Wednesday, 21 November 2012

In the dark of the Dales

As our memories of the dog days of summer fade like the afternoon light of autumn, it’s easy to see why at this time of year many of us turn to the habits of the animal world and find a cosy spot to hibernate in.

A full moon above Embsay Crag, Wharfedale

But there are some people who refuse to let the reduced sunlight reduce their enjoyment of the National Park.

One of the simplest and loveliest things to do is just look up. The night sky is truly a wonder, and with so few street lights in the Dales there’s little light pollution to ruin the sparkle of a sky laden with stars and planets. The annual Orionid meteor shower in late October can be stunning on a clear night.

If you’re not content with just stargazing, at points between dusk and dawn in the autumn you can also spot Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Venus. Plus there’s always the moon (made from Wensleydale cheese of course) to wonder at.

And just think - the nights are at their longest, so there’s even more time to enjoy the night sky. Dust off your deck chairs and grab a blanket, some binoculars and a big mug of hot chocolate, and get stargazing.

But don’t get your twinkling lights confused!

If it’s low and moving it might be a fell runner. The Swaledale Outdoors Shop in Reeth holds a monthly Full Moon Run through the winter. “Head torches essential”, they say. Local man Brian Stallwood loves a head torch fell run around Attermire Scar near Settle, while Tina Spence is out “rain or shine” every Sunday with Askrigg Ladies. She recommends some hi-vis clothing to go with the head torch.

The 12-hour Three Peaks walk gets even more
challenging during the darker months.
Or maybe it’s the front lights from a mountain bike? Our Facebook friend Jackie Cole says there are some great bridleways in the Yorkshire Dales to get out on, day or night. One of her favourites is the Settle Loop on the new Pennine Bridleway.

Another friend on Facebook, Paula Bray, likes nothing more than heading out on an evening with a full moon and hard frost to tramp over Lea Green and Yarnbury.

Although later in the year much of the wildlife of the Dales has migrated or started their hibernation, there are still opportunities to get close to nature. The distinctive hoot of an owl can echo across a dale after dark, foxes stay active year round, and in autumn red squirrels bury food to see them through the winter. 

Now all of that lot may seem like fun, but it’s nothing compared to the pub. It’s seems the warming wood fires and even warmer welcomes of our local hostellers are amongst the favourite autumn evening activities in the Dales. And a few locally-brewed pints go a long way to keeping you warm on the walk home after closing time.

And cue the twinkling stars…
On Wednesday 28 November the National Trust is running a Moonlit Night Walk from Buckden in Wharfedale starting at 18:30. Please contact the National Trust to confirm details and book your place – call 01729 830 416 or email

And on Saturday 1 December you might like to pop along to Hawes in Wensleydale at 16:30 to see lights of another kind with the switching on of the village’s Christmas lights and the arrival of Santa!

For more events in the National Park visit

A little note of caution.
Please remember to exercise common sense if you decide to explore the Dales after dark and follow the Countryside Code as you would during the day.

Our tips? Make sure you tell someone where you are going; wear suitable clothing as it can get very cold at night (consider high visibility clothing, particularly if your walk involves some roadside sections); take suitably bright torches with spare batteries so you can see the path and avoid falling down a hole or into a river; have plenty of navigation options – including maps, compasses and GPS equipment – if you are going out on rights of way, as things can look pretty different after dark; and remember your personal safety at night time, too. For more info see