There have been no updates from Bag End for a few days because there's been a little holiday and although I have been back since Sunday night it has taken me until today (Thursday) to get my act together sufficiently to face the keyboard and photos!
We have had a trip to the frozen north which combined stargazing in sub-zero temperatures and sun-bathing with a serious risk of getting burnt, all in the same day.
I went off early last Tuesday to Kielder Forest intending to have a quiet couple of days before the majority of astronomers arrived but it didn’t quite work out like that. As is to be expected at the most remote village in England with no mobile signal, virtually no internet, set in the middle of a massive forest which supplies 25% of the country’s timber one has to contend with Weather Gods. Despite much work over the closed period to improve drainage and hardstandings the ground was completely saturated and a lot of care was needed to ensure no car or caravan wheels inadvertently went onto the grass. There is good potential to get stuck if you don't pay attention:
But I got set up on a pitch and after walking Daisy, a drink and a bite to eat decided to put the awning up. Least said about that the better. Our new awning absolutely refused to co-operate with the caravan despite much help from a friend who was pitched nearby; every time I thought we had it pegged out a gust of wind flattened the dratted thing. After two miserable hours I called a halt - amazing how quickly you can get an awning down . . . Not only had this pushed my stress level way beyond where it should be on a caravan trip but highlighted how narrow the hardstanding was and that the surrounding grass area had been shipped in from Glastonbury.
So I moved the caravan to a different pitch, and the Amazing Knight in Shining Subaru (known as Management) drove over after work that night to bring me the regular awning which I knew I could pitch. It still took until late Wednesday afternoon to finish setting up thanks to monsoon-like precipitation. At that point I was grimly muttering about wooden boats and animals in pairs . . . Around this time I planned to move my car away from the pitch so that it wasn’t in the way of people arriving later in the week. That was when we found the battery was totally flat, the engine wouldn’t even turn over. More stress but our friends helped out again; 12 hours with a proper battery conditioning charger sorted my car and eventually I could relax.
The Weather Gods really were “having a laugh” with us - wind and rain all day on Tuesday but at 8.00pm the skies cleared and there were so many stars visible it was almost impossible to make out familiar constellations. By Thursday the rain had gone but left much muck underfoot which Daisy did not approve of when we went for a walk in the forest. She approved even less when I used a nearby hose to GENTLY rinse off her legs before we got back to the caravan.
Management came over on Friday by which time the sun had come out and it almost felt as if I had made up stories about the appalling conditions of a couple of days earlier. We had some brilliant observing both by day and night, much wandering around chatting to friends, and on Saturday spent nearly all day outside the van sharing views of the sun with others. I had intended on going to a couple of the talks that afternoon but Daisy was ‘not quite right’ and we decided it would have added to whatever was stressing her if I’d buggered off for a few hours. So instead we hung around, and chatted to folk, watched a massive prominence on the edge of the sun and had endless mugs of tea. It was very, very relaxing and thoroughly lovely.
The big problem with an intense astronomy weekend is the hours - we managed to keep going until a bit after midnight each night but more dedicated folk were still out and about at 3.00 or 4.00am, and on Saturday night a couple of them lasted until 5.00am! That is serious dedication, especially when you factor in temps of at least minus 3 every night, possibly even colder. Once you’ve done that a couple of times something akin to jetlag sets in, it’s really not very pleasant. So we decided to quit whilst we were ahead, so to speak, and at the end of a lazy Sunday with more solar observing, packed up and were home by 8.00pm. A fabulous trip, the best Starcamp yet.
Once we had overcome the awning issues I was so relaxed that I took very few photos and certainly didn't bother with astrophotography this time. ** There are, however, a great number of pictures of Daisy!
Oh, I forgot to tell Management - one day when I took Daisy out I was extremely brave and I made myself go through part of the Minotaur Maze. Which might not sound like much to normal people but my claustrophobia extends to structures like this where I cannot see how to get out. Did it, pleased with myself, won't do it again . . .
** If you want to see "real" Starcamp photos, look up Stuart Atkinson on Facebook.