Dave has just started his lifetime's ambition - a part time, distance learning astronomy degree. As you might expect, part of the course work involves observing stars and other objects in the sky, taking measurements of movement, identifying colour and brightness etc etc. Birmingham is hopeless for that sort of thing - it doesn't get dark there so much as orange, thanks to all the street lights - but rural Cumbria is much better, and over the weekend it was clear enough and cold enough to pop out a couple of evenings to gaze at the heavens.
On Saturday we took the car out to a layby part way up a hill to one side of Lake Windermere, where there's a good uninterrupted view of the northern and western half of the sky. When we set off it was clear (and very cold). By the time we'd arrived, only about 20 minutes later, some stubborn high cloud had drifted across and refused to budge. We saw odd frustrating glimpses of the Plough and one or two other bright stars, but nothing else, and we were beginning to turn blue.
On Sunday we didn't even bother with the car, just walked up the road at the back of the house, which eventually comes out onto country lanes in the hills behind the town. Again there was a good view north and west; again it was bitterly cold and this time the sky was clear. It's amazing what you can see when there isn't a constant haze of artificial light; stars were popping out in the most unexpected places. The very bright moon took away some of the clarity but Dave still saw more than enough for his studies. And this time we'd dressed appropriately in umpteen layers and boots and thick woolly scarves, so we didn't even feel the cold.
I have a feeling we'll be doing lots more star gazing in the months to come, as the seaons gradually change and new stars become visible. Thank heavens we spend so much time in an area where we can actually see them...