News Contemplate the cosmos on this Welsh astro-tourism trail

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Contemplate the cosmos on this Welsh astro-tourism trail

The Cambrian Mountains destination of Wales recently opened a new astro-tourism trail that promises visitors more stars than an Oscars’ afterparty.

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Following the region’s recent accolade as one of the top spots in the country for stargazing, with six sites awarded Dark Sky Discovery Status, the new trail covers a distance of over 50 miles and is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the North Star, The Great Plough and Orion.

With the popularity of astro-tourism and astrology on the rise – Cosmopolitan magazine says that 74% of its readers are ‘obsessed’ with astrology – it seems that it’s stargazing’s time to shine. From astro-photographers to keen astronomers and adventurers looking for a glimpse of the cosmos, more people than ever before are looking to escape to the stars on their travels. And who could blame them?

“The Cambrian Mountains is one of the best places in the world to view dark skies,” says Dafydd Wyn Morgan, Project Manager for the Dyfodol Cambrian Future Project, which runs the trail. “The clear skies offer incredible views of the Milky Way, meteor showers and the International Space Station when it passes over.”

How to go stargazing

Our guide to the new trail has all the info you need on where to stay, where to eat and what to see at each site. Armed with a pair of binoculars, a Cambrian Mountains and Elan Valley Dark Sky Guide which details what to look out for throughout the year and a flask of something hot to drink, you can enjoy a starlit stroll at one of the sites, or camp out for an evening of constellation-spotting.

Always check the weather forecast before heading out (and the Dark Skies Calendar for the best time to visit), and make sure you let people know where you’re going before you set off. Don’t forget to wear warm outdoor clothing and pack your mobile phone, some food and a couple of torches with fresh batteries.

Although they’re located in the wilderness, all Dark Sky Sites are accessible and offer clear views of the night sky. There’s plenty to do here during the days too, from walking trails and wildlife spotting to enjoying real ales and home-cooked food in traditional Welsh pubs.

Y Star Inn Car Park, Dylife (Powys)

Located just off the B4518, nine miles northwest of Llanidloes, the Y Star Inn is an aptly named 17th-century Drover’s Inn that’s one of the best spots in the region for stargazing. Regular events are held in the car park by Cambrian Mountains, but you can visit year-round armed with your Dark Sky Guide and telescope or binoculars.

We recommend booking a stay at the inn, which has seven cosy en-suite bedrooms decorated in a traditional style. If it’s a bit cloudy or cold, pop into the restaurant for a meal while waiting for the skies to clear. The delicious menu includes dishes like Welsh lamb and mint pie or locally caught Clywedog Trout with white wine and fennel, washed down with a range of local ales.

Or why not head for the small town of Llanidloes, where you can spice things up with a curry at the Raj Mahal ­– their banquet nights on Wednesday and Sundays include a three-course meal for less than £15.

Y Bwa/The Arch, Cwmystwyth (Ceredigion)

The next Dark Sky Discovery Site on our list is the Hafod Arch, close to Devil’s Bridge and just 15 miles from Aberystwyth. Named after the impressive masonry arch you’ll see from the car park (built in 1810 to mark the Golden Jubilee of King George II), the site is located well away from local light pollution and offers a spectacular place to stargaze – plus, there’s a picnic site too.

You’ll find plenty of accommodation nearby but the Hafod Hotel in nearby Pontarfynach is a good bet. With 13 guestrooms and free Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to check out the Dark Skies Calendar at your leisure and plan your star gazing adventure from the comfort of your room – or step out onto the hotel’s terrace to enjoy views of the night sky.

The restaurant here serves up a family-friendly menu, with local rainbow trout and laver bread a particular favourite. Fancy venturing a bit further? The Miner’s Arms in the heart of the Ystwyth Valley has an impressive selection of real ales and a home-cooked menu on offer, the perfect place to warm up after a night under the clear, star-studded skies.

Pont ar Elan, Cwm Elan Valley (Powys)

Pont ar Elan car park is just one of five star-gazing sites in the Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park. The car park is quite remote, so pack some blankets and a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate alongside your telescope and binoculars. Don’t forget your swimming costume as the river here is great for a wild swim in the summer.

