Spring BASEG trip to Hacienda in La Palma, Canary Islands April 2020….we hope!

Patio at Hacienda

Alan, Paul and I (Dave) are back off to the beautiful island of La Palma in April assuming the current Coronavirus 19 pandemic has not shut down the TUI airline we are using. We are booked to stay at Tobias’s finca’s at the lovely location some 4,000 ft altitude on the North-West of the island in a vineyard off the beaten track. Turns out to be great fo self-isolation!

I will be taking my large 4″ binoculars, due to weight restrictions by TUI whilst Alan and Paul will be taking travel scopes for astrophotography. During the visit we have 2 finca’s and I hope to get some more objects ticked off my list from the Night Sky Observing Guide (NSOG) book I used last visit doing visual and recording some of my observations as drawings with my new set of pastel materials for my birthday.

One of the finca rooms

La Palma Expedition May 2019 – ATHOS Star Camp

So Bob, Alan and I (Dave Shave-Wall) have set off on our next expedition, this time back to La Palma but to a different resort, this time ATHOS Star Camp near on the North West side of the island and some 2,000 ft further down the mountain than when we stayed last November at Tobias’s Finca, Hacienda. I made sure to look out of the window and glimpse our other island we travel to in Tenerife on the way.

I arrived 1 day after Alan and Bob due to a work trip to New York so I flew from there to Madrid, waited 5 hours for my connection and then flew direct to the island landing at 1:30pm local time.

I set off to ATHOS star camp after collecting my hire car, the most direct route would be through the tunnel on the island cutting across East to West, however I was super keen to see the Observatories and MAGIC telescopes and see how the Visitor Centre was coming on since our previous visit. So instead I headed up the mountain to the Roque de la Muchachos to see the sights and then head down the other side to ATHOS.

The MAGIC telescopes and various observatories of course looked wonderful as always. The visitors centre had not change, still being unfinished in only the way the Spanish manage with unfinished projects at scale.

I then headed down to ATHOS where Bob and Alan were already settled in. Alan had warned me about the accommodation before I arrived so I set my expectations low. The accommodation on arrival was what the British would think more akin to a Bournemouth Beach hut, ok slightly bigger but not by much, but the biggest problem were the ants!!!!!

In fact the problem was further compounded by ants also being in the Orangery,  a beautiful building where would be astronomers sit and eat and prepare food. Unfortunately the ants were all over the sides in the kitchen and thus any food you put down! It was a further surprise that nothing had been done to solve the problem. The accommodation Alan and I were to share was so small that the 2 single beds pushed up against the wall had really a narrow gap between them meaning sharing with a friend was very close. Once we had our luggage in there was really no room to move.

By the following morning, after a night of cloud at the this low vantage point on the island at around 2,000 ft and below the inversion layer (we all went up the mountain some 40mins drive to perform our viewing), I woke to find ants in my pyjamas, in my bed too of course, in the wardrobe in my clothes, in the bathroom on washbag and toothbrush. Whilst Alan and Bob are less bothered, I refused to pay good money for this accommodation both in terms of size and quality. So I called our previous host Tobias who owns Hacienda and between him and Christian on site, they found me alternative accommodation that day, which is perfect for me, no ants and at around 4,000 ft so 2,000 ft higher and only 25 minutes drive from the visitors centre rather than 45 minutes up the mountain.

To be fair we should have realised there were going to be problems with ATHOS since the whole booking and confirming the trip had been a nightmare due to poor communication. Not only did we have to call the owner of ATHOS several times, months went past with little or no communication at all to confirm the trip, which to be honest makes you worried about turning up with nowhere to stay if it is not confirmed. Compare that to Tobias at Hacienda and they respond within the hour.

ATHOS star camp is a nice idea, but to be fair to the owner Kai, he needs to improve his communication, booking process and the quality and cleanliness of the accommodation. The site itself is ok from a viewing perspective and the observing pads are a nice touch, also the equipment hire, albeit expensive is there and useful, but that said I would not go again.

So a costly start to the expedition, but by the second day I was delighted to be in comfortable accommodation and to have started some observing up the mountain the previous night.

Viewing Report 7th May 2019 (Night 5) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 21:00 – 03:00

I started this evening by taking another look at the Moon through the binoculars. I showed our host Christian who was amazed how much detail you could see.

I then took another look at Omega Centauri, just because it is so spectacular.

Then I finished my other blog viewing reports and waited for the Milky Way to rise around 3pm so I could do some more visual.

@03:00 I spent some time looking at a number of objects in the Milky Way, but only briefly and I did not record any with the pencil tonight, it was purely a pleasurable evening of seeing across the Milky Way that was at this time still slightly on her side. I looked at M7 the open cluster near the base of the scorpion’s tail, sparkling in the night sky. I then moved to the globular clusters M62 and M19 nearby which could be seen just with Direct Vision. I then peaked at M20 the Trifid and could make out some of the structure in the reflection nebula. Finally I took in M26 and M11 both Open Clusters in Scutum before heading to M17 the Swan nebula and open cluster which as when we viewed a few years ago through the 12″ dob on the island, looked very much like a swan through the 4″ binos.

I then took an early night off to be by 3:30am whilst Alan continued with his Messier Marathon at the other site and Bob continued his imaging.

Viewing Report 6th May 2019 (Night 4) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 21:00 – 2:30

This evening I finished a lovely conversation for over an hour with my daughter and then headed up to the roof of my new accommodation to setup the binoculars and the camera. By 21:30 I started to shoot some scenic photos of the Moon and Aldebaran over the roof of the old house I find myself in alone.

Soon enough and by 22:00 it was dark enough for me to take a few shots of Orion as it was setting in the West, again over the roof creating a lovely photo. I also glimpsed the 1.9 day old Moon at 4.5% illumination through the binoculars which is a wonderful sight. You can actually make out some of the larger craters on the Moons edge with clear definition through these wonderful binos.

@ 23:11 I quickly went out to find Omega Centauri again through the binos as it was such a good sight the other night I wished to see it again. This time I caught this massive glob just as it was setting behind a leafy bush. The fact it almost fills my field of view is amazing, now surround this with the silhouette of the plant it is almost magical. I really wish I could capture the image on camera it was simply breathtaking as I watched for 10mins as it gently moved behind the leaves.

@ 23:19 I put the binos on M67, an Open Cluster in Cancer, which I found by initially finding M44 in the binos then I decided it was easier to put Regulus in Leo, which is a brighter star at mag +1.36, in the frame and then sweep downwards to M67 which was obvious as an open cluster when I found it. The stars come and go looking with averted vision, but I managed to draw a bunch of the stars before moving to the next object.

@ 23:54 I moved to NGC 2903 a galaxy in Leo that was supposed to be fairly large and bright through a small scope, however it was pretty faint. It may of course of been I was not dark adapted, which given I had just come out from inside was probably fair.

@ 00:01 on what was not the 7th May, I took a look at the Trio in Leo. This was a much brighter set of objects and very clearly visible. I could see immediately why Charles Messier missed NGC 3628 as it has a much lower surface brightness than that of the other two galaxies in the Trio, namely M65 and M66. The grouping was very pleasing with a handful of brighter stars within the field of view. I spend 5-10 minutes drawing a rough positioning of the Trio and surrounding stars.

@01:18 I used the new Canon Camera 6D MKII to take a photo of the Plough so Ursa Major as a constellation and single image. I was amazed to see that even in a single 1 minute exposure I could see the spiral galaxy M109 very clearly.

Straight after this I took the camera and took a couple of skyscape shots with two different palm trees in that were being lit from the light from the house which took me round to 2am.

Finally I then went in and started writing up some of my journal, reviewing my objects in the NSOG and of course having a glass of wine and tonight some Tortilla Chips 🙂



Viewing Report 5th May 2019 (Night 3) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 21:00 – 02:30

So this evening it is clear both at Athos star camp and at Hacienda, so we have decided to observe from both locations rather than head up the mountain. Alan and Bob from Athos and I (Dave Shave-Wall) from Hacienda.

At 20:45 the first challenge this evening was from Alan. He asked we go after the 0.8 day old Moon which was only 0.9% illuminated. This was going to be a tough challenge. The newest Moon I had bagged was back in 2015 also from La Palma but 1.8 days old. So I decided to find Aldebaran in Taurus the bull once the Sun had set. The Moon would be below this slightly to the right. The approach I took was to wait until on SkySafari on the iPhone the Moon was just above the horizon then try to find it. Finding Aldebaran was not so bad, I finally adjusted my eyes against the relatively bright sky and could see it. Now I could put the binos on it, then I would head directly down to the horizon and sweep right , up a bit and back to the left. Finally I found it in the binos! Next I had to get the camera on it. That proved more difficult due to the focus not being set for the camera. I used the 6D MKII with a 100-300mm lens attached and manually focused on the distant clouds on the horizon. I then pointed the camera in roughly the right direction as the binos which was helped by a foreground bush pointing the way. I then used the zoom on the display to get to 5x and then panned around, finally finding the 0.8 day old Moon, this was @ 21:25 and I was delighted!

I found I was also surrounded by trees which were great for framing skyscapes. I took one of a conifer with Omega Centauri to the right hand side over the house which was very pleasing.

@ 00:13 I moved the binos to M61, a small galaxy Virgo which was easy to find and relatively bright. Otherwise this was fairly unremarkable. I made a quick rough sketch to record its position against the stars.

@ 00:23 I moved to another Messier object, this time M49. This small galaxy has a small NGC galaxy nearby, namely 4492, once again fairly unremarkable through the binos and again I made a quick sketch to record the positions.

@ 00:31 I moved to M104, the Sombrero galaxy which I was really excited about viewing. It was easy to find and bright and pencil thin long. It stood out clearly with Direct Vision and was next to a pleasing grouping of stars that I recorded in a pencil drawing. I could not resolve any details within the galaxy disk itself.

@00:46 I received a WhatsApp from Bob that he was imaging Omega Centauri the rather large Globular Cluster. I made a quick calculation as to it’s position and upon sweeping the binos towards it I nearly fell off my feet at how absolutely massive, bright and detailed it was. It was simply stunning and the best thing I have viewed this trip. It looks akin to M13 when viewed through a 16″ scope, but this is through my 4″ binos, it is truly a monster glob! I could resolve countless stars within the cluster, a rough sketch was made as I would simply get lost trying to record the individual stars.

@01:04 I set the camera up with the 50mm lens to image again Omega Centauri above the top of the house, interestingly I have inadvertently picked it up the previous evening in a photo without realising.

@01:26 I took an image of Coma Berenices perched atop a conifer tree.

I then performed some further viewing through the binoculars moving around the night sky before retiring to my room around 2:30pm



Viewing Report 4th May 2019 (Night 2) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 22:00 – 03:00

So once again it was cloudy at both Athos star camp and also at Hacienda. Although it should be noted that Athos was below the cloud layer and Hacienda was in the cloud. So Alan and I headed up the mountain to the Visitors Centre whilst Bob stayed at Athos to see if it cleared.

When we arrived it was in time to see Orion starting to set in the West. Given it is now May it seemed strange to see this remnant of Winter, but good to see an old friend. I took a few images with the 6D MKII and then proceeded to look at the Orion Nebula through the bins.

@ 23:00 I was scanning the Virgo region of sky to start to view more of the Markarian’s Chain, when I came across an orange streak across the sky. Immediately I remembered a news article I had read stating that in October 2016 they were starting tests of the sodium laser for the ELT on both the WHT and INT on La Palma. Amazingly if you looked in the sky with naked eyes it was almost impossible to see, however I could just make it out, but through the binos it was clear as day!

Alan and I then followed the laser back to its source confirming that it was indeed the sodium laser called WLGSU emanating near both the WHT and INT and then both with the binoculars and cameras traced the laser to a region in Leo around the star Regulus, the laser reaching some 80km high in the sodium layer of the atmosphere.

@ 23:43 I got back to visual astronomy and the Markarian’s Chain. This time M58 was my target and I spent 20 minutes or so drawing the tiny galaxy through my binos. I noted straight away I could make out the Siamese Twins set of interacting galaxies to the South of M58 and these could be seen with Direct Vision but clearer with Averted Vision.

@ 00:11 on the morning of the 5th May I star hoped my way to M3, a lovely globular cluster in Canes Venatici. The tight ball of stars could be easily resolved and presented a pleasing view. I decided to draw the cluster and surrounding stars which was easier said than done.

Soon enough it was time to head down the mountain back to what transpired to be a clear Hacienda after dropping Alan back at Athos star camp. I then setup the binos and camera for some more viewing.

I took a lovely skyscape of what transpired to be Omega Centauri over the top of the house. Unfortunately I found later the camera had focused on the house rather than the stars. A chat with Alan later the following day, informed me that I needed to stop down the camera get a better depth of field and focus on both the house and the stars, something I did much better in the nights ahead.

By 3am I was tired and went in to write up the notes from that night in front of a roaring fire, a glass of wine and some nibbles. A good night indeed.


Viewing Report 3rd May 2019 (Night 1) – La Palma

Viewing time period – 22:00 – 02:13

Due to the cloud being so poor down at ATHOS star camp, we decided to go up to the Visitors Centre to observe. This is the great thing about the islands in the Canaries, if where you are staying is cloudy you just go above it.

I have only taken my 100mm Altair Astro binoculars and my Canon 6D on its Omegon Minitrax LX2 clockwork drive. The aim is to some night-cap photography and use the binos to work through some targets in The Night Sky Observer’s Guide Volume 2, Spring and Summer edition.

I started by taking some images to the West as Betelgeuse was setting and I could see M44 in cancer and other open clusters in Cancer and Hydra. Then I realised there was what looked like the zodiacal light in the West which came out well on the photo too.

@ 00:18 Markarian’s Chain was one of this trips focal points. I wanted to draw a few parts of the chain of galaxies since I had imaged them on a previous trip. The start of the chain is always around M84/M86 and the equilateral triangle made up of the additional NGC 4338. Looking through binos I noted the triangle with ease. I had just star hopped a long way to get here when I found with Averted Vision the Eyes Interacting Galaxies, namely NGC 4438 & NGC 4435. Both were obvious terns of their interaction making them separate.

@ 00:35 I decided to look at my numberplate namesake, M44, Praesepe, the Beehive Cluster in Cancer. It is soo bright here I lost my bearings and instead thought it M31 from a visual inspection…. 🙂  I then spent 20 minutes drawing this beautiful open cluster,, sparkling through the eyepieces of the binoculars.

Meanwhile Alan and Bob were taking images from their various travel rigs, both with Canon cameras and both connect by clamps to the hand rails along the visitors centres path. By 1pm the Milky Way started to rise above the mountain range housing the islands largest observatories.

By 2pm we called it a night, frozen from the cold, forgetting to bring a warm drink or gloves and of course by this point I had been awake for the best part of 45 hours with a couple of 1 hour snoozes to keep me going. So we drove the 40mins down to Athos for the rest of the night which of course was cloudy.


Visit to Practical Astronomy Show Kettering

Lawrence, GingerGeek, Tim and I ( Dave Shave-Wall) along with BAS member Mil Dave attended the most excellent exhibition The Practical Astronomy Show in Kettering this last weekend.

Lawrence did a sterling job of driving us thee and back in his cavernous Range Rover for the 2 hour trip each way from Basingstoke so many thanks to him.

