23 November 2020
The lack of light pollution in the Brecon Beacons is just right for stargazing, so much so that this Welsh national park is one of only five destinations in the world to be granted International Dark Sky Reserve status.
The magical beauty of star-filled skies here is a perfect match for the wondrous earthly landscape of mountains and lakes. It’s the ideal setting for a romantic evening huddled together under the stars, for sparking your children’s imagination, or just learning more about the universe that surrounds us.
Stargazing is a simple activity to try and, on a clear evening, you can spot meteor showers, shooting stars and even the Milky Way shining in the Welsh night sky. If you are thinking of grabbing your binoculars and getting out there, here’s our guide to stargazing in the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Where to spot stars in the Brecon Beacons
The key to successful stargazing is that the sky needs to be as dark and clear as possible. This means you need locations without light pollution and that are away from the main towns and villages. Here are some of the best places to enjoy the dark skies of the Brecon Beacons in all their glory:
Usk Reservoir - this spot in the upper Usk Valley is protected from light pollution and has ample parking available. If you fancy making a day out of your stargazing, you can take a scenic walk around the reservoir, enjoy a picnic at one of the provided tables and then make the most of the night skies. This area is also flat if you fancy setting up a telescope to look at the stars.
Carreg Cennen - the ruins of the 13th-century Carreg Cannen castle sit atop a great limestone crag close to the river with wonderful views over the Carmenshire countryside. The night skies here are amongst the darkest in the Brecon Beacons making the castle a great choice for stargazing.
Hay Bluff - part of the Black Mountains and one of the highest peaks in the Brecon Beacons, Hay Bluff is located to the south of the popular town of Hay-on-Wye. The hill looks out over Shropshire and Powys and there’s easily accessible parking if you fancy stargazing here.
Llanthony Priory - this remote Augustinian priory has a beautiful setting in the secluded Vale of Ewyas where the lack of any light pollution means you can enjoy pristinely dark skies. Llanthony Priory is off the beaten track so is accessed via a single track road but you can’t beat the dramatic location.
Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre - referred to locally at the Mountain Centre, you’ll find lots of information and facilities at this site so it’s a good choice for families. The location outside of the village of Libernus near Brecon has stunning views over Pen-y-Fan and is a good choice for enjoying the wonders of the Welsh night sky.
Preparing for an evening of stargazing
The beauty of stargazing in the Brecon Beacons is that it’s accessible to everyone and there’s no need to spend a fortune on expensive equipment. Planning ahead, however, and bringing along a few key items will help you to get the most out of your evening of spotting stars.
- Evenings in the Brecon Beacons can get rather chilly so it’s a good idea to bring along several layers of clothing and have hats and gloves at the ready so that you can keep warm as the night-time temperature starts to drop.
- Remember that it will take your eyes some time to adapt to the dark night sky. It can take around 30 minutes for your eyes to make the adjustment and you should try and avoid further light pollution from torches and mobile phones. Red-light torches are best for night vision and will mean you can still see your surroundings; if using your phone, you should change the display to a night-time setting.
- A compass will help you to know which direction you're facing when you’re looking for particular constellations in the sky. Most smartphones have a compass app on them to help you work out north from south.
- Although you’ll be surprised at just how much can be seen with the naked eye, bringing along even a cheap pair of binoculars will help to enhance your view so that you can see even more stars in the sky.
- Bringing along a rug or folding chairs to sit on and a selection of food and drink will help ensure you are comfortable and can enjoy your evening under the stars.
What you can see in the Welsh night sky
Here are just some of the things to look out for during an evening of stargazing in the Brecon Beacons:
The Milky Way - the Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our solar system and contains billions of stars that appear as a hazy band of light close to the horizon. It’s best seen during the autumn when, on a clear night, you can watch the Milky Way stretching across the night sky. Look out for a smoky white band with darker ribbons running through it.
The Northern Lights - also known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are a multi-coloured natural light display which, if you're lucky, can be seen from all parts of Wales including the Brecon Beacons. Very dark skies are best for seeing the Northern Lights and you can check when they are most likely to be visible on the Aurora Watch UK website.
Shooting stars and meteor showers - shooting stars are actually particles called cosmic dust that are falling through the Earth’s atmosphere and, during the months of August, October and December, as we pass through clouds of space dust, you can see amazing meteor showers. Look out for the Draconids meteor shower, a fiery display of meteors that comes from the Draco constellation and lights up the night sky each October.
Constellations - there are 88 different constellations in the sky and prominent ones to look out for include The Plough which points to Polaris (The North Star) and Orion’s Belt which is next to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. An aptly named one to try and spot while you’re in Wales is Draco the Dragon - it’s a long curve of stars that swirls around Polaris in the northern part of the sky.
Planets - When looking out for planets in the sky, remember that stars twinkle but planets don’t. The five planets in our solar system that are visible in the night sky are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
International Space Station - The space station orbits the earth once every 90 minutes and you should be able to recognise this white dot as the brightest object in the night sky.
Helpful stargazing tools and websites
There’s no need to have any prior knowledge or experience to try your hand at stargazing, especially as there are lots of useful websites and apps that will help you pinpoint the specific stars, planets and constellations.
SkyView Lite is a free smartphone app that uses your phone’s camera and an augmented reality interface to show you the major constellations in the sky above you.
Star Walk 2 is another great smartphone app that uses GPS technology to identify stars and constellations for you when you point your camera at the sky.
Star and Planet Finder is an app that works the other way round. Simply tell the app the planet or star that you are looking to find and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.
Sky at Night - the BBC’s Sky at Night website has lots of helpful hints and tips with inspiring articles, a free astronomy podcast and an online planetarium which is updated every month and shows the things to look out in the night sky.
Go Stargazing - this online stargazing resource includes information on upcoming organised events throughout the UK and has a dark sky calendar showing the best and times to spot stars each month.
Dark Sky Discovery - download a free stargazing guide which includes star charts for spring, summer, autumn and winter showing what you’ll be able to see in the sky each season when you look either north or south.
Cottages that are perfect for stargazing
You’ll find a selection of Brecon Beacons cottages that are tucked away off the beaten track in scenic countryside locations that are just right for stargazing. Enjoy dark skies at their very best from these lovely holiday homes:
Box Barn Cottage | Sleeps 2 guests
This rural romantic retreat has stunning 360-degree views of the Usk Valley with little light pollution in the area. Grab a blanket and take a seat on the pretty patio area for a cosy evening of stargazing.
Bills Shepherds Hut | Sleeps 2 guests
Get away from it all with a stay at this quirky wooden shepherd’s hut that’s located at the base of the Black Mountains with access to a private lake and arboretum, just half a mile from the stunning Pwll Wrach Woods nature reserve.
Rhiannydd’s Stable | Sleeps 4 guests plus 1 dog
The hot tub at this welcoming barn conversion looks out over the Black Mountains and surrounding rolling countryside of the Brecon Beacons National Park. What better way to enjoy a spot of stargazing than by sinking into the relaxing bubbles?
Buzzard Lodge | Sleeps 6 guests plus 1 dog
If you fancy an idyllic glamping holiday, this eco-friendly safari lodge features a heavenly spot in the middle of the Brecon Beacons with a wood-fired hot tub and a fire pit so you can make the most of outside space and enjoy evenings under a canopy of stars.
If you fancy escaping to the Brecon Beacons, browse our full range of holiday cottages to find your perfect base.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.