We need darkness.

That may seem a strange thing to say in the depths of a Northern Hemisphere winter, just a few days after the shortest day of the year. It may seem even stranger, coming from a photographer. Photographers need light. Usually lots of it.

But I've been thinking about it these past few days.

I'm writing this from the depths of a valley in rural Wales. The valley is so deep that I cannot get a signal on my mobile phone unless I drive up the side and out. And at mid-day the sun can barely hoist itself above the treetops. At night, when I walk the dog, it seems to be pitch dark. But ...

Many years ago I was camping with my family in the depths of the Namib Desert. There was no other dwelling for hundreds of miles in any direction - probably no other people. Before crawling into my sleeping bag I lay on my back on the sand and gazed up at the sky. It was breathtaking. All around me, right down to the horizon, were billions of stars, swirling galaxies and constellations. Meteors streaked through the darkness. Planets wandered their own unique paths. There was even a comet. An infinity of other worlds. It was like some awesome presence surrounding me. It made me feel very humble and small.

When I look up into the night sky from this Welsh valley I can see many more stars than I can from home, but it's still nothing like the the Namib was. Lights from a farm on the hill, from a distant highway interchange, even the lights of Swansea town, 50 kilometres away, all spill up into the sky, ruining the view

There's almost nowhere we can go in Europe to see the true splendour of the night sky - just one place at the moment.

I'm glad my children have been in the Namib to see it properly because, if they'd grown up here, they would not know.

And it's something everyone should see. We need more darkness at night.

Star trails above Gland, Switzerland.
A long exposure taken over a period of more than 2
½ hours ...
and the light pollution shows.

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