Grassholme Observatory Venue
Located at Grassholme Reservoir in Teesdale, County Durham, the Grassholme Observatory is a great chance to explore outer space without having to leave the ground. Opened by Northumbrian Water in 2020, this observatory is state-of-the-art, with a robotic telescope to get the clearest views, and outdoor deck for mini stargazers to take in the beautiful surroundings. While many who are searching for a Northumberland Observatory might immediately think of the Kielder Observatory in Kielder Forest, created by astronomer Gary Fildes, Grassholme Observatory is south of Newcastle, and much closer to visit if you happen to be visiting the Barnard Castle area. Gary Fildes is also involved in the Grassholme project, to make astronomy more accessibly to the local community.
Grassholme Reservoir, owned by Northumbrian Water, might seem like an unusual spot for an attraction. While Grassholme's location might seem remote, this is important for observatories as it allows the viewer to see much more of the dark sky undisturbed, with a thinner atmosphere and much less light pollution than if you were stargazing in the centre of the city. Grassholme itself is quite an unassuming building when you first arrive, this small observatory really packs a punch, and promises lots of (educational!) fun for the whole family.
This public observatory puts on lots of events throughout the year, with a focus on education and appealing to visiting families with kids. The novelty of a night-time trip out after dark is always exciting for kids, so the additional wow factor of seeing the planets up close is bound to excite. With family tickets available for all the events, there is something for every taste. The 'Introduction to Astronomy' session, for example, is a special introductory evening for stargazers of all ages and experience to think about the universe, where it call came from, and the different ways we interact with it from Earth. You can also attend talks with professionals, for example, the 'Search for Life' talk with Professor Wallace Arthur of The University of Ireland. This talk explores the question of whether there is life in other parts of the universe and how, as humans, we would find it. There are also sessions where you can learn all about specific planets, galaxies, and even the Northern Lights. On particular nights throughout the year, you can pop in to see specific phenomena and meteor showers, which will amaze everyone in the family.
The observatory will be open for educational groups, so it would be a fantastic spot to take kids for an outing and get them started learning all about astronomy. There is a specific focus on helping kids get involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) from a young age. This can be also be done at home in a variety of ways, for example, through tactile activities or thinking games. Starting to think about the planets and space is a great way to encourage kids to start thinking about maths and physics, so learning to see through the telescope at the Grassholme Observatory is a top option to kick start their education. There are also opportunities to volunteer at the observatory, which could be a great way for teens who are interested in astronomy and the universe to get some work experience.
Just a 20-minute drive from Grassholme Observatory, the town of Barnard Castle is a great place to stay if you're travelling specifically to view these dark skies. With a range of pub and inn-style hotels and Airbnbs, there are lots of options for families who are visiting, as well as plenty of great places to eat out.
For more brilliant ideas for things to do and places to visit near Durham, Barnard Castle or in County Durham check out Raby Castle for hundreds of acres of deer park and fantastic views. Or, immerse yourself in the local history of the area by visiting Beamish, the living museum of the North.
What to know before you go
- Grassholme Observatory opening times are from 8pm-11:30pm from Wednesday-Sunday.
- There are toilets available on site.
- Due to the small nature of the building and the fact it needs to be accessed by steps, it is not ideal for buggies or wheelchairs.
- If there is cloud cover obstructing your view on your visit, you will be eligible for a 20% discount on your next trip.
- While there are suitably dark skies to view the stars and galaxies at Grassholme Observatory, this can sometimes vary slightly depending on the phases of the moon.
- Glassholme Observatory is easy to access by car, via the B6277 following the signs to Grassholme Reservoir. If travelling from Newcastle it is just over an hour's drive, following the A1 and A688. Or, if you are coming from Durham, it's a 50 minute drive via the A688. The main car park is roughly a mile up the road, on the right.
- The bus services 95 and 96 run by the reservoir.
- You can also reach Grassholme Observatory on foot, or via the Grassholme Reservoir Circular walk, a four mile walk that follows round the shore of the reservoir.
- There aren't many local train stations so if travelling by public transport it is recommended you take the bus.
- There are also lots of cycling routes in the area if you wish to travel by bike.