Festival shows off district as centre for stargazing

Martin Whipp admiring the Milky Way above the new facility at Grewelthorpe.
Martin Whipp admiring the Milky Way above the new facility at Grewelthorpe.

Grewelthorpe will be shown off as a centre for stargazing at this year's Dark Skies Festival.

One of the county's largest public telescopes has been unveiled at the Lime Tree Farm Observatory, thanks to five years of hard work from the York Astronomical Society and retired farmers Peter and Irene Foster.

All pictures by Martin Whipp.

All pictures by Martin Whipp.

The Fosters welcomed John Wall's half-tonne telescope to their farm when it was threatened to be scrapped at its home on the edge of London.

After successfully gaining planning permission for their own observatory, Peter and Irene have enjoyed welcoming visitors from across the district to stargaze and enjoy the nature reserves they have created.

Peter said: “I’ve always had an interest in the stars so this has been a wonderful project. The farm is not really viable anymore so we’ve used the land to create a place where people can come wildlife spotting, pond dipping or meditating.

"When folk come here from Harrogate and Leeds and look up they all say ‘wow’. They’ve never seen so many stars. It really is spectacular and we can even see the Northern Lights on rare occasions.

The observatory.

The observatory.

"When Martin from the astronomy club knocked on our door and asked if we’d be interested in having a big telescope on the farm we were over the moon. We were happy to fund the construction of the observatory and now it’s completed we want people to come and enjoy the facility and admire the starry skies we love so much here in Nidderdale.

"It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to have this telescope come our way, and it is a pleasure to be able to accommodate it here. It is such an important telescope, and it is a big deal in the field. We have had a very positive reaction.

"I am hoping that we can continue to attract more people. We would also like to build a classroom, at the moment we can fit about 20 people into the observatory, but we would like a bigger building."

Chairman of York Astronomical Society, Martin Whipp, said: “It would have been a terrible waste to see the telescope broken up for scrap. It’s a really powerful instrument which really needs a dark sky location.

Martin Whipp pictured inside Lime Tree Farm Observatory.

Martin Whipp pictured inside Lime Tree Farm Observatory.

"Dismantling and transporting the telescope 200 miles north was a huge task. Then we had to get planning permission for an observatory, create the building from scratch and restore the telescope, not to mention lay down two tonnes of concrete just to provide a solid base.

"At times I thought we’d bitten off more than we could chew But now that people have looked through the scope it has given us all a massive kick.

“We had our first proper public viewing session back in December and feedback was brilliant. It’s been an herculean job to get this project together, drawing on the donations, expertise, time and goodwill of countless people.

“But when you can see dust lanes in a galaxy whose light has taken 2.5 million years to reach the Earth you know you are in a special place. And that’s the thrill we want to share with other people at the observatory.

"The biggest appeal is its location. If you live in a city or a town, you may have only seen the brightest stars. You can see so much more at the observatory."

Light pollution maps published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England last year showed Nidderdale and Yorkshire’s national parks as being amongst the nation’s darkest areas.

The observatory is running monthly star events and taking part in the Dark Skies Festival with a special viewing opportunity on February 22.

To book a place, call Nidderdale AONB on 01423 712950 or go to: www.facebook.com/LimeTreeObservatory and www.darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk to see the full programme of over 100 events from February 18-26.

Pictures by Martin Whipp