Stargazing at Prospect Tower

In January we welcomed artist and curator Melanie King to photograph the night sky at Prospect Tower in Kent. Here Melanie takes us through her visit.

We arrived after dark. Driving down country lanes lit by headlights, with the trees arching overhead. I saw Orion The Hunter through partly cloudy skies, a promising glimmer on the horizon. Eventually, we found the white gates leading towards the tower and the sky was awash with stars. I immediately rushed into Prospect Tower to assemble my camera, tripod and shutter release whilst my partner excitedly climbed the spiral staircase.

Orion, The Seven Sisters and Cassiopeia at Prospect TowerProspect Tower in Belmont Park, Kent.

It was a windy day, so the clouds in the sky quickly disappeared. My main aim was to point my camera up at the tower, with a background of the night sky. I am used to working at night and it is always atmospheric, but especially here. There wasn't much to see in the darkness, but I could hear the wind rustling through the treetops. We lit the front of the building and prepared to take some photographs.

I decided to create some images to emphasize the dome of the sky. In the images, you can see my favourite constellation Pleiades – the Seven Sisters. Alongside Pleiades, you can also see Orion, The Plough and Cassiopeia. Gazing upwards, I find it easy to imagine the myths and stories inspired by the constellations. Orion, for example, gains its name from Ancient Greek mythology, in which Orion was a supernaturally strong hunter. In Ancient Egypt, Orion’s stars were thought of as the god Sah. Muslim texts refer to Al-Jabbar, translating to “the giant”, whilst Ancient Babylonian’s referred to Orion as “The Heavenly Shepherd”.

Seven Sisters, Prospect TowerThe constellation 'Pleiades' also known as 'The Seven Sisters' can be seen here as a small cluster 
to the left of the tower.

Cassiopeia, the W shaped constellation, also gets its’ name from Greek Mythology, where queen Cassiopeia was the wife of King Cepheus and mother of Princess Andromeda. Poseidon, God of the Sea, became angry after Cassiopeia claimed that Andromeda and Cassiopeia were more beautiful than the Nereids and the sea nymphs. As a punishment, Cassiopeia was banished to swing around the North Celestial Pole, while her daughter Andromeda was chained to a rock. Thankfully, Andromeda was eventually released from the rock, and was placed beside Perseus and her mother Cassiopeia. These are just two examples of constellations I saw at Prospect Tower, but there are so many constellations to be seen, each with their own suite of stories.

Prospect Tower - Orion CassiopeiaOrion can be seen here as a cluster of stars to the left of the tower, whilst Cassiopeia is the cluster 
to the right.

I had chosen Prospect Tower, as it was deep into the countryside with a very small amount of light pollution. I am currently living in Margate, and the journey was very quick. As it is near Faversham and a 10-15 minute drive from the motorway, it is also a great choice for a short break from London.

The tower was ideal for stargazing. I often take photographs at night, and without somewhere to stay, I can find myself getting cold and uncomfortable very quickly. Prospect Tower is in the countryside, away from the majority of light pollution – yet also maintains all of the creature comforts. As a result, I was able to spend time outside in the beautifully crisp January weather, with warmth and comfort waiting seconds away. At 1 am, I became tired and was very grateful to retire to bed after a glass of rhubarb gin and tonic! The bed was extremely comfortable and I left one of the curtains open so that I could see the stars as I drifted off to sleep.

The Plough, Prospect TowerThe Plough appears in the centre of this night sky shot.

We awoke early and went up the stairs to have breakfast looking out at the scenery. As we had arrived at night we had not seen the landscape in full colour until the morning. It was early, so we watched the golden sun rise and bleed through the stained glass windows. It was a unique experience to have a morning cup of coffee at the height of trees, looking out at the leaves and branches. Although this was a perfect place to view the stars, it was also a joy to experience in the light of day.

Prospect Tower view

Prospect Tower sleeps up to two guests and is just one of many Landmark properties ideal for stargazing. Other properties include Martello Tower in Suffolk, Clavell Tower in Dorset and Glenmalloch Lodge in Newton Stewart. Glenmalloch Lodge is also situated in Britain's only Dark Sky Park - Galloway Forest Park.

You can find out more about Melanie's work on her website here.

Hero images credited to Steven Banks and Stuart Leavy respectively.