In the coming months, should you venture into the darkness of Wales’ Cambrian Mountains, you’ll find locals and travellers thrilled at the notion of observing a dark sky bespeckled with the glow of a million stars. Some of them will be keen astronomers or astro-photographers, but most of them will be adventurers like you and me just trying to get a little closer to cosmos.
In the near future, more adventure travellers will be in the pursuit of dark sky locations. Wales – having launched an official astro-tourism trail comprised of six new sites in addition to three previously established dark sky locations along the route – is being touted as the next astro-travel destination.
Travel to: Stargazing destinations around the world
The rise of astro-tourism in an age of uncertainty
Wales’ new stargazer trail couldn’t be more timely. Astro-tourism or astro-travel is on the rise and that could be for two reasons. Towards the end of last year, The New Yorker reported that we’re living in an age of uncertainty where people are trying to divine meaning by connecting with something larger – more millennials are putting their faith in astrology. The more obvious reason is that stars are bloody beautiful – and thanks to light pollution, we don’t get to see them as often anymore.
The existential lure of the cosmos has fascinated humankind since the dawn of time. Centuries and centuries of technological and emotional innovation are a direct result of gazing into the endless night sky to understand everything from Earth’s rotation and how to visit the moon to more mystical things like divination and how stars and planets can shape the course of our lives.
If recent media soundbites are anything to go by, as a way to cope with uncertainty, millennials are turning to astrology. Editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan – Jessica Pels – has expanded the magazine’s print coverage of astrology to nine pages in every issue. Cosmo Readers are hooked on astrology, 74% say they are obsessed with astrology, and 72% check their horoscope every day. This could very well be why astro-tourism is on the rise – it’s time for astrology nerds and stargazers to shine.
In a way, astro-tourism or astro-travel is a clever riff on something mere mortals, astrology lovers and wannabe space explorers have been doing unknowingly for decades – stargazing, looking for meteor showers, unique moon sightings and eclipses – just a little more mainstream.
More people than ever before are looking to escape to the stars on their travels. There’s something about looking up into the cosmos that gives us mental clarity, a sense of meaning, and connection while delivering an experience that allows us to leave the trappings of our daily lives behind and transcend towards something infinitely greater.
With the launch of a new astro-tourism trail, is Wales on the way to helping travellers find more meaning in the universe?
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The Cambrian stargazer trail in Wales
Located in the Cambrian Mountains – just over 50 miles long – Wales’ stargazer trail winds through scenic woodland and encompasses six new sites that have been awarded Dark Sky status in addition to three previous locations already on the route. Sites with this designation are awarded as such because they have taken steps to restrict artificial light pollution.
Devoid of light pollution, the Cambrian Mountains provide epic sightlines of the night sky. Wales’ Dark Sky Discovery sites are considered among the UK’s best spots to glimpse at celestial beauties such as Orion, The Plough and the North Star. Armed with a Cambrian Mountains & Elan Valley Dark Sky Guide which details what to look out for throughout the year and pair of binoculars or telescope – visitors can easily explore the nine sites found on the trail over the course of a few nights.
Wales’ six new dark sky locations
Wales’ best stargazing spots are located in the wilderness of the Cambrian Mountains – but all of them are easily accessed. During the day, you can spend time on Wales’ astro-tourism trail exploring the abundant wildlife, stopping to eat and drink in one of the many pubs dotted along the way, and basking in the stirring Welsh countryside.
Once the sun sets and darkness falls – you only need to lookup. For those who are not able to trek to a remote location, fear not! All sites – both old and new – are accessible and offer stunning views of the sky from their car parks!
1. Mynydd Llanllwni Mountain, Llanllwni, Carmarthenshire
Mynydd Llanllwni Mountain is located south in a village called Llanllwni in Carmarthenshire. You’ll find the village along the A485 road southwest of market town Llanybydder.
2. Llyn Brianne Reservoir, Rhandirmwyn, Carmarthenshire
This man-made lake or reservoir is a haven for bird watchers, anglers, mountain bikers and walkers and best combined with a trip to Llandovery.
3. Coed y Bont, Pontrhydfendigaid, Ceredigion
Visit the delightful woodland area of Coed y Bont located on the edge of tongue-twister village Pontrhydfendigaid in Ceredigion. There are lots of visitor activities in the area from walking trails and geocache trails to beaches.
