Spring is very stunning in United Kingdom. I love the burst of colours on the road side, the chorus melodies of the birds in the morning, the gentle breeze of the spring swaying the buds and flowers, bumblebees and butterflies in the garden. It is the season for picnics, garden parties and outings to the beach. Spring is also considered as a great time for star gazing.
My husband and I love watching the night sky, my husband particularly so. In so many years of our marriage I have listened to him rambling about stars, constellations and his trip to planetarium as a child. We have sat together watching the night sky many times, trying to locate the Great Bear (known as Saptarishi in India). As part of a Hindu wedding ceremony, the bride and Groom are shown the Saptarishi constellation consisting the star Vashisht/Mizar and another close by tiny star, Alcor, referred as Arundati in India. As per the Hindu Legend, Sage Vashisht and Arundati were Husband and wife, and both were great seers in their own respect, were regarded highly by Vedic scholars . They are considered and cited as an ideal couple. Astronomically Alcor/Arundati and Mizar/Vashisht are binary stars and move together,even in their movements, they orbit around together on their center of mass. The closeness of the two stars and their movement represents and symbolizes marriage. Unlike in ancient days when the wedding took place at break of dawn, the wedding happens in broad day light where it is highly unlikely to spot the stars. The ritual remains part of the wedding ceremony as an allusion . This year being a milestone wedding anniversary, we decided to go star gazing in spring in search of Vashisht and Arundati.
Northumberland is considered as one of the best spots for star gazing. Kielder Water and forest park is part of the International dark skies park. International dark sky association aims to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting . Kielder Observatory is situated in Kielder forest, offering chances of seeing exceptional starry nights away from urban light pollution. It is truly an unique astronomical observatory, with many daily events,starting from the evening running till late night, with magical views of the star studded night and views of aurora.It is England s first International Dark sky Park and Europe s largest International Dark sky park. It is possible to visit the observatory in evening only with pre booked tickets. We booked for an event called Universe Full of Stars. It starts at 9.00 pm in the night , with talks on current understanding of Universe, Big bang, Milky way Galaxy and other galaxies, cosmic waves and lights. At the end of the talk, the staff show the telescopes that they use to observe the night skies and the night sky phenomena. It has ability to take the photos of the night sky. They allow you to view the sky through the telescope. As part of the tour there are manual telescopes set up on the terrace of the observatory and the staff guide you in looking at the night sky and identifying the stars and constellations. We had picked up a night of no moon day, hoping to get a clear view of the night sky, with many stars and galaxies in view. Unfortunately that evening happened to be a very cloudy one. The clouds did part slightly, and the staff were able to guide us to see some part of night sky which was not visible to the naked eye. We did manage to spot the Great Bear/The Plough or the Saptarishi and a few more stars, before the clouds came bounding to cover up the beautiful night sky. It was extremely cold standing out in the terrace of the observatory, we were happy to go inside the observatory for the end of talk. At the end of the talk, the observatory offers a complimentary coffee/tea or a hot Chocolate. The observatory’ s website claims that it serves the best hot Chocolate. It is indeed the best Hot chocolate and very much needed after the freezing time on the terrace.It is advised to dress in warm clothes even in spring and summer, given the location of the observatory and the time of the day. In spite, of the cold and the cloudy sky, visiting the observatory was a remarkable experience. We bought souvenir mugs from the observatory for ourselves.
There are hotels and B&B s in the Kielder Park and Kielder Waterside has luxury lodges with stargazing pods. We wanted unique and different experience so we opted to stay in a Shepherd’s Hut. Shepherd’s huts were primarily used during the lambing season from 15th century to 20th century. The huts are corrugated Iron wagons with wheels, for shepherds to stay in and watch over the sheep. They were just basic shelter with a roof. Now a days with addition of some basic modern amenities,they are perfect for camping/glamping. We chose a Shepherd’s hut called Rosie, in Buteland Stop , Bellingham. It is surrounded by breathtaking Northumberland Countryside. It was not far from Kielder Observatory by drive. Tucked away in the fields of Northumberland countryside, off the grid, away from the stress of the everyday life, it was idyllic and perfect for a bit of peace and quiet. We had a great time in the hut, sipping hot coffee, reading books, watching the sun set, listening to the sheep bleating, falling asleep listening to the rain falling on the corrugated roof. Waking up in the cold morning, making coffee and toast on small hob, having a warm breakfast huddled up in the cosy hut was such a memorable and unique experience. It reminded us that a small space could fit in all human needs. It had a little double bed, toilet, kitchenette, and log burning stove. I truly understood the concept of less is more. We don’t need big sprawling bungalows and a house full of material possessions to feel contentment and happiness. And to think about the shepherds staying in the hut, would not have had any of the comforts we were experiencing. They would have sat inside in cold and rain,stepping in and out in the rain and cold to tend to the sheep day after day during the lambing season. It was a humbling yet remarkable experience. We drove to Alnwick Castle in the day, explored the castle, which has appeared as Hogwarts in Harry Potter movies and in Downton Abbey. We also visited Barter bookstore. Barter Bookstore is a quirky secondhand bookstore situated in an old building, which used to be a railway station. It has an open fire, plenty of armchairs to sit and read. the old waiting rooms used as cafe s and has Model railways running on top of bookshelves. We browsed through the bookstore, bought a book on stargazing, and returned to the cosy confines of the Shepherd’s hut.
It was the remoteness and the unspoiled countryside which attracted us to try out Shepherd’s hut instead of a B&B or a hotel. We stayed two nights in the Shepherd’s hut one of the nights we visited Kielder Forest, the other night we could have driven to a pub or restaurant near by. But we chose to have dinner in Shepherd’s hut, heated up on the little hob, listening to the sheep bleat, watching rabbits and lambs hopping around in the fields, and the sky this night was more favorable for star gazing, than the previous night. We could spot the Great Bear, the binary stars Mizar/Vashisht and Alcor/Arundati.