On arriving around 10am at the event we were greeted by 3 rooms of dealers showing there wears. In the first instance we bumped into Steve Collingwood from Pulsar Observatories and his lovely 2.2m white dome on display. We had  great chat given I have the 2.7m dome being fitted in a couple of weeks time. The dome was great and it was good to see in the flesh again and look at the drive motors. As always Steve was very knowledgable about the dome and it’s manufacture and performance. I can’t wait!

There were loads of scopes on display and as the day wore on it continued to amaze me just how many scopes and accessories one can find to look at and inspect for purchase. We stumbled across a couple of iOptron mounts including their new large CEM120 on the left in the photo above which was just beautiful.

Skywatcher had a range of scopes on different dealers stands and again it was nice to see a couple of copes used by members of BASEG and BAS like the 150 and 120 Esprit refractors that perform superbly.

Mil Dave meanwhile got talking to a chap who clearly makes his own mounts and the 2.2m Pulsar dome can be seen in the background

GingerGeek made some purchases including the very hand and well written and must have Night Sky Observers Guide V4 for the Milkyway, along with his new StarlightXpress camera and filter wheel.

And any show would not be complete without a stand full of Taks and I wonder if this stand has more Taks than our ver own Bob? We also spoke to a friend of GingerGeek’s who makes his own Corrected Dall Kirkham open truss OTAs which looked very well build and would tempt me if I had not already bought one.

The day would not have been complete without the talks, we all attended a few talks which were free as was the entry to the show and the parking! The talks were good and I went to one delivered by the writer of SharpCap who delivered an excellent talk on imaging times and settings.

Finally the trip back was still great as we look through a copy of NSOG a bargain for anyone from the Webdeepsky society.

Hacienda Fina – A Villa in North West La Palma

Hacienda is a group of 5 villas on the North West of the island of La Palma in the Canaries. At 4,333ft owned by Thomas Frietag. At this height you are sandwiched between two inversion layers meaning that a large number of nights tend to be clear at around 240 per year. Having just completed our first trip to one of the villas I can attest to all the nights we stayed being clear and the seeing excellent. Given this is the beginning of November it bodes well for the rest off the year. 

Calima. As always with the Canary islands you do have a risk of calima, Sahara sand high in the atmosphere, when you travel to all the islands. The dust tends to be more prevalent in the summer months when you are afforded less clouds, whilst during the winter there is much less chance of calima but an increased chance of cloud. On arrival for myself and my society friend Alan Lorrain the calima was slightly present when we arrived, however it only interfered with wide field stars cape astrophotography, not at all for visual and hardly at all for deep sky astrophotography. It cleared by night 4 on this particular trip, so we were happy with this as a result.

Location is everything and needs to be balanced with cost, suitability for all astronomers and other activities that one might want to partake in whilst there. This expedition was made up of two astronomers and we both have a passion fo hiking along with astrophotography and visual. We had heard that the North West of the island was a good compromise for not driving up and down the mountain each night and observing by the roadside, but still being clear enough to perform astronomy.  Whilst the nights were indeed clear, the days tended to be clouded and foggy where the cloud would form and come up and engulf the finca. That said, with clockwork precision the cloud would descend to a low altitude by 6:30pm allowing a full view of the night sky.

Lighting pollution is an essential factor in any trip and Christian who looked after us during our stay was very accommodating. Whilst there were lights around the pool, along the path and by the water fountain, Christian kindly changed the timer to turn these off for us at 9pm each night. This single act plunged us into total darkness each evening allowing light free access to the heavens above. 

So what was the accommodation like? Well we stayed in the villa El Sitio. Built into the rock face itself this beautifully sculpted villa was a balance of function and art. Individual artwork adorned the walls along with a wide us of copper through the building creating a warm homely feeling especially at sunset. The tranquility of the site and accommodation would be hard to match if you enjoy quiet and seclusion. the functionality of the accommodation provided a double bed in the bedroom and a sofa bed in the lounge/kitchen area which suited us fine. There were showers inside and out, a sauna (although we did not use it) lovely kitchen, dinning area inside and dinning area outside.

