Thursday, 22 October 2015

On going to Kielder

I could write pages and pages about our first caravan trip, our first visit to Kielder, our first StarCamp . . . really need to practice self-editing.

After the trauma of getting our Lovely Lunar off the drive, having her already on the road and hitched to my car did make setting off relatively easy.  I say 'relatively' because in the morning I still had to do all the packing, walk and reassure Daisy, and fix the towing mirrors to the car.  Least said about the latter the better and I never did get the blasted things perfectly adjusted.

I had an easy two hour tow and on arrival at Kielder we were able to choose a lovely quiet pitch in a corner.  We found out later that this was the driest StarCamp for 13 years which must have deterred the midges a little, but in a 'normal' year there's no way I would choose to pitch at one of the lowest points on the site right next to the beck.  When I first drove in and saw thousands of pounds worth of equipment “just” sitting outside tents and vans I couldn’t believe that anyone would leave their ‘scopes unattended, but after a few hours in the company of such a lovely group of people I could understand how it all worked :-)

After a very warm greeting from the event organisers, Lynn & Kevin, and getting the van set up, Daisy and I had a short walk which set the tone for the weekend. Every time I left the caravan Little Miss Perfect acquired lots of new friends and it was never possible to do a quick walk.  Everyone at the event was so friendly and helpful that all excursions, even if just to the water tap, took far longer than expected due to all the standing around chatting.  I had the pleasure of finally meeting Stuart Atkinson and Stella from Cumbrian Sky;  it is entirely thanks to finding Stuart's blog that we were at StarCamp in the first place.  His account of the weekend, with much better photographs, is HERE.

After supper I was invited to spend time with Simon who was pitched opposite us.  He is part of the 'Starmakers' outreach programme who work with local businesses to help them exploit the Dark Sky designation of the area via the Animating Dark Skies Partnership.  He insisted that my using his telescope was good practise for an event he was doing next week and that I was helping him by being a guinea pig.  I'd been warned in advance that people at the StarCamp behaved in this way but I never expected anything like this :-)   I stayed outside until nearly midnight, Daisy was curled up in a nest of fleecy quilts in a warm caravan.  I think she could hear me - I was only a few yards away but I didn't hear a peep out of her all evening.

On Friday morning it was clear I had slipped seamlessly into StarTime, a phenomena unique to astronomy events where no-one goes to bed early therefore everyone gets up late.  By the time Daisy and I had enjoyed a late start, a late breakfast, an even later walk in the woods and a lot of chatting on the way back it was 3.00pm and time for lunch.  Apparently that is quite normal . . .

M. arrived before dark on Friday, and after a very nice mulled wine party followed by our supper once again we were Simon's guinea pigs as he shared his observing session with us.  There is now absolutely no doubt that Management wants another telescope!

Saturday was 'busy day' and comprised another late breakfast and a walk with Daisy followed by a brilliant lecture from Stuart.  It was an introductory talk for absolute beginners and was wonderful; it reminded me just what interested us in astronomy many years ago and why now is the right time to pick it up again.

After a late but relaxing lunch we were able to squeeze in to hear Robert Ince give a talk on astrophotography.  Having met Robbie earlier in the weekend and seen some of the incredible kit he has we both assumed the talk would be about cutting-edge deep space photography with little relevance to us but lots of beautiful pictures to look at.  Wrong.  Rob talked about using nothing more than an ordinary DSLR on a tripod . . .

Which is why, after an excellent supper at The Angler's Arms there was much setting up of camera equipment which I'd taken along but only expected to use during the day if we'd gone sightseeing around Kielder.  Simon got me started and all of a sudden Stuart appeared.  "I told you I would come and help you get set up" he said and a few minutes later I had my first recognisable deep-sky photograph which, when enlarged, shows the Andromeda Galaxy (amongst others which I cannot remember 'cos my sky knowledge is woeful and I have forgotten most of what I knew 20 years ago).  WOW.  In the space of three days I went from wandering around being a bystander to actually participating.  That probably sounds so lame to anyone who has not done anything like this but it was really exciting.  Since I came home both Simon and Stuart have shared with me some of the images they took that night.  In comparison mine are utter amateur rubbish, but they're MY amateur rubbish and to use a very tacky phrase, "you'll never forget your first time" :-)

It was another very late night, me taking photos, Management and Simon observing all sorts of serious stuff with Simon's telescope, a bit of wandering around chatting to new friends.  And a very tired Daisy curled up in a nice warm van all evening, (she had come to both lectures and the pub with us).  For a weekend that will be remembered for photography I actually took very few pictures and hardly any of the caravan, which is a bit silly really, but what is done is done (or not done in this case).

All that remained on Sunday was to pack up in a leisurely way, try not to dribble and drool all over Simon's solar telescope as I watched flares and prominences, and try not to get tense about driving home.  The actual caravan towing is not difficult but I am finding it incredibly tiring, on the way up I realised it is because I am concentrating so hard.  Eventually (in theory) I will have done enough of this to be able to relax slightly whilst remaining alert but for now I am going to have to make sure that any journey longer than Kielder to home includes a stop to relax and have a good stretch.

And that, boys and girls, is a far more long-winded account of our first caravan trip, our first visit to Kielder and our first StarCamp than anyone other than us probably wants to read.

One of my favourite pictures from the weekend is of Management and Simon.  I think they were looking at the newly risen moon.


  1. Sounds like an interesting weekend and that you enjoyed immensely. I am so proud of you with all the caravan towing and something I've only done once or twice with our camper trailers and when we had the Pajero with the big van. The sky looks stunning and you just never see skies like that these days much. I suppose if we went somewhere way out we may, but the lights of towns etc, in most places seem to spoil starry skies. Have a good weekend and take care.

    1. Thanks Susan. There seems to be general surprise and amazement that I tow the caravan, but as you've found yourself, it's not impossible.

      Dark skies are an increasingly rare commodity; even at Bag End we have the challenge of a few footpath/streetlights.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Hawthorn. It was absolutely brilliant, a proper little microadventure :-)

  3. What a brilliant weekend Jayne ,,, so pleased you had a good time. Love the star pics too :-)

    1. Thanks Jill, for our first trip I reckon we did pretty well :-)


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