Spectacularly unique Stargazing in the South of Scotland

by Sara Barton, 14th October 2023
Caerlaverock Castle | Dumfries & Galloway
Spectacularly unique Stargazing in the South of Scotland

Did you know that the South of Scotland is home to the UK’s first International Dark Sky Park at the heart of the Galloway Forest Park? There you can see about 7,000 stars with the naked eye. That’s compared to only 100 normally visible from a town or urban setting. Moffat, the UK’s first Dark Sky Town, is here too and we even have our own Planetarium. Want to know where to go and what to see? Read on, because Stargazing Starts Here.

What not to miss

Where: Galloway Forest Park

By day the Galloway Forest Park hums with wildlife and offers fantastic trails to hike or cycle. But at night, the Dark Sky Park comes into its own. The exceptional darkness due to controls on light pollution allows you to see parts of the night sky not usually visible. You could be one of the few people in the UK to see our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which due to the sheer number of stars it contains, appears like wispy cloud running across the sky.

With the designation of Dark Sky Park, Galloway Forest Park enjoys some of the best views and conditions for stargazing. Make your way to any of the three visitor centres in the forest park, Clatteringshaws, Glentrool or Kirroughtree for easy access and information points.

The Bruce’s Stone in the Galloway Forest Park near Loch Trool.

Dark Sky Town

Where: Moffat

Moffat is Europe’s very first Dark Sky town and is home to The Moffat Community Observatory with a professional telescope offering beautiful views of the night sky. The team at the observatory run bookable Introduction to Astronomy sessions on a volunteer basis – it is free but donations are welcome and sessions must be booked in advance.
The town has dimmed night-time lighting to enhance viewing. Don’t forget the moon has a big impact on night-time viewing, so plan your stargazing when there is no bright moon at night as this is when the skies will be at their darkest.

Moffat Observatory, Moffat Observatory
Moffat Community Observatory.

Where: Kirkcudbright

Not far from the Dark Sky Park in the Galloway Forest you can get an even closer look at the stars, the International Space Station and take a virtual trip to the edge of our universe at the Dark Space Planetarium. The immersive Planetarium domed cinema screen gives you the chance to feel like space is all around you. There are interactive exhibits such as trying on an astronaut’s gloves to understand the complexity of trying to work while wearing this protective equipment. A great place to explore space, while keeping your feet on the ground! And this autumn and winter the Planetarium has launched an evening series of talks about a variety of subjects relating to space, so check those out on our Events page.

Dark Space Planetarium, Kirkcudbright.

Night-time experiences

Dark Skies Tours

Of course, not everyone looks up at the night sky and is happy to just stare. Some will want to know what exactly they are looking at and for you we recommend booking an experienced guide to show you around.
Matthew, the Dark Sky Ranger will teach you how to navigate by the stars as well as setting up what you will see in the night sky as darkness falls. From spotting bright stars and planets as the sunlight fades, to seeing our own, Milky Way Galaxy become clearer and catching a glimpse of satellites, shooting stars and sometimes the Northern Lights. This is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Head out with the Dark Sky Ranger for a guide to the stars.

Star Picnic and Stargazing Experiences

Join Elizabeth Tindall for a Star Picnic or for her Darkness and Stargazing Experiences as she leads you on a magical tour of the night sky. Working as a Biosphere Dark Sky Ranger in the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park and the surrounding area, especially the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, Elizabeth specialises in ensuring guests can return home and find the stars and constellations for themselves. Elizabeth reckons food tastes better outside; so imagine food outside in the dark!

Darkness and Stargazing Experience with Freelance Ranger, Elizabeth Tindal, Kim Ayres, Freelance Ranger, Elizabeth Tindal
Fancy a picnic under the stars? Head out with Elizabeth for a unique experience.

Night cycling

The Galloway Activity Centre at Loch Ken offers guided night-time cycling and laser tag as regular activities throughout the year. And once a year at their Charity Wild Swim event there is a night-time swim in Loch Ken too. If that sounds too scary, perhaps you’d prefer a go on their Giant Swing in the dark!
There is also the option to really soak up the stars if you choose to stay overnight in one of the Eco-Bothies with wonderful night sky views.

There’s a night time cycle option once a month at the Galloway Activity Centre near Castle Douglas.

Out of this World

Where: Crawick Multiverse, Sanquar

This amazing land art installation allows you to enjoy cosmology, science and art on a 55-acre former open cast coal mine now transformed into a striking landscape of distinctive landforms. The vision is that of renowned landscape architect Charles Jencks. Run by the Crawick Multiverse Trust from the appropriately named Coalface visitor centre, the venue offers special events that allow a fantastic chance to gaze up at the night sky within this wonderful landscape. In addition from March to October it is possible for campervans and motorhomes to stay over for one night, giving you an uninterupted view of the stunning night sky. A music festival in early autumn and the summer solstice are prime examples of ideal times to visit.

Come to one of the evening events for excellent star gazing in this cosmic landscape.

Where to park and gaze

Dumfries & Galloway

Dark Sky Park – The Dark Sky Park covers a lot of territory and there are some recommended sites to stop safely and look upwards.

  • Kirroughtree Visitor Centre
  • Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre
  • Glentrool Visitor Centre
  • April – October only – Raiders Road – Check on their site for up-to-date info.
  • Moffat Community Observatory
  • Galloway Astronomy Centre
McDiarmid Memorial, Langholm.

Scottish Borders

The Borders might not have the same Dark Sky designation but there are still excellent star gazing opportunities here too. Again there are some good sites within Forestry and Land properties with Newcastleton particularly offering four waymarked walking trails, some with open canopy offering a great vantage point of the night sky.

  • Newcastleton Priesthill car park
  • Upper/Lower Cheviot Car Parks
  • Coldingham Bay Beach car park
  • Megget Reservoir Dam, near Selkirk
  • Alemoor Reservoir, Roberton, Hawick
Hundy Mundy under the stars.