If you like the idea of stargazing by night and shopping, birdwatching and seeing stars on stage by day, this stellar itinerary is perfect! There’s as much to see in the skies above Chichester Harbour as there is on the ground. With several Dark Sky Discovery Sites and famous astronauts and astronomers under its belt, it’s no wonder that Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and surrounds is a stargazing hotspot.
Chichester Harbour AONB’s three Dark Sky Discovery Sites all have stargazing-worthy levels of darkness, ideal lines of sight, and good accessibility year-round. All three host regular stargazing events, usually in partnership with the South Downs Astronomical Society. Two of them have even featured on the BBC’s The Sky at Night.
The first site, north of the John Q Davis footpath in West Itchenor (PO20 7AY), is wheelchair accessible and has beautiful views across the foreshore and saltmarsh. The Eames Farm site (Thorney Road, Thorney Island PO10 8DE) has car parking, kitchen and toilet facilities, and a meeting space (book through Chichester Harbour Conservancy). The site at Maybush Copse (Cot Lane, Chidham PO18 8SP) is a large, regenerated community green space with an interpretation board, not far from the Barleycorn Tavern.
If you’re visiting over the first Friday evening of the month (except August), join one of the South Down Astronomical Society’s meetings at The South Downs Planetarium. Non-members are welcome, for a small fee. Observing events are weather permitting, and they often host a visiting speaker.
Nearby, RSPB Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve holds astronomy nights, but the reserve is open all day and night, so you don’t need to wait for an official event to stargaze here. On a clear, calm night, you might even see the stars above reflected in the waters of the lagoon below. Don’t forget your binoculars – naturally, birdwatching is great too!
If the cloud cover doesn’t play ball, South Downs Planetarium is the place to go for a guaranteed show of stars. Each public show lasts around one hour and is presented by a professional astronomer. You can gaze up at nearly 4,500 stars and other celestial objects projected onto the Planetarium’s dome. There are also regular activities outside, and half-day telescope courses.
In Selsey, you can follow in the footsteps of one of astronomy’s greats. The town is set 8 miles (13km) out to sea on the tip of a peninsula, and the atmospheric conditions and low levels of light pollution are perfect for stargazing. No wonder TV presenter, author and amateur astronomer extraordinaire Sir Patrick Moore chose Selsey as his home. While you’re here, look out for the blue plaque marking where Sir Patrick lived until his death in 2012, and the celestial-themed seal on the Selsey Seal Art Trail that celebrates Sir Patrick and Selsey’s dark skies. Plenty of people come here to watch the big-sky sunsets from the beach but stick around a little longer to see the stars come out to play. You might even see the Milky Way.
Swap your telescopes for binoculars on a birdwatching trip with Chichester Harbour Water Tours. During the winter months – the main twitching season – you’re likely to see oystercatchers, curlew, green plover and huge flocks of Brent Geese. The views across the harbour’s waters are spectacular too.
If you’d rather spend your days browsing shops, galleries and cafes, head to Chichester. Did you know British astronaut Tim Peake was born and went to school here? Before he became the first British astronaut to conduct a spacewalk outside the International Space Station, Peake wandered these historic streets! While you’re here, check out Chichester Cathedral’s artworks, Roman mosaics and stained-glass windows. Feast your eyes on modern art in Pallant House Gallery and catch a show at the renowned Chichester Festival Theatre (opt for a matinee performance to maximise your evening stargazing time).
Between Chichester Harbour AONB and the South Downs National Park, Concierge Camping’s luxury safari lodges are just as cosy in winter as they are cool in summer.
Prefer to have the comforts of the city at your fingertips after a stint of stargazing? Check out the family-run East Walls Hotel, close to Chichester Cathedral.
For endless sea air and a delicious breakfast, book a room at The Coast Yard, one of Selsey’s top-rated B&Bs.
You won’t even have to leave your accommodation to see the stars come out above the ocean if you stay at Seabank, a converted railway carriage on Selsey’s beachfront.
You’ve probably travelled farther than the food when you dine at Farmer Butcher Chef. The Goodwood Estate’s excellent restaurant is guided by a field-to-fork principle.
Over at Tinwood Estate, it’s all about the grapes. Join a guided tour and wine tasting or settle in for a sparkling afternoon tea, or do both! If you don’t want to leave – and who can blame you – spend the night among the vines in one of Tinwood’s luxurious lodges.
Back in Chichester Harbour AONB, you can watch the sun arc across the sky above Chichester Marina and enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch, take afternoon tea or dine at The Boat House Café.