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Kielder Spring Starcamp 2015

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Enthusiastic astronomers or gluttons for punishment, take your pic, but Stella and I headed up to the wilds of Kielder again last week to attend the 2015 Spring Starcamp at Kielder Campsite. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that our previous trips to Kielder have involved a lot of squelching about in mud and surviving rain and snow – it’s famously the Glastonbury of starcamps – but this year, thankfully, the weather was very kind until the morning we packed up, and we came home without trench foot or frostbite! This year, in fact, we had one of our most enjoyable starcamps at Kielder yet.

It helped that this time we pitched our tent “down the bottom end”, down by the static caravans which serve as the command post and nerve centre of the Starcamp. Down there it was lovely and quiet, and a lot less muddy – though recent improvement work on the campsite’s drainage on other parts of the site has really helped – and we really enjoyed being there. Our pitch had the added bonus of being just a minute’s walk from the toilets/showers and warm room, and 5mins walk from the Anglers Arms Pub and Kielder Castle up on the hilltop, so it was a win win all round.

This time, after doing very convincing impressions of Linda Blair vomiting explosively in the Exorcist before we’d even got half way, Peggy – our cat – almost made it to the campsite entrance before throwing up, and somehow managed to splash her sick onto my leg *through* the side of her box, meaning that when I got out of the car I looked like I’d wet myself, a very dignified way of arriving. But soon we were saying hi to the wonderful Lynn and the other organisers and started to set-up our tent, without getting soaked to the skin for a change, as we managed to dodge the showers, and by teatime we had made ourselves at home, ready to face whatever the weekend threw at us.

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(That’s our tent right in the middle, the blue one)

And Peggy soon made herself right at home…

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The thing is with Kielder, for us, at least, it’s a camping holiday first, and a Starcamp second. It’s so wild up there, so exposed, and the weather is so changeable that if you go there expecting to see stars every night, or somehow feel you are entitled to see and photograph them every night, you are setting yourself up for a huge disappointment, so we always go up there “on holiday” and I always say that if I get just one clear night, just one, I’ll be happy. And this year the first night we were there was magnificently clear…

As darkness fell there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and soon I was outside setting up my new iOptron star tracker. In a previous post I described my first night with the tracker, and how successful it had been at letting me take photos of an average sky, so you can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of setting it loose on the truly dark skies of Kielder! And it didn’t let me down. Here are some of the pictures I took that first night…

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lovejoy 1x67s exp ioptron labels

orion 1 crop

M42 STACK best

(I am **so** chuffed with that one!!!)

horsehead 1 200mm crop

Yes, that’s right, I managed to capture the famous Horsehead nebula using just a 135mm lens on my iOptron tracker. It was probably worth going to Kielder just for that photo…!

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Eventually, in the wee small hours, cloud rolled in, but I didn’t mind, I’d managed to get some gorgeous photos, and I pulled the duvet over me a very happy man…

Next morning was beautiful and sunny, and Stella and I made the first of many pilgrimages up to the Castle for a lovely full breakfast – one of the highlights of the starcamp, to be honest…

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…and then had a nice chill-out day just wandering around to the shop and back, saying hi to old friends, chatting to new faces, and “bedding in” to the starcamp.

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The field began to fill up and by nightfall was probably half full. I think numbers were down this time because of the date change – the event had been moved forwards so it didn’t clash with the travel plans of people wanting to head north to see the solar eclipse – and maybe because people had had such disappointing experiences with the mud and weather recently, but the die-hards, like us, and the Kielder regulars, were all there, and had a great time.

Friday night wasn’t as clear as Thursday, clouds came and went, but inbetween those clouds the sky was sprayed with stars and I managed to get some more good pictures…

M42 stack

Jupiter

That’s a tracked shot of Jupiter, over-exposed, I know, I just liked the dramatic look of it🙂

It was great to be joined later in the evening by our fellow “Kielder veterans” Carol and Simon, who are also members of the Eddington AS, which brought the total number of EAS members at the event to 5, as Moira was there too, trying her hand at astrophotography for the first time that night.When I finally called it a night and headed back into the tent, Stella was fast asleep and being guarded…

