Purple Flag week shines a light on England after dark

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel news

Night owls rejoice: this week sees the launch of Purple Flag Week. Running from today until 30 September, the week celebrates the benefits of the evening and night time economy, offering the opportunity to showcase the quality, diversity and vibrancy of England’s evening and night-time treats. As the evenings draw in and hours of darkness begin to increase, VisitEngland rounds up some of the nation’s best after dark experiences.

One of the most ravishing sights on Earth is the night sky. On a clear night you can see some 4,000 stars sparkling in our universe and the ‘Brian Cox Effect’ has influenced many to join the hunt for solar storms or to catch a true glimpse of celestial glory. Later on this year, once the clocks go back, the skies get even darker – marking the start of ‘dark sky season’. Last year Exmoor National Park (www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk) was designated an International Dark Sky Reserve – the first place in Europe to achieve this prestigious award and only the second in the world. Good spots for stargazing are Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate and Haddon Hill.

The Natural History Museum

Up north, Kielder Forest is officially the darkest place in England. Kielder Observatory (www.kielderobservatory.org), designed by Charles Barclay Architects, is Kielder’s most recent art and architecture project, developed to provide a permanent base for amateur astronomers. Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority are working together with the aim of securing ‘dark sky status’ in what would become the world’s third largest area of protected starry sky.

Museums after-hours
A host of museums across the country offer entertainment after dark, with late-night openings, twilight screenings and all-night sleepovers. The Natural History Museum’s (www.nhm.ac.uk) Dino Snores is a monthly sleepover showing kids what really happens at the Museum when the staff and visitors have gone home. Take in a torch-lit trail of the famous dinosaurs’ gallery but watch out for T-rex moving silently in the dark. Snuggle down for the night in the shadow of our Central Hall Diplodocus skeleton.


Adults will love the V&A’s (www.vam.ac.uk) original contemporary late night event held the last Friday of every month. Open until 10pm, the museum hosts live performances, debates, one-off displays and installations and special guest DJs, thus redesigning the traditional Friday night out. Admission is free to the museum although some exhibitions may be ticketed.

Nocturnal wildlife
Bring out your inner Bill Oddie and spend the night watching out for some of England’s most fascinating creatures. Take a Punting Bat Safari (www.scudamores.com/punting/combined/baton) on the waters of the River Cam. Knowledgeable guides will outline the notable characteristics and habitats of bats likely to be encountered on your trip and teach you how to use a bat detector that converts sonar signals into audible frequencies. The 90 minute bat safari runs every Friday from May until the end of September and cost £15 for adults and £7.50 for under 12s.

For a night-time family adventure to remember, head to Dorset where, from a hide, you can watch badgers emerge from their setts deep in the ground to forest for food with Badger Watch Dorset (www.badgerwatchdorset.co.uk). The area is floodlit so you’ll have perfect sight of the badgers, and there’s a 100% sighting record. You’ll probably also spot owls, foxes, rabbits and bats. Families can even stay in the hide overnight, so don’t forget to take a torch and sleeping bag. Experiences costs £12 for adults and £10 for children.

Spooky night- time terrors
Uncover England’s creepy after-dark secrets with a spine-tingling ghost tour. 2013 marks 125 years since the streets of East London were at the mercy of Jack the Ripper, the unidentified serial killer whose legend is a constant source of dark fascination. Visitors with a brave disposition can try a Jack the Ripper Walk (www.jacktheripperwalk.com) of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane in East London. Inspect the murder sites, sift through the gory evidence and get to grips with the main suspects. Walk costs £9 for adults and £7 for seniors or full-time students (children under 15 go free).

Badger Watch Dorset

York claims to be the most haunted city in England, and the renowned York Ghost Walk Experience (www.ghostwalkyork.co.uk) tour winds through the city’s honeycomb maze of ancient buildings, narrow cobbled streets and dark alleyways. The experience combines storytelling from those in the know with authentic re-enactments of characters such as York’s Headless Earl and The Gray Lady. Even if you don’t meet the city’s spectres, they will almost certainly be watching you. Walk costs £5 for adults and £3 for children.

White nights and bright lights
England’s towns and cities come alive with a touch of magic this autumn with a breathtaking series of events, illuminations, installations and projections. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Blackpool Illuminations (www.blackpool-illuminations.net). Held each autumn from September to November, the city’s promenade comes alive with a plethora of brightly coloured lasers and light features.


24 – 27 October sees the return of Illuminating York (www.illuminatingyork.org), the annual digital arts and lighting festival which invites visitors and residents to see York in a whole new light. York’s iconic visitor attractions open their doors after hours and invite visitors to a series of special performances, installations and exhibitions guaranteed to delight.

Brighter, bigger, bolder: Lumiere (www.lumieredurham.co.uk), the UK’s largest light festival, returns to the beautiful medieval city of Durham in 2013 to create another breath-taking nocturnal winter landscape. The festival of light has been given the go ahead having dazzled 150,000 visitors and residents alike in 2011.

Twilight views
England’s skylines are dotted with skyscrapers, cathedrals, tower blocks, castles and bridges, many of which are floodlit at night, and it costs nothing to take in the view. For some of England’s best twilight views of city lights head to the top floor at BALTIC art centre in Newcastle, St John’s Tower in Liverpool and Cloud 23 Bar on the 23rd floor of the Manchester Hilton.

The Shard

From spring 2013, View from the Shard (www.the-shard.com/the-view-from-the-shard) will become a new icon for London with views that will extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, The Shard is regarded as one of the most ambitious architectural endeavours in the UK. Before entering lifts to ascend the Shard, visitors will pass through a multi-media experience giving background information on London’s history. Once up on Level 69, visitors will be able to see London night sky like never before. Tickets must be pre-booked and cost £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children.

To discover more about England after dark, visit www.visitengland.com

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,