4. The Arch near Devil’s Bridge, Coedwig Ystwyth Forest, Ceredigion
The Arch car park and picnic area gets its namesake from an old masonry arch that sits beside the road from Devil’s Bridge. You’ll find some lovely walking trails here through ancient trees. The Arch car park lies 15 miles east of Aberystwyth, and parking is free of charge.
5. Pont ar Elan, Elan Valley, Powys
Grab some hot drinks and a few blankets and make your way to this remote car park in Elan Valley to experience the magic of the night sky. With this area, you’ll actually find a few spots. You could also try the Craig Goch car park, Caerwen car park, Caerwen Dam, and the Teifi Pools.
6. Star Inn Pub, Dylife, Powys
Just an hour and a half away from Snowdonia, and set in the Montgomeryshire countryside – Star Inn Pub is probably one of the best places to go stargazing in Wales. If you’re visiting Wales on tour, you can easily get to this location during some downtime. The pub itself, a 17th-century inn will delight visitors who want to enjoy delicious local food and warm Welsh experience.
Prior to the launch of Wales’ astro-tourism trail, the following three locations had already been awarded dark sky status. All of them offer stargazing in peaceful and remote destinations that will take you into the heart of the Cambrian Mountains.
- Dolgoch Hostel, Tregaron
- Ty’n Cornel Hostel, Llanddewi Bref
- National Trust’s Llanerchaeron house, Lampeter
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Other dark sky locations in Wales
Alongside their astro-tourism trail, from north to south, you’ll find plenty of other spots to go stargazing all over this country. So don’t worry if you can’t get to the Cambrian Mountains.
Snowdonia Dark Sky Reserve
Awarded status in December of 2015, Snowdonia National Park’s efforts to reduce light pollution have resulted in protected dark skies. Which means if you’re planning a tour through this spectacular region, you can enjoy it during the day and at night. You’ll find numerous destinations throughout this area: Bwlch y Groes, Llyn Geirionydd, Llyn y Dywarchen, Llynnau Cregennen and Tŷ Cipar, y Migneint.
Usk Reservoir, Brecon Beacons
Although you’ll find places throughout the Brecon Beacons, thanks to the remote nature of the Usk Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Route, you’ll feel like you’re the only person in the world.
Pembrokeshire Coastal Path
While you can enjoy all of the locations we’ve listed day and night, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path offers steller views 24/7 on earth and in space. What’s special about this spot is you can watch the sunrise over the ocean, and when night falls, witness the Milky Way with your naked eye.
This coastal path has eight Dark Sky Discovery Sites you’ll want to visit: Broadhaven South National Trust car park, Garn Fawr National Trust car park, Kete National Trust car park, Martin’s Haven National Trust car park, Newgale Beach National Park car park, Poppit Sands National Park car park, Skrinkle Haven National Park car park, and Sychpant National Park picnic site.
Visit the Broadhaven South Beach – which has been credited with Milky Way-class designation; Penbryn Beach – from where you can gaze the stars to the sounds of the sea, and Port Eynon in Gower Peninsula. Along with the peninsular being a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Port Eynon’s Carreglwyd Caravan and Camping Site is the place to be for meteor sightings.
Other dark sky locations in the United Kingdom
If you can’t get to Wales but find yourself on tour in and around these locations, they also offer some pretty amazing astro-tourism opportunities.
- Cotswolds: Observe the heavens from the Rollright Stone Circle near Chipping Norton.
- The Peak District: This region is blessed with dark skies, but the top three spots are Surprise View, Parsley Hay and Minninglow.
- Northern England: You’ll find stargazing spots in a number of national parks in Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland.
- Scotland: There are also a number of places in the Scottish Highlands where you can blink into the cosmos. The Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park on the mainland are great choices, but if you’re truly an adventurer head to Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. It’s been crowned Dark Sky Island by the International Dark Sky Association.
Of the many reasons people travel, finding a sense of purpose plays an important role in driving them. What better place to contemplate our individual existence than under the hopeful gaze of a glittering dark sky? Wales may not help you figure it all out, but it can get you a little closer to the universe by bringing the stars to you.