“Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman.
This has always been a favourite quote of mine. It reminds me that all will be ok if we keep our head up and focus on what surrounds us rather than what consumes us.
Yes, this quote is centred around the sun, but the same goes for the night sky – and actually, although a moonlit sky may not cast quite as many shadows, there is so much out there; so much to learn, so much to distract us, and so much to bring us back down to earth.
So when looking for family activities to fill in the time while enjoying the great outdoors in the cooler months, we decided to take a leaf out of Walt Whitman’s book and turn our gaze to the sky. Time to explore the ‘Origins of the Universe’.
Kielder Observatory has been on our radar for some time, but we were yet to book on to an event. And with Mars at its biggest and brightest in almost 20 years, there’s never been a better time to learn about our universe, its origins, and how it is shaping the future.
Kielder Observatory sits within Kielder Water and Forest Park, an International Dark Sky Park and the second largest area of protected night sky in Europe.
We’re incredibly lucky to have it on our doorstep, and there are some seriously inspiring people working on site and behind the scenes to ensure stargazing is as special as it should be.
With hard-hitting estimations such as that 85% of the UK’s population have never seen a truly dark sky or experienced the sense of wonder that a clear night filled with billions of stars can give, it’s their job to share this fascinating experience with us.
A rugged track leads to the observatory, set at a height just a stone’s throw from Kielder Water; but our experience with nature begins well before we start the incline to this stargazing sanctuary.
As we cruise along the winding roads of Kielder, making our way around the water, we begin to notice all that surrounds us – simply because it is such a remote route – so quiet, so peaceful, and so effortlessly gorgeous.
The indecisive October weather means that we’re greeted to the Dark Sky Park with a rainbow – a full, sky-scraping beauty, leaping out of the water and falling into the hills.
We chase the rainbow and on this occasion, our pot of gold is Kielder Observatory. Sunshine, storms, rainbows. As we ride through the dramatic change in seasons, we experience all the elements in this breathtaking natural environment.
And the beauty isn’t about to stop. On arrival, we’re met in the car park and whisked into the main observatory building. Groups are small and social distancing is easy.
So, ‘The Origins of the Universe’ – what’s it all about? The universe itself is unimaginably large, old and complex. But how did it all begin? Do we have the answers? From our earthly perspective, humans have sought solutions for years.
This educational course takes us on an incredible journey through space and time, out into the cosmos to unlock some of the mysteries our universe has to offer.
From our solar system to the large-scale structure of the universe and on to the Big Bang, the experts guide us through our current perceptions and the important discoveries made along the way.
This cosmic voyage gives an excellent understanding of the physical universe as a whole and addresses what it means to exist within it, in an interesting and easy-to-follow way.
It’s worth noting that the observatory hosts a number of different courses – some for kids, some for the whole family, and some for those who already know a thing or two about the night sky.
Whatever experience you go for, expect to navigate telescopes, play with high-tech stargazing kit, view objects from our own galaxy, learn from some of the best in the business and take it all in with a hot chocolate as you wrap up warm and gaze into the glorious universe.
We leave feeling truly inspired – full of hot chocolate and newfound knowledge.
Consumed by the uncertainty that surrounds us in the current climate, it’s hard to truly switch off and focus, but there’s never been a better time to venture out of comfort zones, learn something new and explore what is beyond us.
A trip to Kielder Observatory – and the natural beauty surrounding it – puts everything into perspective. It reminds us that we should always look at the bigger picture, and there’s no bigger picture than the night sky.
As Walt Whitman said, keep your gaze up, and it will all fall into place.
In line with current Government guidelines, Kielder Observatory is currently closed. Stay tuned online via, kielderobservatory.org for more information.