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Welsh valley named one of the best in the world for stargazing

09 Apr 2024 6 minute read
The night sky above Wales

New research has revealed the official DarkSky parks around the world that are off the beaten track, but highly recommended by visitors – with one Welsh entry making the global top ten.

Global search data, Google reviews and AllTrails scores for over 122 DarkSky parks were analysed by walking experts Inghams, with the final rankings reflecting which parks around the world provide the best experience for stargazers.

Those with low Google searches but high visitor review scores were ranked in the new index to reveal the best starry night experiences around the world.

Starry nights

Topping the list of the top 15 starry night experiences is Canada’s Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park which has an incredibly high review score of 4.9 on Google and 4.8 on AllTrails, whilst still flying under the radar with less than 1,500 Google searches a month.

The top 15

Top 15 World Parks for the Best Starry Night Experience

The majority of official DarkSky parks are located in the USA, and they are well represented within the global index rankings, with North Carolina’s Mayland Earth to Sky Park in joint third place and the UBarU Camp and Retreat Center in Texas ranking fifth.

However, Europe’s stunning DarkSky parks are also highlighted in Ingham’s Starry Night Experience Index, with the Elan Valley Estate in Wales coming out as the ninth best stargazing experience in the world, Greece’s Ainos National Park on Kefalonia ranking third and De Borshplaat in the Netherlands ranking eighth.

Craig Goch Reservoir Dam, Elan Valley. Picture by Adrian Farwell. (CC BY 3.0)

The solo Welsh entry, Elan Valley was praised by Inghams who said: “Nestled in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains, Elan Valley’s Trust has gone to great care to protect the night time environment and raise awareness about the fragility of dark skies.

“Before settling in for a night of stargazing, visitors can explore the rolling hills and incredible dams and bridges found here.”

The Elan Valley (Welsh: Cwm Elan) is a river valley situated to the west of Rhayader, in Powys – often referred to as the “Welsh Lake District” by tourists to Wales. It covers 70 square miles (180 km2) of lake and countryside.

The valley contains the Elan Valley Reservoirs and Elan Village, designed by architect Herbert Tudor Buckland as part of the same scheme. Elan Village is the only purpose-built Arts and Crafts “Model Village” in Wales.

It is also famous for its picturesque scenery. Over 80% of the valley is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and a popular cycle trail, the Elan Valley Trail, makes a loop from Rhayader around the reservoirs. Part of the trail overlaps with a spur of National Cycle Route 81 (Lon Cambria).

Since 2015, the Elan Valley has been designated an International Dark Sky Park.

Brutal history

Whilst offering breathtaking views today, the Elan valley is an area steeped in controversial place in Welsh history owing to its formation, and the clearances that occurred in order to create the dams that supply water to Birmingham.

Jon Gower reviewed a landmark book titled The Elan Valley Clearance back in 2020 which goes into painstaking detail into the lost places and communities that, to this day, remain largely forgotten – with Tryweryn becoming an often sole-remembered figurehead of a process of Welsh resource extraction that continues to this day.

The Elan Valley Clearance

Jon wrote at the time: “The fate of Tryweryn, and the inundation of the Welsh speaking community at Capel Celyn to slake the city of Liverpool’s thirst for water is well known and the name reverberates even today.  But the dispossessions in the catchments of the rivers Elan and Claerwen in mid Wales are much less known, or remarked upon, or mourned.

“David Lewis Brown in chronicling – as the cover blurb has it – “The fate of the people and places flooded by the 1892 Elan Valley Reservoir Scheme” reveals those tight threads of community which were frazzled or sometimes cut entirely when the rapidly-expanding city of Birmingham managed to get an Act of Parliament passed.

“It allowed it to tap the waters of the rivers Elan and Claerwen, flooding parts of their watersheds.  The city swiftly bought over 45,000 acres of land and set about clearing remote, upland valleys where almost 300 men and women and children lived before the engineers moved in.”

Elan Valley today

Anne Williams, a Director at Inghams, commented: “One of the best things about a walking holiday is being able to explore the world’s most beautiful landscapes during both daylight and nighttime hours.

“Our customers who visit Austria, Switzerland and Italy are totally spellbound by the incredible skies above at night; mountains, valleys, lakes and forests come alive in the moonlight and without big city light pollution interfering, travellers can take the time to admire the celestial wonders above.

“The organisations and parks that are protecting and conserving our dark skies are doing an incredible job at preserving the natural wonders of our planet, however to keep our natural landscapes as unspoilt as possible, there are a few things we can all remember to do whilst exploring:

  1. Leave No Trace. The one rule to remember is to try and leave no trace when visiting natural trails or environments – this means taking everything you bring in back out with you, including food, wrappers, bottles and other waste.
  2. Stay On Designated Trails. In order to minimise soil erosion and damaging the environment surrounding trails, ensure you stick to established trails and paths – and avoid creating shortcuts or new trails.
  3. Don’t Take Souvenirs From Your Walk. In order to maintain environments and ecosystems as much as possible, never take souvenirs such as plants, flowers, berries, shells, rocks or animal parts. If you believe you’ve come across something of significance, leave it where you found it and report to the local authorities.”

To read the full research revealing the best DarkSky stargazing experiences around the world, visit:

Read more about David Lewis Brown’s remarkable book, The Elan Valley Clearance here.

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1 month ago

Be nice if street lights in Dolgellau were turned off at night from 23.59 to 05.59 then not only saving energy but alowing better sky viewing.

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