THE Battlesteads Hotel’s observatory is making the most of this winter’s big, dark skies with another two stargazing events in the next few days.

Part and parcel of its regular fixtures in the purpose-built observatory behind the hotel in Wark, the sessions today and Wednesday both begin at 8.30pm.

Dark Sky Park status is one of a growing number of reasons why Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park – and the communities on their fringes – are cultivating international recognition as year-round tourism destinations.

Satellite maps recently released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England showed that Northumberland is the darkest national park, with 96 per cent of its skies unaffected by light pollution.

And covering more than 570 square miles on the ground, it is officially Europe’s largest area of protected night sky – and therefore the best place in England to enjoy the heavens.

The Battlesteads welcomed more than 1500 visitors to its small observatory last year and owner Richard Slade said it now generated 15 per cent of the hotel’s income.

With stargazing being at its best in the winter months, it also provides a welcome boost at a time when trade is traditionally much quieter.

“We are delighted to have had the observatory up and running for 12 months now,” he said.

“With astro-tourism being an emerging and growing leisure market, we have seen bookings steadily rise as a result.

“Having such a world-class environment for studying the stars on our doorstep, it made sense to embrace this and add to the many reasons to visit Battlesteads and the county of Northumberland.”

The planets, major constellations, clusters, nebulae, double stars and galaxies were all grist to the mill for stargazers booking on to the night-time tours of the famous dark skies over Wark.