An astrophysicist turned Zen teacher is bringing his star bathing experience to this February’s Dark Skies Festival, one of several new events enabling visitors to pause the button on everyday life and let the night sky soothe the soul.
Amid growing awareness of the wellbeing benefits associated with spending time outside under the night skies, this year’s Festival (18 February-6 March), which runs across both International Dark Sky Reserves of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, will see an expanded range of mindfulness sessions.
These will run alongside perennial Festival favourites such as stargazing safaris, nocturnal wildlife trails, dark sky runs, walks, cycle rides and canoeing evenings, astrophotography skills sessions and art exhibitions.
For the first-time Zen teacher Mark Westmoquette brings his star bathing approach to the Festival, drawing on his astronomy background and showing how people can use the night sky to live ‘more in the moment’.
Visitors can join Mark at Nethergill Farm or the Dent Meditation Centre for a mindfulness stargazing evening in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales surroundings, or at High Dalby House in the North York Moors for a yoga and mind-body-spirit practice called qigong, held jointly with Adventures for the Soul, before going on a night nature walk in the wooded grounds.
Families with younger children can also enjoy the opportunity to slow down during a Mindfulness Walk organised by Whitby YHA when stargazing, nature at night and views across the cliff tops above the harbour will help reinvigorate all the senses.
Meanwhile to coincide with the new moon, visitors can join Wild Roots Foraging for an afternoon gathering foraged food in Easby Wood before walking uphill towards Captain Cook’s Monument to enjoy panoramic twilight views. The group then returns to an open fire for foraged nibbles and mugwort hot chocolate in preparation for a starlit stroll through the forest.
Among other new events, visitors will be able to admire the work of dark skies photographer Pete Collins in an exhibition within the visitor centre of Ribblehead Station before venturing across to the Station Inn to join an astronomer for a tour of the night sky, with the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct acting as the backdrop.
Other stargazing safaris include evenings with dark skies hunter Richard Darn at Aysgarth Falls and Gill Garth Farm at Settle where visitors can gaze in awe at the star-lit canopy hovering above one of Yorkshire’s highest peaks Pen-y-Ghent. Go Stargazing’s Neill Sanders will also be leading a celestial tour of the beautiful sky above Wensleydale ice-cream parlour.
For the first time the woodland setting at Gilling Castle near Ampleforth will be used for a night photography skills workshop in the company of photographer John Arnison.
The Moors National Park Centre at Danby in the North York Moors will serve as a hub for many events including an evening with the Whitby & District Astronomical Society. The Inspired by… gallery at the Centre will also be hosting two exhibitions, starting with a preview event on the opening night of the Festival, where visitors can see how the fragility of the night sky is interpreted through the work of specially-commissioned artists, printmaker Helen Peyton and cosmic artist Louise Beer.
Families with younger children needn’t miss out on the fun as there are daytime dark skies-themed workshops at Helmsley Arts Centre; a Van Gogh-inspired winter sky painting day at The Moors National Park Centre in Danby; an opportunity to learn more about nocturnal animals with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at the Dales Countryside Museum; and a chance to investigate the diet of owls at Sutton Bank. Kids can even get creative by making bat biscuits at the Fire Box Café near Hawes.
Following on from last year’s lockdown virtual Festival success, families will also be able to log into ‘In The Night Sky Live’ sessions from the comfort of their home, courtesy of the Space Detectives run by Jo Richardson, who is just one of six UK Space Champions working on behalf of the European Space Education Office.
Helen Dalton, Tourism Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park comments: “As well as being fun and enlightening, many of the events at this year’s Dark Skies Festival will focus even more on the need to appreciate the value of the night sky: that beyond its beauty it has a vital role in protecting not only our own health and wellbeing but also that of the natural world.”
For more programme information, including booking details go to www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk