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Be prepared to be amazed - for free in the great wilds of Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 06:30 14 February 2017 | UPDATED: 06:30 14 February 2017

The night sky provides hours of free entertainment. 
Picture: James Hilder/PA

The night sky provides hours of free entertainment. Picture: James Hilder/PA

The natural world is the friend of the thrifty, writes Sheena Grant as she continues her endeavour to life a less costly existence.

It provides hours of free entertainment for children, an outdoor gym (who needs indoor treadmills when you’ve got public footpaths?) and tranquillity that’s better than costly therapies for helping you relax and recharge your batteries.

The wonders don’t stop when darkness falls either, as I discovered the other day during a car journey through some very dark, bleak countryside.

Gazing out of the car window into the inky blackness, the night sky captured my son’s attention, prompting more questions than I could answer about what we were looking at on the celestial canvas above.

Back home later that night, as I searched for knowledge to plug some of the gaps, I couldn’t help thinking about how little we sometimes notice the most startling things around us, our gaze taken up by so many other demands on our attention that are often, in reality, little more than background noise.

Just spending a few minutes looking skywards on a clear night can give you a sense of perspective on the timelessness and vastness of the universe and your own place in it, especially when you try and get your head around the fact that by looking at the stars you are actually looking into the past (light takes time to travel and stars are so many light years away from us we could be seeing a star that doesn’t even exist anymore).

In East Anglia we’re pretty lucky when it comes to stargazing, having some of the widest skies in the country and, if you choose your spot carefully, some of the least light-polluted too.

And although the evenings are gradually getting lighter this is still one of the best times of year to give it a go.

According to the National Trust, which lists stargazing as one of its 50 things for children to do before they are 11 ¾, looking at the night sky is best done before the moon is full (although, of course, a full moon is in itself a spectacular sight).

It’s a hobby that always provides something different according too - the night sky is constantly changing, so stargazing at different points throughout the year will allow you to spot seasonal constellations.

It may be that your back garden is dark enough to stargaze from but if not, try to find somewhere, such as a park or other open space, as unaffected as possible by light pollution and make an occasion of it by taking a blanket or camping mat to lie on as well as snacks and drinks.

The National Trust suggests adding a touch of magic by playing some space-themed songs or reading myths about the stars and tales of space exploration as the sun sets.

A compass will help you find particular constellations or you could download an app like Star Walk (iPhone) or Google Sky (android) to tell you what you’re looking at any given time. As thrifty pastimes go, this one is pretty hard to beat.

Share your thrifty tips via email or tweet using #ThriftyLiving.

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