The wonder of Welsh dark skies

The wonder of Welsh dark skies

Astronomer Allan Trow BSc, FRAS, guides us across dark skies from bolthole Erw Rhys.

Allan Trow BSc, FRAS is an astronomy educator and one of the founders of Dark Sky Wales, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the night sky and the impact of light pollution. Allan tells us about his recent stay with Boltholes below…

I was born and raised in the Rhondda Valley in a small village called Wattstown (also known as the Cwtch). After finishing my education in 1989 at Porth County Comprehensive School, I began a career in engineering as an apprentice at the Royal Mint. I spent ten years working there, gaining valuable skills and experience in precision engineering and problem-solving, which later proved beneficial for my astronomical pursuits.

In 2001, I returned to education as a mature student, first studying science with the Open University before enrolling in the University of Glamorgan's newly formed Astronomy and Space undergraduate program. I graduated with a first-class honours degree in Astronomy & Space in 2004 and was immediately hired by the university to deliver its community-based astronomy program. Within a year, I was lecturing on the university's main award, where I remained until 2010.

It was then that I left the university to establish Dark Sky Wales Training Services, a company that provides adult education and tourism. The business has grown from strength to strength and now provides bespoke products to Welsh visitors from all over the world. Dark Sky Wales Training Services has also worked closely with local authorities, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), National Trust, companies, and the general public to develop a sensible approach to dark sky awareness.

Stargazing experiences developed by Dark Sky Wales now see, on average, 35,000 people annually and provide a valuable, informal way to enjoy and learn about the night sky. Astrotourism has seen enormous growth over the last decade as people become more environmentally aware and look for more educational and recreational activities. Wales is ideally placed for such explorations as nearly 20% of the country has internationally recognised and protected dark sky status! This is set to increase with the addition of the Anglesey, Gower and Clwyddian Range AONBs applying for protected status.

What sets Wales apart is not just the quantity, but the quality of its dark skies. With minimal light pollution, stargazers can enjoy unparalleled views of the cosmos. This makes Wales a world leader in the protection of its night sky. Enjoying the night sky is a straightforward thing to do! All you need is a pair of eyes and a dark location. To help further, just download a stargazing app such as Celestron SkyPortal and use the software to guide you around the night sky.

But remember, whatever the time of year, it can get quite cold, so be prepared with warm clothing, a drink, and most importantly remember a red torch, a mobile phone, and to let people know where you are. During my career, I have been fortunate enough to travel the length and breadth of Wales exploring some of its darkest locations. I enjoy many special places, such as the Cambrian Mountains, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Brecon Beacons, but Erw Rhys on Anglesey is a hidden gem.

Warm and welcoming, this secluded property provides the ideal location to explore the coastal regions of Anglesey. Spread out in front of the cottage is Church Bay, a small but wonderful beach that has some of the most incredible sunsets (a good place to see the fabled green flash) and a good location for Milky Way chasers later in the year. The cottage is isolated and is surrounded by dark skies, allowing good views of the night sky above.

The best thing about Erw Rhys is its isolation and accessibility to the remainder of the island and the Snowdonia / Eryri mountain range, another internationally recognised area for its outstanding dark skies. There is plenty for the avid astronomer and astrophotographer to love about this location, but also for the total novice who wants to experience the dark skies of Wales.

Book your stargazing hideaway in the hills at Erw Rhys here.

If Erw Rhys has been snapped up, be sure to take a look at the equally beautiful Beachcomber’s, sitting in an acre of perfect seclusion on the north west coast of Anglesey – think sea, sky, wind and waves.

Discover Dark Sky Wales, their experiences, workshops and more here. Keep your eyes peeled, as their workshops will be heading to North Wales next year!