Summer star gazing walk at Black Down
near Haslemere, West SussexRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
On a clear night you can see some 4,000 stars sparkling in our universe. Perfect for families and anyone unfamiliar with astronomy, this guide will introduce you to star gazing at Black Down, the highest point in Sussex. Print off a copy of our Star Guide to take with you and find out what’s in the sky this month…
- Bus stop
Start: Tennyson's Lane car park, grid ref: SU921308
From the car park on Tennyson's Lane at point 1, take the main stone surfaced track out onto Black Down (there is a second car park further up this track). Head up on the main track and through the gate, past a notice board. Continue up the track, through a gully and past a bench with day time views over the weald to the east.
Continue along the main path, ignoring paths to your left and right, and past some small ponds on your right at point 2. Away from the light pollution of nearby towns, Black Downs sweeping skies and unspoilt views make it an ideal spot for observing the stars.
Try and spot the Milky Way, a ribbon of millions of stars, threading its way across the night sky. The light you see from a twinkling star has travelled across the universe for millions of years to reach you; so when looking at a star, you are actually looking back in time. Black Down's prominent position in the landscape has also been used for much more over the years. A site on the hill was a key link in the chain of beacons that were designed to carry news of impending invasion to London. In daylight there are extensive views to the north here.
Carry on along main path to a small grassy triangle with a birch tree, then turn left and follow this path to a bench at point 3. This is a particularly good point for star gazing, with views to the west over the Milland Bowl and beyond to the South Downs. Also listen out for nightjars here, churring on the open heath.
The North Star, also known as the Pole Star or Polaris, is a very bright star and is always fixed above the north point of the horizon. It has been used for over 2,000 years to help navigators at sea and on land find their way. Until the end of grazing in the early 20th century Black Down was mostly open grazed heath. When the grazing animals left, trees began to grow and the wildlife disappeared. The heath is now being restored and grazed again and many species of wildlife are returning.
Head a further 65 feet (20m) or so along the main path and then turn left. Ignore the first turn to the left and then turn right at a crossroads to the Beech Hanger Woodland at point 4. Turn sharp left for the path back to the car park.
Look up to see the Summer Triangle. It is made up of three bright stars positioned in a triangle shape, directly overhead. The stars are called Deneb, Vega and Altair, and also form part of other constellations. Before you go, have a look in the glade by the steps just ahead of you for the pipistrelle bats hunting for small insects.
Take the main path back northwards towards the car park.
End: Tennyson's Lane car park, grid ref: SU921308
- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 1.5 miles (2.5km)
- Time: 30 minutes
- OS Map: Explorer 133; Landranger 186
Paths are fairly level, and generally wide and clear, but be aware that the terrain off the paths can be very uneven, with tree stumps and old stone digging pits. Please keep dogs under close control at all times, especially during bird nesting season. Choose a clear night, and take binoculars and a torch to follow in Galileo Galilei's footsteps...
- How to get here:
By foot: Black Down is on The Serpent Trail and Sussex Border long distance footpaths
By bike: Numerous bridleways cross the site, which is about a 30 minute bicycle ride from Haslemere
By train: Haslemere station is on the mainline from London Waterloo to Portsmouth
By road: Head out of Haslemere on the B2131, turn right up Haste Hill, follow this onto Tennyson's Lane and head south-west until you come to the main National Trust car park
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