A NIGHT zip-wire experience and stargazing combined with a stellar eating experience will be only two of the numerous new events in a much-expanded Dark Skies Festival across North Yorkshire next February.

From the inaugural event in 2016, the festival has proven to be such a success with visitors that the joint organisers, the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park authorities, have decided to extend next year’s event from nine to 17 days. It will now run for an extra eight nights, from February 9 to 25, to coincide with both British half-term holiday weeks.

The additional dates will enable visitors to spend longer discovering the thrills, fun and nocturnal wildlife wonders that come with being outside after dark, as well as marvelling at the beauty of the National Parks’ pristine night skies, say the authorities.

Among more than 50 events, new activities on the North York Moors will include a rare opportunity to experience the sensation of "what it would be like like to fly through the night sky". Strapped safely to a zip wire, adrenaline-seekers can plunge more than 200 metres into the darkness of Dalby Forest, courtesy of Go Ape.

Visitors also can indulge in an evening’s stargazing against the backdrop of historical North Yorkshire landmarks. For instance, in the Yorkshire Dales, visitors will embark on a celestial safari in the grounds of Bolton Castle, near Leyburn, in the company of astronomer Richard Darn, while being treated to mulled cider and innovative canapés made with Yorkshire produce by chef Guy Fairhurst.

There will be more opportunities for activity seekers to experience caving, cycling, walking or running under the night sky, including a new gravel-biking event run by Yorkshire True Grit at Newburgh Priory, near Easingwold.

York Press:

Milky Way above Young Ralph's Cross at the Dark Skies Festival. Picture: Steve Bell

The 2018 festival will feature numerous family-friendly events too. As well as watching the dark skies’ star-studded cast within the National Parks and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, youngsters can making rockets, telescopes and planet lanterns. They also may join Forest Schools to go on a night-time foray into Freeholders Wood, near Aysgarth, where they can learn woodland skills and sit around a campfire eating an evening meal.

Mike Hawtin, outdoor activities tourism officer for the North York Moors National Park authority, says: "The Dark Skies Festival is now an annual fixture that taps into the nation’s growing fascination with space and makes the most of our dazzling dark-sky displays, where you can see up to 2,000 stars on a clear night. Importantly it also helps support local businesses and attractions by opening people’s eyes to the enjoyment of visiting areas that might not have been on their radar out-of-season."

Tracey Lambert, tourism officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park authority, adds: "Even everyday pursuits, such as running, walking and cycling, take on a heightened sense of excitement at night. The popularity of these guided activities during the previous two festivals has led to their expansion for 2018, alongside a host of art, craft and heritage-related events that will shed light on the delights of night time in National Parks."

Each National Park has three Dark Sky Discovery locations where skies are sufficiently dark potentially to view the Milky Way with the naked eye. The North York Moors sites are at the Moors National Park Centre at Danby, Sutton Bank and Dalby Forest. The Yorkshire Dales Dark Sky Discovery locations are at Hawes, Malham and Buckden.

More programme information and booking details will be made available over the coming months at darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk. A number of events will be free while others will have a small charge.