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Starry, starry night

It’s dark here. At night, that is - not all the time!

You really notice the light and the dark, living away from civilisation - and the transitional light in between light and dark, as well - in a way that you don’t so much in cities, towns or even villages, which are generally still lit by street lights. Nutsford House stands on its own, just off an exceptionally quiet country lane. There are no street lights.

The darkness is properly dark. It definitely connects you to the past, to what our ancestors must have experienced, people who lived the entirety of their lives without mass public lighting.

And the quality of the darkness makes the supernatural beliefs of our ancestors more understandable as well. For, here on Exmoor, when you look up, even just on a relatively clear night, what you are likely to see is pretty impressive. In 2022, we have a fair degree of scientific understanding to explain the night sky; our ancestors, of course, didn’t.

In 2011, Exmoor was recognised as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve and this means not only that it has an exceptionally starry sky but also that the National Park has made a commitment to work to protect it, working with the community to reduce light pollution.

So, every Autumn there is a Dark Skies Festival on Exmoor and it was to attend an event at The National Trust’s Arlington Court that we made the journey north this evening : Stargazing for Beginners!

Led by Wild Moor Experiences, we were given an overview of the basics of stargazing before getting outside with binoculars and telescopes to view the night sky for ourselves. And the skies were clear enough to provide views of The Plough, Jupiter (and a few of its moons), the North Star (briefly) and the best look at Saturn that I have ever had.

We were also introduced to an app called Stellarium. Point it at the night sky and it tells you what you are looking at!

So, this feels like just the beginning of our stargazing story. I may not be able to respond to the night sky in quite as interesting a way as Van Gogh did, but I shall certainly be looking up a lot more often than I used to.

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