The entire 45,000 acres of the Elan Valley has been granted silver-tier status by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), so it’s protected against light pollution, meaning you’ll enjoy some of the best stargazing around. Check out the monthly Eyes on the Night Sky Guide on the Elan Valley website for the latest info on what to spot and when, and keep an eye on the What’s On page for Dark Sky events.

Rest your head at the beautiful Elan Estate at Penbont House. This bed and breakfast next to the Pen-y-Garreg dam has five en-suite rooms and a tearoom that serves up a tempting afternoon tea (complete with home-made cakes), not to mention regular events like stargazing for beginners and astro-photography nights – ideal if you’re just getting to grips with the wonders of the night sky.

It’s then just a short drive to nearby Rhayader, where you’ll find plenty of places to cosy up with a pint, or perhaps something sweet – the Brasserie at the Elan cooks up a sticky toffee pudding to die for.

Coed Y Bont, Pontrhydfendigaid (Ceredigion)

This pretty patch of community woodland just on the edge of the village of Pontrhydfendigaid (often shorted to the easier-to-pronounce ‘Bont’) was set up by enterprising locals from the nearby village. There’s no shortage of walking trails and geocaching routes to explore here, as well as Tan Y Bwlch beach and the sandy shores of Penparcau Beach, a popular spot with families.

Book an en-suite room at the Red Lion Hotel in the village centre for views over the River Teifi, and enjoy a hearty home-cooked curry or a juicy burger in the restaurant before a night of stargazing. Or drive to the nearby market town of Tregaron (just 10 minutes away) to treat yourself to some freshly cooked fish from their ever-popular fish and chip shop, before heading out for a night of astro-photography.

Cronfa Ddŵr Llyn Brianne Reservoir, Rhandirmwyn (Sir Gâr/Carmarthenshire Carmarthenshire)

A haven for bird watchers, walkers, anglers and mountain bikers by day, stargazers by night, Llyn Brianne Reservoir is also the highest reservoir in Britain at a towering 229 feet. In springtime, look south at 10pm for Sirius, the brightest star in the sky which appears to sparkle many colours; in summer at midnight you can spot the Summer Triangle: the stars Altair, Vega and Deneb.

Just a short drive away you’ll find the historic market town of Llandovery on the River Tywi near the Black Mountain. It’s worth the climb to see Llandovery Castle, or head out to the RSPB Nature Reserve at nearby Gwenffrwd-Dinas.

Stay at the historic King’s Head Inn in the town centre – parts of the building date back to the pre-sixteenth century – which offers 9 en-suite bedrooms and free onsite parking. The restaurant is packed with character, serving up delicious options like confit duck leg or mushroom and brie wellington as well as a reasonably priced Sunday lunch for the family.

Alternatively, head out to eat at the Castle Hotel Restaurant for a selection of real Welsh ales on tap and a daily chalkboard highlighting fresh fish and shellfish in summer, local game in winter.

Mynydd Llanllwni Mountain, Llanllwni (Sir Gâr/Carmarthenshire)

Located just south of the village of Llanllwni, Mynydd Llanllwni Mountain’s recently awarded Dark Sky status attracts stargazers in their droves. Download the Skysafari planetarium app and you can hold your phone up to identify celestial objects in the night sky, like neighbour galaxy Andromeda (best seen on Autumn nights) which appears like a faint oval of light.

After a night of celestial adventure, bed down at the Cross Hands Hotel in nearby Llanybydder, with en-suite rooms in a luxurious listed building dating back to the mid-19th century. The hotel restaurant’s evening menu has a locally sourced focus, with cockles sourced from Penclawdd, renowned for its seafood. Elsewhere in town, The Farmer is best known for its specialty burgers, perfect fast food for a night under the stars.

Remember, you don’t need specialist, expensive equipment to stargaze. A simple planisphere can help you get to know the constellations, while a star map smartphone app can also be helpful, as can a pair of binoculars.

Which of the new Dark Sky sites will you be checking out on your trip to Wales this year?

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