Some of the best night skies I have ever seen were in the Kimberley region of Western Australia where there is so little ambient light that the night sky remains so tremendously unaffected by any other light sources that it actually lights up at night to reveal, literally, millions of stars which spread their way across the full dome of the heavens.
There is an International Dark Sky Association which nominates particular places in the world for which the skies are relatively unaffected by ambient light, and the newest of those is in the Breton Beacons National Park in Wales.
For a locale to be nominated it must be a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment mission of a large peripheral area.
The new Brecon Beacons International Dark Star Reserve is comprised of 1,347 square kilometres (520 square miles) where sheep outnumber people 30 to 1. It is a secluded utopia for stargazing and appreciating the natural night time environment, the International Dark Star Reserve still hosts 33,000 residents and is within easy access of over a million people.
Newly designated International Dark Sky Reserve, the Brecon Beacons is a viewing platform for the Milky Way, major constellations and even meteor showers. There are dozens of easily accessible spots to enjoy the night sky from, including the atmospheric Llanthony Priory along the Offa’s Dyke Path (that runs along the border of England and Wales) and Sugar Loaf Mountain, close to the lovely market town of Abergavenny on the eastern side of the Park.
By day the Park is a haven of green valleys, stunning mountain ranges and secret waterfalls to explore, and active visitors can choose from horse riding, kayaking, climbing, walking, sailing and windsurfing to entertain them before settling in for some star-spotting.
The park has gone to great lengths in replacing lighting that used to make it difficult to see the majestic night sky. Within five years the aim for 100% of the lighting within the core zone to be dark sky friendly meeting the goals of the reserve’s lighting management plan. Communities within the region have been responsive and attentive to the cause, desiring the skies to remain pristine for future generations.
Visiting the area is not difficult. Trains from London run to Abergavenny to the east of the Park and Merthyr Tydfil, to the south. The Brecon Beacons are roughly one hour from Cardiff by car. There is a ‘Beacons Bus’ that takes visitors around the Park.