THE SHARED NIGHT SKY
Seeking the infinite in North Wales.
THE SHARED NIGHT SKY
Seeking the infinite in North Wales
In London, it was about the planets, but in El Salvador it was always about the stars. Growing up living between the two, I have so many fond memories of the nightโ€™s sky. Dad, obsessed with scientific education, always encouraged us to tinker with his telescope, and we would vie for our moment to see bright things in the dark.

In El Salvador, the night is such a huge part of everyoneโ€™s life, but in London you have to be cleverer to catch your glimpses. My dad taught me and my siblings to look for larger bodies in the cityโ€™s night sky โ€“ the craters on the moon were some of the first things I studied through his telescope. Then there was the time that the International Space Station flew over London. We headed to the rooftop with duvets and pillows as it traced its path over our hot chocolates.

To be honest, my childhood connection with the nightโ€™s sky has never grown up. Aged 20, Iโ€™m still wired by the recent memory of spotting the Milky Way whilst camping beside Scotlandโ€™s Loch Lomond. But somewhere Iโ€™d never been at night, until this particular hike, was Snowdonia National Park โ€“ one of the darkest places remaining in our countryโ€™s south.
Meeting six strangers for a night-time hike is a funny feeling. In a warm cafรฉ we prepare to share the familiar ritual of nightfall in a totally unfamiliar way. We plan our route towards Tryfan around a wooden table at the Alpine Coffee Shop in Betws-y-Coed, North Wales, before heading out. Itโ€™s still light now, but weโ€™re loaded with snacks, food, and stoves, ready for when the day extinguishes. Now we wait for the night to catch fire.
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Along the crags, we pass locals with their dogs, experienced climbers scaling the ridges and, occasionally, the odd feral goat. Sharing things about ourselves โ€“ and snacks โ€“ we help each other over rocks and fall into that trap all explorers do: of plotting the next adventure before finishing the one at hand. But, as weโ€™re chatting about new ways to throw ourselves out of our comfort zones, a rushing creek slices across our path. Two stepping stones offer themselves in a game of mountain hopscotch. A few of us jump across, but a girl called Danielle hangs back, her inner kid and wary adult warring with each other. Just as her eyes widen prior to making the jump, her knees lock in a stalemate. We suggest scoping a different route but the stubborn adventurer in Danielle roots her to this spot. I cross back to join her. We wobble together on the mossy start line. As she makes the leap, someone holds their arms out in an โ€˜Iโ€™ll catch youโ€™ promise on the other side, but no help is needed. Danielle clears the creek and lands. Weโ€™d been talking about big life aspirations all morning, but this obstacle is concrete and immediate. And, damn, overcoming it together is satisfying.
Weโ€™re greeted by a howling wind as we pass over the final ridge and approach the waters of Llyn Bochlwyd. This is where we wait for night to fall with Dani, the parkโ€™s Dark Sky Officer, who gives me toe-tingles as she prepares her telescope and binoculars. In the last of the daylight, we all bundle up, set up the tent and, vitally, brew coffee.
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Weโ€™re greeted by a howling wind as we pass over the final ridge and approach the waters of Llyn Bochlwyd. This is where we wait for night to fall with Dani, the parkโ€™s Dark Sky Officer, who gives me toe-tingles as she prepares her telescope and binoculars. In the last of the daylight, we all bundle up, set up the tent and, vitally, brew coffee.
"IN THE LAST OF THE DAYLIGHT, WE ALL BUNDLE UP, SET UP THE TENT AND, VITALLY, BREW COFFEE."
Taking mine outside, I sit by the water to catch the sunset as the clouds spill over the mountains. Despite the wind biting at my fingers, Iโ€™m able to lose myself to this picture in front of me. Itโ€™s just like the one Iโ€™d draw as a child when thinking up a perfect landscape โ€“ two ridges marking the horizon, with the sun setting between them. There is a town in the distance, but itโ€™s too small to feel anywhere near. I watch day turn to dusk, and dusk turn to night. Itโ€™s rare to be in one place, and to be still โ€“ to see these three different times of day. I watch how the environment changes around me. We lose the lightโ€™s oranges and gain a purplish blue that bakes to black. Soon the stars start to pierce through.