Observing areas were many at this property. I observed from outside the main bedroom for three evenings, three times from by the pool area and a single time from the top of the mountain and the new but unfinished visitors centre. Each location has its own merits in terms of horizon, humidity or access. Inn terms of humidity there was a lot of dew most evenings at this altitude, something that is a tradeoff with driving the 25 minutes up the mountain to the visitors centre.

Overall it has to be said this was a lovely astronomy holiday intersecting with hiking. We both enjoyed our 3-6 hours observing but also waking early enough to take in the refreshing walks on offer. After observing at the side of the road all night at the top of La Palma and Tenerife, observing from the MONS telescope and travelling down to the H!0 near both Santa Cruz in La Palma and Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife, this has to be the best compromise of them all and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Hacienda Website Link


Home and Away Booking site new booked through


Athos Star Camp

Situated in Las Tricias, in the region of Garafia on the western side of La Palma is the Athos Star camp. Occupying the site of a former botanical gardens the 45,000 square metre site has now been converted to a magnet for astronomers from across Europe.

As Dave and I were already staying at a villa nearby we contacted Kai, the owner, to arrange a visit to the camp to check out the location and the facilities.

Dave had previously marked the camp on Google Maps but when we were told to turn down a little track off the LP1 we declined, remaining on the main road for another couple of kilometres (and loads of bends) we reached Las Tricias village and turned up an equally tiny track and proceeded to wind our way back up the hillside, eventually arriving at the gate of the facility.

Kai greeted us and invited us into the Office, where you start to get an idea of the kit that he has available, filter wheels, narrow band filters, cameras and of course loads of scopes and mounts! After a quick chat we joined him on a tour of the site.

First light at the site was only in 2016. This followed a four year search to find somewhere suitable and the area seems to have its own micro climate, with it is claimed, about 300 clear nights a year, due to it being between the two inversion layers of cloud at 900 metres.


The site has five separate villas, with accompanying observing space, and four of these are round the central area whose hub is the ‘Orangery’ which is a library/meeting area where guests can mingle both during the day and also between observing sessions at night. One villa is completely self-contained, and could sleep 3 but only has one observation pad. The other four villas have separate bathrooms but share the cooking facilities in the Orangery.

The Villa rooms are (apart from one) twin occupancy, and the price quoted is for the room; i.e. could be divided in two if shared. Cost in the region of Euros ~400 for 5 nights plus extra nights at Euro ~70.

From the astronomy side each observing pad has a concrete base with surrounding railing, which feature innovative tables (with power sockets) that can be moved to different locations around the rail. This enables the use of a laptop for telescope control or a red light for drawing.

The list of equipment for hire is extensive, with a capital E! There is no obligation to hire and the choice for each individual will be based on whether they want to bring their own kit out from the UK with which they are familiar or to rent for example an EQ6 mount for 6 nights, thus removing the need to have an extra case on the plane and the cost that that involves.

So on a preliminary basis the site offers self-catering facilities at a reasonable cost without the need to cart heavy items out from home.

However Athos offers much much more. If you have dreamed of using a 25” Dob, there’s one for hire. Narrow band filters, CCD cameras, Dobs, SCTs and a range of refractors are all available.

There is also a fully fitted observatory equipped with a C11 and a 7” refactor, dual mounted and operated from the control room below. Yes it will set you back Euros 290 per night, but for one night split 3 ways maybe affordable as a treat?

Availability around new Moon is of course a little difficult necessitating booking into later 2019 or even into 2020 in order to get your chosen time and all 5 villas available.

In conclusion superb facilities well worthy of consideration for amateur astronomers looking for clear skies, equipment hire and the chance to go individually or as a group.