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Constellations in the Caves: Creswell Crags Museum and Prehistoric Gorge

8 October 19

We headed to Creswell Crags this weekend to check out the digital cave planetarium... 

Creswell Crags is not, usually, the kind of place you think of as an evening out. Located close to Worksop and known for tours of its limestone caves, where Ice Age humans took shelter and left some of the earliest art work in Britain on the walls, as well as its spectacular landscape, it’s more of a day time visit.

Lately, though, the Crags have been hosting more evening events, allowing the atmosphere of the limestone gorge and ancient caves to take centre stage. Last month, there was sound installation Entirely hollow aside from the dark, which made Mother Earth come alive. This weekend it was the night sky in a cave – possibly the only digital cave planetarium in the UK. And it was brilliant.

This experience has been created in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, led by Associate Professor of Astronomy and Science Communication, Dr. Dan Brown. Using Stellarium, a software allowing digital exploration of the night sky at any time in history, constellations and galaxies are projected onto the rocky cave ceiling, accompanied by a short talk, and poetry reading. We all left with more knowledge of the night sky than we had arrived with.

This is not just about the science of astronomy though. The poetry was created as part of the Writing Skyscapes project and there were also artists from Outsider Artists Collective onsite, allowing visitors to respond creatively to the night sky, in charcoal images which were photographed to form a lasting record of the night. In creating our own art, we were transported back to the Ice Age, and the engravings on the cave walls. We were looking at the same stars our ancestors saw, and then perhaps remembered in the safety of their cave, trying to make sense of the shapes and patterns of light above them.

This overall experience was something quite magical. The walk through the gorge with its mirror lake at sunset, the darkness of the cave interior, the points of light on the stone, the images of the constellations. It was a real connection through the millennia with the humans who passed this place before, and what they experienced. If I have a criticism, it’s that I could have spent much longer in the cave, just gazing at the stars.

Next up in this special cave – which also has the largest collection of ‘Witch Marks’ (to scare away evil spirits) in the country – is a Paranormal Investigation for Halloween. I’m not sure about ghosts, but seeing the night sky as we did certainly brought the past into the present in a moving and impressive way.

There are plans to run this event again. I recommend looking out for it, since it was a truly special experience.

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