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Grassholme Observatory promises a star gazing experience you’ll never forget

With green space, dark skies and the quiet calm of Grassholme reservoir nearby, this new kid on the astronomy block is taking star gazing pods to new heights.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 18.02.2023

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Let’s be honest, astronomy is something we’ve all wondered about at some point.

Whether it’s to discover more about where life as we knew it began or if you’re blaming Mercury in retrograde for your dip in form recently, (we know, we know, that’s astrology), without knowing why, by gazing up into the night sky we can often find answers to nearly all of life’s questions.


With some of the darkest skies in Europe overhead and sensational views over the reservoir in daylight, Teesdale’s Grassholme Observatory promises a star gazing experience that’s out of this world.

Not even a 20-minute drive from Barnard Castle, this purpose-built observatory opened during the pandemic and, as such, has only just enjoyed its first full year of events – events which offer you the chance to gaze into the vastness and beauty of the universe.

Guided by expert astronomers every step of the way, your visit to Grassholme Observatory will see you getting to grips with high-tech instruments, computers and telescopes as you embark upon a journey into the skies, learning how to spot planets, constellations and meteors along the way as you’re welcomed to your own universe.

Inspirational, educational and philosophical. What more do you want from a night out?


For star gazing pods to work, they’ve got to be located within rural locations. And we all know from experience that trips into the countryside can often be fraught with accessibility challenges.

But Grassholme Observatory are committed to ensuring that no-one need miss out on the wonders of the universe.

Having been purpose-built as an astronomical dark sky observatory with excellence, sustainability and ease of access at its heart, Grassholme Observatory benefits from ample car parking, ground-level facilities and a friendly team who aren’t afraid to go above and beyond to support you during your visit in every way they can.

Easily accessible by road, the Observatory is just a short detour off the A68 for those visiting from the North, while southern visitors can find it along the A1 and then the A66 – meaning you can bring anything you need with you for your safari to the stars.


Planning a date night? A trip to this observatory will guarantee stars in their eyes…

Not that this star gazing spot is just for couples, mind you. The Grassholme Observatory team offer a wide range of events to ensure all ages and abilities can understand the universe we live in a little more

Aurora Night

8pm – 11pm, various dates

Has it always been your dream to see the Northern Lights? At Grassholme Observatory, you’ve got the chance to finally make that dream a reality, (without forking out on a trip to Scandinavia).

Ever since humans first ventured to the polar regions and settled in frozen lands, folklore and fairy tales have echoed the icy, star-filled skies. Stories of valour and mythical lands filled wondering minds as they stared up at the Aurora Borealis.

Now’s your chance to unlock the scientific phenomena behind these ancient tales and – on certain nights, when conditions are right – see for yourself the magnificent Northern Lights in all their dancing colour from right here in the North East.

Tickets: from £15pp


Family Astronomy

6pm – 7.30pm, various dates

Starting slightly earlier to ensure dark skies co-operate with bedtimes, Family Astronomy has been designed to educate kids of all ages on all things space – from the night sky we can see to the solar system beyond.

Children don’t need to have been taught anything before they come and won’t need to bring any equipment with them – all they’ll need is an interest in learning about the universe we live in.

What better way to get your kids to connect with science than by letting them listen to the experts, see outer space using telescopes and touch meteorites with their own hands?

Tickets: from £10pp 


Late Night Dark Skies

11.30pm – 2.30am, various dates 

Grassholme Observatory’s late-night events might just be our favourite star gazing experience. Why? Well, as the evening heads into the early hours, capacity is reduced to just 10 people – meaning it feels like you have the whole Observatory to yourself.

They also organise these events to correspond with there being no Moon visible, which means you have a sky as dark as can be to explore.

Expect a whistle-stop tour of the universe before diving right into exploring the brightest of planets and stars using Grassholme Observatory’s state-of-the-art telescopes and cameras. You’ll hunt out some of the real treasures of the Milky Way, like its Nebulae (glowing clouds of gas) and star clusters, which dazzle like diamonds against the velvet sky.

Tickets: from £25pp


Dark Sky Star Gazing and Cosmology

8pm – 11pm, various dates

This one’s aimed at the serious thinkers.

Putting to you questions like ‘how old is the universe?’, ‘where did it come from?” and ‘how do we know?’, the Grassholme Observatory team will provide an in-depth introduction to the scientific discoveries that have shaped our understanding of the universe.

Together, you’ll visit the faint afterglow from the Big Bang and discuss the expansion of space, considering the ever-elusive dark matter, before venturing outside to observe some of the objects that have shaped your discoveries.

Tickets: from £18pp



Contrary to popular belief, the weather over the Durham Dales actually provides perfect star gazing conditions.

The majority of their events get a clear night – meaning whatever time of year you visit, your eyes can be opened to the wonders of the universe.

But, should clouds gather when you’ve booked your star gazing experience, rest assured that you’ll always be invited back to view the skies on a clearer evening to ensure you’re able to make the most of your booking.

The Lunar Cycle

Many visitors to any observatory will want to see the sky as dark as possible, so they’re able to see objects like the Milky Way, star clusters, planets and the myriad of constellations above us.

But it’s not as simple as just waiting for the sun to set.

The Moon takes roughly a month to wax and wane – or, in other words, go from a full Moon to disappearing completely and back again. That means that every 29.5 days, there’s a full Moon in the sky.

During these times, the night sky is at its brightest, meaning the fewest stars are visible.

But on the 14th day either side of that period, the Moon is what is known as a ‘New Moon’, meaning it’s not visible to us here because it’s too close to the Sun. This is when the sky is at its darkest – making the sky perfect for star gazing.

Events at Grassholme Observatory

To make it as easy as possible for us to follow the lunar cycle, the team at Grassholme Observatory run their Dark Sky events in conjunction with the New Moon, so you know that’s when to visit to see the sky at its darkest.

Similarly, the team here are aware that not everyone might be wanting to focus on the stars. There are plenty of Moon-gazers out there too, and Grassholme Observatory cater for them as much as anybody else.

So, as the Moon heads towards its first quarter (where you’ll see its beautiful crescent phase), you’ll likely find corresponding Moon Nights at Grassholme Observatory.

Time of Year

The time of year you visit Grassholme Observatory will also have an impact on what you’ll see through the telescope.

The long, clear, cold nights of winter are the best time to see stars. From November through to the end of February, the winter Milky Way is visible stretching across the sky and sailing past the huge constellation Orion.

Of course, we’re also more likely to experience adverse weather conditions in winter, but on a clear night the heavens can be sublime. Be sure to wrap up warm, although the cosy observation room at Grassholme Observatory has freshly ground coffee and warm radiators, so you can stay nice and snug.

Heading towards spring from March until the end of May will be when we can start to see constellations such as Leo and Coma rise, where galaxies also reside.

As we reach summer, from June through to mid-August, our balmy evenings mean the planets sit higher on the southern horizon and any darkness we had succumbs to a perpetual twilight. The Milky Way fades to a faint blue so, while you may see the famed noctilucent clouds during these months, they’re not the best for star gazing.

Hope returns for aspiring astronomers by the end of August through to November, though, as autumn is often viewed as being the prime time for a star gazing experience. The nights are dark and the Milky Way is high above us again, the evenings are still mild and the season starts with the Perseid meteor shower, thought by many to be a ‘must’ for all stargazers.

To find out more about Grassholme Observatory and to book your star gazing slot, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram

Grassholme Observatory, near Mickleton Village, Barnard Castle, County Durham DL12 0PW  

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