Several years ago I stayed with friends in Wyoming in the USA and although there are many memories that will stay with me forever, the most prominent one is the blackness of the sky and the twinkling of the stars. (Thank you Amanda, I need to repay the favour some day) I had never seen so many stars in one place at the same time in my life. I have been searching for a similar sky ever since. And so after watching too many programmes featuring stunning night skies, Beancounter and me decided we should find a place somewhere in the UK to star gaze. Our quest was helped by an article in a daily paper which gave the top ten darkest places in the UK. Right there up at number one was the Galloway dark sky park near Stranraer in Scotland. At the time of writing this is one of only three dedicated dark sky parks in the northern hemisphere which carry a gold tier standard. There are others but they only have a silver tier standard. http://www.darksky.org/IDSParks
I loaded the bike up with our camping gear and we set off early one Friday morning to cover the 220 miles or so to the only camp site within the park itself. Rhonda groaned under the weight of all the goodies I had loaded her up with and once we had set off down the motorway the truth sank in, Rhonda was behaving like Gloucester old spot with a saddle on it. It was obvious that there would be problems ahead but no matter we were one our way and I would deal with them as they arrived. They soon appeared in the form of high winds along the motorway and the bike was soon swerving across lanes at an alarming rate. Through the helmet intercom I had bought in February I could just about hear BC mouthing prayers that we would soon be there and she could get off this pig.
After 200 hair raising miles, much cursing and lots of muscle pain that I knew I would pay dearly for the following day, we arrived at the forest and headed off down the track that passed for a road. In fairness it is surfaced with Tarmac and in good condition but it is narrow and there are no street lights. Obvious really if there were lights it would not be dark would it!! Add to this it is twisty and on the way there it is nearly all downhill. No matter we arrived safe and sound and checked into the campsite. http://www.glentroolholidaypark.co.uk/
The camp site itself is gorgeous and it features a duck pond complete with its own troupe of inquisitive ducks that like to check each tent that arrives in search of tidbits and goodies. After a struggle to get out of the saddle I set up the tent in bad humour and made our camp. The ground is rock hard and each of my pegs bent. The sleep mats struggled to cope with the lumps and bumps of the ground and the wind was so strong I thought I was going to lose the tent on more than one occasion. After a short walk to a nearby pub (the only one for miles) for a well earned drink and a meal we came back and waited for the sky to turn black and the stars come out to play. Being up north and heading towards summer it does not go dark as soon as it does down south. By 11pm it was still too light to see all but the very brightest of the stars and being exhausted I turned in.
The following morning and in a state of shock by how cold it was during the night I was greeted by the ducks and the realisation we had no milk and that the nearest place we could buy fresh milk was 9 miles away. (note if you ever go to this place take milk with you). It has to be mentioned just how cold it was and the pair of us quickly came to the conclusion that the sleeping bags we had brought with us were completely inadequate, however space and weight restrictions meant that I could not carry anything heavier or bulkier than I had already loaded up. Washed dressed and saddled up on a, by comparison, near naked Rhonda, we rode into the nearest town stocked up with provisions and came back to relax in the sun with a bottle of red or two. The trauma of the previous day simply melted away with each fresh glass of wine until it seemed like a positively enjoyable experience and one we would laugh about in years to come.
We managed to stay awake until it went completely dark which was about 1am but we were treated to something beyond my wildest dreams and the light show was simply stunning. There were so many stars I managed to lose the plough in a myriad of dots that made the recognition of any constellations difficult and fruitless. Finally when I could stay awake no longer I crawled back into my tent and started to play with some of the toys I had brought with me. Namely the wind up radio and the wind up lantern (what were you lot thinking about!). The radio had no signal at all and all I could receive was some foreign station that faded in and out in medium wave. The lantern on the other hand was completely useless and what little light it did give off soon ran out until you hand cranked it up for about five minutes or so giving three minutes of semi useful light. By the time I was ready to sleep my arms and wrists ached and I felt as if I had been masturbating for hours without the euphoria at the end of such actions. The lantern was not coming home!
The original plan had been to stay at Glentrool for one night, head off to the Tan Hill pub the following day and then ride down to Dent in Yorkshire before setting off back home on the Monday morning. Our plans had already been altered by the ride and the bad night’s sleep we had on the Friday plus the fact we had not seen much of the night sky. So Sunday morning came and after breakfast we broke camp, loaded up and headed off to Yorkshire for the Tan Hill pub which is the highest pub in the UK. After a hair raising ride complete with higher winds than on Friday and with many trouser filling moments we arrived on a cold windswept hill in North Yorkshire only to realise that it would be impossible for me to put up my tent anywhere near this place. We asked at the pub if they did bed and breakfast and they laughed, we cried and despair sank in. BC did not want to go any further on the bike, I think she was in shock, and I could not find anywhere to camp that would be out the wind. Fortunately the staff at the pub pointed us in the direction of a friendly B+B and we set off to Kirby Stephen about 15 miles away across the moors.
After more trouser filling moments with suicidal sheep jumping in front of us and local land rover driving maniacs that would have put any suicide driver to shame complete with the most hair raising bends I have yet to ride on, we arrived at the sanctuary of the Jolly farmer who not only gave us bed and breakfast but offered us safe parking for Rhonda. Another meal and a couple of drinks at a local pub and it was time to turn in. I was so tired I fell asleep on top of the bed with my clothes on. Sadly and all too soon morning came and after breakfast it was time to return home. The planned trip to Dent had fallen by the wayside. The journey home was only slightly less frightful than the journey there and I was grateful to be home.
The lesson learned from this trip is not to take so much gear, do not go two up in cold weather and the newest green technology is not always worth the bother. I left around four items behind including two folding chairs, a wind up lantern and a supply of candles that kept us warm in the tent. I would have gladly left more behind but BC would not let me! BC has stated she does not want to go camping on the bike again but camping in the car would not be a problem as we can take much warmer gear and the weight of the gear will not affect the cars performance as much as it did Rhondas.
It is only a week since we went and already we are laughing at the so called misfortunes and scary moments and we would go again. I would also recommend the dark sky park to anyone who wants peace and quiet and to gaze at the stars for a few hours.
In keeping with other posts the costs are as follows:
950 miles 7 tanks of petrol.
2 nights of camp fees £21
Entertainment and food for 3 days around £60
Bed and breakfast? You really do not want to know!!