it ended up in the garden of our house, as part of the last street built.

    I have absolutely no way of knowing whether this was true or just a fanciful fabrication concocted by my father; given the sort of clap-trap I’ve tried to pull over my own kids’ eyes in the spirit of jest, I suspect the latter.

    Nice memory, nonetheless.

  5. telescoper Says:

    I was brought up in Benwell which is just to the south of where Hadrian’s Wall used to run to the West of Newcastle. There were not only bits of the wall but also fairly complete forts and temples in between peoples’ back gardens. Much of the wall survived intact until the 18th Century, in fact, at which point sections were demolished to build roads and fortifications to defend against the Jacobite rebellions. Of course the invasion of England, when it happened, actually came down the West Coast through Carlisle, rather than down the East Coast Main Line via Newcastle:

  6. Mark McCaughrean Says:

    Odd to think that we may have lived just a handful of miles apart back in the day, Peter. That said, having arrived from Plymouth in 1965, we had moved back down south to West Sussex by 1968 or so. Probably enough for an overlap between us, but we weren’t old enough to have played against each other in school football teams or the like 😉

    And I shall continue to burnish my boulder-in-the-back-garden story in its full Roman history glory. Oh, and speaking of Romans and West Sussex, one of the high points of my time there was a school trip to a field on the outskirts of our village, Milland. Under the tutelage of my most inspirational teacher, we dug down to reveal a fully intact Roman road, part of the Chichester to Silchester way.

    This was discovered only in 1949, so just 20 years or so earlier at the time, based on aerial photographs of the Milland. Indeed, if you look at the Wikipedia page for the road, the photo there of it still in use is taken almost precisely outside our old front door. The road continues straight (!) behind the photographer for about half a mile before bending to the left: however, if instead of taking the bend, you walk straight into the field, the original Roman road is right there, under the soil. Immediately after that, there is a Roman mansio or stopping-place for travellers along the road.

    Or at least so I remember it; must go back one day and have another gander with the farmer’s permission.

    The Romans, eh? What have they ever done for us then?

  7. Chris North Says:

    I can confirm that Kielder Star Camp was great fun – it’s a wonderful part of the country to visit (and I’m not just saying that because this is Peter’s blog!), though the weather is not particularly amenable to astronomy.

    I wenty along wondering why people went to star camps and realised that the motivation was similar to academic conferences; the dark skies are certainly a big draw (c.f. conference talks), but a large part of it is meeting the other people and sharing ideas – whether that be for academic research or tips for amateur astronomy.

    In fact, many of the people we met only meet up at star camps – just like some academics who meet at conferences. The range of people there was surprising – there were plenty of novices as well as the very experienced, and they were all sharing ideas, giving each other advice and lending people their various bits of kit to try out.

    Though of course for quite a lot of the time they were in the pub or their tents drinking beer…

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