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Saturday dawned a bit drizzly, but we felt fine after another big breakfast, and in the afternoon headed up to the Castle to browse the wares being offered for sale by Grovers Optics and to listen to the talks which are always put on on the Saturday afternoons at Kielder Starcamps. After a fascinating talk on the history of the study if galaxies I gave a talk giving the audience a guide to our place in the universe, which seemed to go down very well, I had some very nice comments afterwards, though it was a shame there was such a big gap between the talks as many people who drifted away at the interval didn’t bother to come back again. The talks afternoon ended with a look at NASA’s Maven mission to Mars, then it was time for Stella and I to head down to the Anglers for dinner, booked – we thought – early enough to give us plenty of time to get back to the tent and set up the camera and telescope for photographs and views of Venus, the Moon and Mars all gathered together in the twilight. But it didn’t quite work out that way, and because, unusually for the Anglers, our food arrived rather later than planned I ended up having to wolf down my meal and race back to get ready, leaving Stella to finish off her food on her own, which wasn’t what we had in mind, but she hooked up with some mates, Neil and Karen, after  left anyway, so it worked out okay in the end.

And before clouds rolled in I managed to get all my gear set up in time to get some pretty decent (I think!) photos of the Moon and planets glowing serenely in the western twilight…

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Unfortunately after that the weather decided to torment and frustrate us, and all night clouds rolled and swam over the campsite, clearing, in places, occasionally, to allow brief tantalising glimpses of the southern starry sky, and overhead. It was very frustrating that the whole northern sky was obscured by a wall of cloud that just refused to budge – someone said it was as “a ruddy big planet had just parked next to Earth, blocking everything in that direction” and I had to agree. I tried some pictures but to no avail, what clear sky there was was actually hazy and misty, and the stars of Orion all had haloes around them, so I put my camera back in the tent and just went for a wander, looking through various telescopes at various things, and even after retiring to the tent I kept checking the sky, ever the optimist, hoping it would clear, but I eventually gave up at around 4am and surrendered to sleep…

By Sunday morning it was clear that poor weather had set in, so after another big breakfast (hey, we were on holiday!) Stella and I settled down with Peggy to watch DVDs in the tent.

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Last time we were at Kielder the Sunday was marked by gale force winds which threatened to carry our tent away, they were so strong, but this time wasn’t as bad, nowhere near, but with the weather forecasts all agreeing that we had seen our last starry sky the Great Exodus began, and by mid-evening the previously busy campsite was almost deserted, just a few tents and caravans scattered across it. With no prospects of any stargazing that evening Stella and I headed back down to the Anglers for a meal, and had every intention of just having a snack there until we bumped into Robin and Antoinette, who gushed about how lovely a HUGE Sunday roast they had just enjoyed in the pub, so we gave in and treated ourselves to one of those, and it was spectacularly tasty… and I treated Stella to this rather magnificent desert, too…

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Of course, when we emerged from the tent we saw stars! None of the weather forecasts had suggested that would happen, so we raced back to the tent to get my camera gear set up… but it was a “sucker sky”, and the gaps closed over again soon, and although other gaps appeared and disappeared through the evening it never really got clear enough to do any serious photography so I just admitted defeat, took my gear back inside, and got under the quilt at about 1am.

Monday morning… time to go home… and we woke to the sound of lashing rain. Great. Another soaking seemed inevitable as we took down the tent. Taking advantage of occasional gaps in the rain, and then the snow, we managed to get most things packed away into the car without getting too wet, but by mid-morning it was clear that the weather just wasn’t going to let up so we had to take the tent down in the snow and wind, and were both freezing cold by the time we had dragged the sorry-looking, soaked canvas under a shelter to mop it off before cramming it into its bag and stuffing it into the car…

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…and then, finally, we were on our way, soaked and cold, even after a lovely hot shower, waving and beeping our farewells to the last few people on the campsite. Another Kielder was over. Time to go home.

So, another great time at Kielder! Two good photographic nights, which was wonderful, and I am very happy with the photos I took. Many thanks to the organisers, Lynn and Richard and everyone else for staging another hugely enjoyable event and for all their hard work behind the scenes. It was great to catch up with old friends, and to make some new ones too, and we came away thinking, again, that going to Kielder Starcamp is one of the best decisions we ever made, ad one of the best parts of our year now. We’re already booked to go back in October, and I can’t wait to get my iOptron tracking the Milky Way and its glittering star-clouds then..!

 

One Response

  1. […] (wenn der Schatten des Mondes auf die Sonne fällt, wo kommt eigentlich das Licht her?), ein langer Bericht vom 2015 Spring Starcamp auf 55° Nord im UK – und der Sternhimmel im März. [13:00 […]

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