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 

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Well, we survived another ‘Starcamp’ up at Kielder in Northumberland. Just! Regular readers (hello, Mum!) might remember how, back in March, when we attended the spring event,


the weather was unusually...

suspiciously... kind, so kind in fact, that we were able to pull off our wellies and shuck off our waterproof coats and sunbathe outside our camper. One day the temperature actually climbed to ‘hot’ and for the first time ever, we sat outside the pub at the end of the campsite and ate outdoors.

I  took photographs to prove it wasn’t a dream.

Sitting outside the pub that sunny Saturday afternoon, shielding my eyes from the brilliant spring Sun and eating a rather gorgeous chicken curry I said to Stella, jokingly: “We’ll pay for this in October...!” That, it turned out, was me poking fate in the eye with a very sharp stick because during the October Starcamp it rained and rained and rained. Day and night. So much rain fell from the sky, that I’m sure I saw a guy at the other end of the campsite from us, building a big boat and rounding up pairs of animals...

And as if the constant rain wasn’t bad enough, as an added bonus we were there when Hurricane Ophelia blew in from America. Being in a folding camper - which is basically a large tent fitted to a trailer - with 70 and 80 mph wind gusts slapping at you is not fun, I can tell you - especially if you’re a recently- adopted ex-rescue cat which doesn’t like noise. So, I ended up taking Jess down to the ‘warm room’ to ride out the storm and as the winds howled like tormented souls outside, roaring through the swaying trees, I slept on the floor with her, to stop her being too scared. The winds were so strong even that sturdy building was shaking... but come the next morning every caravan and tent was still upright and our trusty camper had survived unscathed too. An hour after being carried back from our overnight storm shelter, Jess was leaping about the camper again like a thing possessed, having the time of her life, so all was well.

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But seriously, I thought sending a hurricane to punish me for my joke back in March was a bit of an over-reaction by the weather gods.

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We were up at Kielder for a week and three days and in that time, we saw... roll on the drums... three hours of clear sky. No, not three nights, three HOURS. Those three hours weren’t even on the same night, they were split up over two different nights, an hour and a half each. In those brief gaps I managed to get some good photos of the Milky Way (a glorious sight from somewhere as dark as Kielder, cutting the sky in half like a misty vapour trail) and various celestial objects but it was very, very frustrating.

... but not as frustrating as having three stunningly-clear nights in a row the following week, when we were camped at Annan and I had a flat battery in my camera and I’d forgotten to bring my charger with me. Idiot!

It’s trips like that which make me ask myself why I still ‘do’ astronomy. I mean, when you think about it, UK astronomers are on a hiding to nothing really and Cumbrian stargazers especially so. Our weather is so consistently dire and dreadful, that we can literally go weeks without catching even a fleeting glimpse of a star. I reckon the Mordor Astronomical Society enjoys more clear, starry nights than we do here in the land of lakes and fells.

But then, occasionally, a rogue clear night comes along, and I remember why I still ‘do’ astronomy. Last night was sparklingly clear here in Kendal, so I headed out about half past midnight to trek through the park, across the river and up the hill to my nearest dark(ish) sky observing site, to take the photos I had planned on taking at Kielder. And when I got there, there was Orion to greet me. I’ve been stargazing for a long time now, a long time but even after all these years, I still feel a shiver of joy and wonder ripple through me when I see the glittering jewel-like stars of Orion shining through the bare branches of the trees on a dark, frosty night. And that’s exactly what I was looking at 2am this morning. I’m tired writing this, just five hours later but smiling in-between yawns. It really was a beautiful sight. And I got my photos too! You can see one of them just to the side there.

We might not see the stars very often from here but when we do, they are soul-searingly beautiful. And not even a hurricane would be enough to stop me from seeking them out.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Stuart Atkinson Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal


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