On a clear night in Britain, the average number of stars that fill the sky is an incredible 4,000. And in Dorset, where street lights (and big cities) are few and far between, that tally rockets.
Among the best viewing points are clifftops and hilltops such as Golden Cap and Durdle Door. But don’t forget to take the right equipment. Binoculars and telescopes make spotting patterns much easier, though countless apps (like Sky Map) will assist those who want to be certain about their constellations. One key thing to remember is that stargazing is a bit like fishing. In other words, it’s not a sport for the impatient! Our eyes have adapted to 24-hour light, which means it’s often best to wait at least 20 minutes under the pitch-black of the night sky before engaging seriously in the pursuit.
If you want to take stargazing up a gear, there are some locations that only the experts are in on. These include Upton Heath, which has a special place in stargazers' hearts thanks to its reputation for nocturnal wildlife (especially the haunting hoot of the tawny owl). Fontmell Magna, in the north, also has stunning views over the Blackmore Vale. Though taking stargazing gold must be Kingcombe Meadows and Powerstock Common, which are not only one of the darkest parts of the country but have lots of incredible bats habitats, too.
Before you pack your bags with torches, food and binoculars, here are some top-tips to remember. First, stargazing is best done before the moon is full for the obvious reason that the lunar light has a habit of drowning out any competitors. Second, if you spot a vague elliptical shape in the sky, you’ll have just noted the most distant object the human eye can possibly see: the Andromeda galaxy – a cool two million light years away! Finally, map your route before you head out. The best stargazing spots are not necessarily the safest, so pick a route and don’t stray from it.
Explore Dorset's stunning nightscapes with a country-house stay at Summer Lodge, especially romantic for Valentine's Day.