Kielder Observatory was opened in March 2008. The vision of the founder and director Gary Fildes, it has grown in to one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the whole of the North East.
Since its opening over 56,000 people in groups of 30-40 have graced our facility (this figure correct as at 31/12/14). Opened by the former Astronomer Royal Sir Arnold Wolfendale, Kielder Observatory now has a world class reputation for astronomical outreach under one of the best dark sky sites in all of Europe.
Originally envisaged in 2008 to host a few dozen events a year, Kielder now hosts over 40 events on average a month and its popularity means events are regularly booked well in advance. Over 14 years from dream to reality and where we are today, the 2008 opening was a landmark in the timeline of our observatory.
The observatory project however goes back way before this, and here, Gary, whose vision and dream the observatory was, tells the story of the history of how the World’s most unique astronomical outreach facility came in to being.
When the whole astronomy scene started at Kielder, it was not because of the introduction of the observatory. Firstly a man whom I knew reasonably well (the late) David Sinden, of Sinden Optical Co, had for some time been involved with events held around Kielder. David would volunteer his spare time to come to the area and talk about astronomy . He was of course involved in many optical applications during his time at Grubb Parsons in Newcastle .This love for his hobby and profession helped introduce many people into this most inspiring of science activities.
When I moved in to the area to the area in the middle of 2000 I was amazed at the clarity of the skies, the light pollution free vistas were astounding. It was here that I met Pippa Kirkham, she was an employee of the Forestry Commission and was charged with promoting the ever growing "astro tourism" which they could see was developing. It was here that I was asked to start and host the popular "nightwatch" events held at the Kielder Castle in the autumn.
The public support for these events was incredible , over 100 people would regularly attend. Standing in the shadows of the majestic Kielder Castle we would huddle together and cast our eyes sky ward and enjoy the panoramas of our galaxy. These events quickly snowballed into regular meetings.
It was at this stage that I had been thinking of staging "star camp" events. Aimed at amateur astronomers it was a gathering of like minded people who would camp out under the stars and share astro stories over a good meal and a drink.The astronomers loved it and have helped establish Kielder Star Camp as one of the worlds top ten astro parties, no mean feat, helped of course by the pristine skies.
All of this helped give the astronomy profile added impetus. It was then that I thought about trying to build an observatory in Kielder. I had managed to secure a 3m hemispherical dome, covered in slime and moss! but even then I could not secure the funding to finish off the job.
Don was working hard with David Sinden on a scope that had been donated, trying in vain to renovate the instrument, all on a shoestring. It was around this time that I was introduced to Peter Sharpe, who is the curator for the art and architecture project in Kielder under the auspices of the Kielder partnership. Peter thought that an observatory in principle could be an attractive addition to their portfolio of local attractions. We started with a meeting in a local pub and we all found it very encouraging to hear someone who shared my determination to get the observatory built.
Peter had a vision and concept for the the project. This was to launch a competition amongst architects to design an observatory that would compliment the Kielder land and sky scape. As time wore on the brief was sent out and we formed a steering group aimed at providing the architecture schemes with the information we felt was essential in delivering a functioning observatory.
Well we received over 230 entries from every corner of the planet, some were incredible others not so, but we had the onerous task of carefully filtering through them all and drawing up a short-list of entries. When we finally shortlisted 6 entries we then had to interview them all and get a feel for their grasp of the concept. The winner was Charles Barclay architects from London. Charles and his team designed something quite spectacular, and as you can see the rest is history.
We then felt it necessary to form an astronomical society based around the facility uner construction. It was then that KOAS - The Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, was born. An intrepid group of volunteers whose commitment to the project certainly guaranteed its success.
Every event that has been held at the observatory has been ably assisted by our amazing team of volunteers, giving up there spare time to tell the story of astronomy. In time it is my intention to write a book around the facility and its effect on the people who use it and visit it past and present mentioning the profound effect it has had on many people.
So, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each and every one of the tens of thousands of visitors, funders, local groups, trustees, volunteers and everyone over the past decade and beyond who has made us what we are today.
Kielder Observatory hosts thousands of people every year. Our telescopes open to the skies on every clear night. We have a range of specialist solar telescopes for daytime observing during the summer months, and telescopes from 3" aperture all the way up to 20" behemoths capable of showing visitors faint galaxies, comets and much more. The telescopes themselves sit in concrete pillars which go down in to the bedrock below the observatory, maintaining outstanding levels of stability. Some are computer controlled, allowing visitors young and old, the thrill of "driving" a telescope around the skies from the click of a mouse.
We look forward to seeing you very soon at one of our amazing events.
The construction of the Observatory was funded by the following:
One North East via Northumberland Strategic Partnership, European Regional Development Fund, Northern Rock Foundation, Forestry Commission, Tynedale Council and Kielder Partnership.
All the timber came from sustainably managed forests, independently certified as well-managed by the Forest Stewardship Council