Thursday, October 18, 2007

Starry, starry skies

Northumberland’s giant skies are rightly renowned for their lack of light pollution and the clear views afforded to those who want to gaze at the stars. Walking through a 5 o’clock field this morning, the sky was a little girl’s Disneyified dream: it looked like someone had grabbed generous handfuls of diamonds and hurled them across a backdrop of black velvet. Having recently finished reading Stardust, shooting stars were on my mind. Within minutes, there had been two to wish upon.

The bright, shiny, fake modern world makes us forget just how enveloping and dark real darkness is. Once, caught in a power-cutting storm while going to fetch the Grey Mare for her dinner, I was reminded of just how total it is. It’s surprising how much difference light from the village makes in the middle of a field. When they’re all switched off, you’re bent double against horizontal rain and your only illumination comes from the occasional flash of lightning, it would be very easy to become disorientated. Just the searching beam of a car’s headlamps on the coast road and the comforting three red buttons of the Chatton Mast at the foot of the Cheviots keeps you grounded.
Another more pleasant elemental experience also happened to me while walking back through a New Year horse field about two winters ago: my first, and so far, only view of the Northern Lights. The shifting and stretching colours dancing across the darkness left me transfixed. For once, I felt that over-used soubriquet awesome was justified.

13 comments:

mountainear said...

Pretty good skies here too - and I feel so privileged to live under them.

Mopsa said...

Ditto in Devon. I get neck ache looking up, because it's nigh impossible to turn away once hooked!

Hannah Velten said...

We've got fairly dark skies around here - East Sussex, but just on the horizon you can see the lights from the coastal towns. The best stars I experienced were in the Australian outback where, as you say, a blanket of stars on a completely black background - fantastic. Lucky you, to have seen the Nothern Lights. How is the grey mare today?

Gill said...

From my window here there is nothing between me and the stars but a few fields and mountains, it can be amazing. I saw the Northern lights about 2 years ago and they were very special.

Anonymous said...

West Wales is still fairly free of light pollution. Living in a city one is deprived of a good view of the stars, and I'm sure some kids don't actually realise just how eerily impressive a cold, cloudless starry night can really be...

IsobelMagsBuchan said...

The best view I ever had of stars was lying on top of a mountain in Turkey. I lay there for hours unable to believe just how many there were. It was so dark around me that the sky was like a traffic jam of stars. I have never seen anything like it since, no matter how low the light pollution.

Anonymous said...

isobelmagsbuchan - the trouble is it isn't just the light pollution - there is a lot of low level traffic pollution, pollen and all sorts that clogs up the sky. then there is a double whammy in that because the sheer volume of stars isn't apparent, people haven't got the time to allow their eyes to properly adjust to the dark.

http://www.cpre.org.uk/campaigns/landscape/light-pollution/light-pollution-in-your-area

Mind you, it looks as though the CPRE are on the case...

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Next weekend I will be going to see my brother in County Clare Ireland. Along that lane there is no light pollution whatsoever and there are clouds of stars behind clouds of stars in a celestial Sistine chapel - at least when the clouds have gone. Nice post again.

Iota said...

I'm told that if you drive out of the city here on a clear night, you can have the most amazing view of the sky. I'm a bit spooked by darkness though. Not sure I could relax enough to enjoy it. Isn't that sad?

GeraniumCat said...

M&M, I envy you the Northern Lights, that's the second time I've been told I missed them (the other time was in Canada when my hotel room looked out at an expanse of blank wall!) But, like you, I think our Northumbrian sky is wonderful.

Marianne said...

Another reason to visit Northumberland - the chance of Northern Lights as well as glorious skies. We have lovely skies here on clear nights. I wonder if your are even better?

Rob Clack said...

Best sky I saw was on a sleeper train from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. Same story - no light pollution, just fabulous sky.

I especially like YP's "clouds of stars behind clouds of stars in a celestial Sistine chapel".

@themill said...

I love that feeling of a sky so vast and empty, yet totally overflowing, if you get my meaning...