After moonrise, we wait for the stars to firmly find their place in the new night before we study them. We huddle in the tent to keep warm and ponder how we passed time when we were younger. Despite all having been raised in diverse ways and places, we start coming up with the same games โ€“ memory games that rely on the intimacy of sitting in a circle, nuggets from our childhoods that have the power to bring a group of shivering adults together. After hours of laughter that feel like only 20 minutes or so, we emerge from the tent and are swallowed in darkness. The sky is posing brightly for us.
Taking mine outside, I sit by the water to catch the sunset as the clouds spill over the mountains. Despite the wind biting at my fingers, Iโ€™m able to lose myself to this picture in front of me. Itโ€™s just like the one Iโ€™d draw as a child when thinking up a perfect landscape โ€“ two ridges marking the horizon, with the sun setting between them. There is a town in the distance, but itโ€™s too small to feel anywhere near. I watch day turn to dusk, and dusk turn to night. Itโ€™s rare to be in one place, and to be still โ€“ to see these three different times of day. I watch how the environment changes around me. We lose the lightโ€™s oranges and gain a purplish blue that bakes to black. Soon the stars start to pierce through.

After moonrise, we wait for the stars to firmly find their place in the new night before we study them. We huddle in the tent to keep warm and ponder how we passed time when we were younger. Despite all having been raised in diverse ways and places, we start coming up with the same games โ€“ memory games that rely on the intimacy of sitting in a circle, nuggets from our childhoods that have the power to bring a group of shivering adults together. After hours of laughter that feel like only 20 minutes or so, we emerge from the tent and are swallowed in darkness. The sky is posing brightly for us.
"AFTER HOURS OF LAUGHTER THAT FEEL LIKE ONLY 20 MINUTES OR SO, WE EMERGE FROM THE TENT AND ARE SWALLOWED IN DARKNESS. THE SKY IS POSING BRIGHTLY FOR US."
Every now and then, itโ€™s great when a childhood curiosity does some growing up. Now in my early twenties, Iโ€™m training to be an aerospace engineer, and as I stare out to the Big Dipper tonight, the first constellation I ever learned, I lose myself in the sky that I want to spend my life studying. As my eyes flit from star to star, I notice the shapes I learned long ago, but mostly I feel an infinite awe. No amount of study will ever chase that away.

Looking at this sky, I also get a familiar sense that Iโ€™m not alone. I donโ€™t see my family in El Salvador that often. But in darkness like this, I remember that we all share the same nightโ€™s sky. As a kid my mum would always tell me that some of the stars are family members whoโ€™ve passed, looking over us. I stand, feeling at home, whilst also looking into the greatest unknown that exists. To be comforted and exhilarated at the same time, for me, is real serenity.

As the sky fills up, I feel my memory logging this view as something important to recall. Iโ€™m grateful for this inner camera โ€“ itโ€™s soon time to pull our eyes back down to earth, pack our kit away, and don our head torches. The same path on the walk back feels very different. I realise that on the way up I had the luxury of peripheral vision; now everything is a soupy black. Slowly, we all find our rhythm and ease into the darkness and the silence as we walk. Itโ€™s a loud silence, full of feeling, thoughts, and emotions, but with the quiet space to absorb them.

Eventually we arrive at the glow of the Rocks Hostel, and our eyesight is restored. After freshening up, we gather in the kitchen, pop a couple of pizzas in the oven, and share some beers. We stay up through the early hours of the morning laughing and chatting away, bonding over Dobble, Scrabble, Game of 5s, and we even see in a birthday at midnight! I think weโ€™re all enjoying that feeling of finding our tribe on what began, for everyone, as a solo adventure with strangers. Even better, in this dark corner of Wales, tonight weโ€™ve seen the stars at their most uninterrupted.
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Story by Catarina Vaughan
Written by Megan Brownrigg
Photography by Eilir Davies-Hughes
Produced in partnership with Sidetracked
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LETS GO HIKING
Following the footsteps of The Hike Society
TRYFAN SNOWDONIA
The Hike Society is celebrating their first Annual General Hike weekend, hosting multiple hikes over one weekend to encourage people to get outside and to unlock the outdoors.
Come and join The Hike Society by Columbia and We Go Outside Too for a hike up Tryfan, Snowdonia.
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NEXT DATE
Sun, 16 October 2022
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DURATION
10:00 โ€“ 17:00 BST
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LEVEL AND LENGTH
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LOCATION AND MEETING POINT
Meeting Point:
Tryfan Car Park By Llyn Ogwen Lake A5 Capel Curig, Bangor, LL57 3
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LETS GO HIKING
Following the footsteps of The Hike Society
TRYFAN SNOWDONIA
The Hike Society is celebrating their first Annual General Hike weekend, hosting multiple hikes over one weekend to encourage people to get outside and to unlock the outdoors.
Come and join The Hike Society by Columbia and We Go Outside Too for a hike up Tryfan, Snowdonia.
#
#
NEXT DATE
Sun, 16 October 2022
#
DURATION
10:00 โ€“ 17:00 BST
#
LEVEL AND LENGTH
#
#
#
LOCATION AND MEETING POINT
Meeting Point: Tryfan Car Park By Llyn Ogwen Lake A5 Capel Curig, Bangor, LL57 3