Everyone knows the beautiful starry skies of the Provence. However, you can also see such dark skies much closer to the Netherlands. In 2015 I was on holiday with my wife Lizzie near the town of Buzancy in the Champagne-Ardennes region [1] in northern France. Unfortunately, I was only able to observe once. In 2017 and 2018 I had a 1- and 2-week period of vacation [2, 3] respectively in Any Martin Rieux (roughly 60 km north-west of Buzancy, 10 km east-southeast of Hirson). There I could do respectively 2 and 3 meteor sessions [2 and 3]. Although the weather in Champagne-Ardennes is worse than in the Provence, the starry skies are even a bit darker than in southern France!

Between Sunday 28 April and Sunday 5 May, I stayed with Lizzie and our four dogs again in Buzancy at the campingsite La Samatiraine. We rented a small house there. This period coincided with the activity period of the eta Aquariids, remnants of the famous Comet 1P Halley. Although doing meteor observations was not a main objective, I naturally kept an eye on the weather…

Observing the delta Aquariids is a challenge in Northwestern Europe [4]. The nights during early may are getting short. And when de radiant of the Southern Delta Aquariids appears above the horizon, dawn begins. After that there is about a one hour window to see one, two or three eta Aquariids in the brightening sky. Observations from eta Aquariids done from northern Europe are not usefull, radiant elevation and limiting magnitude are to low to do serious analyses. But it is fun an a “sport” to see some eta Aquariids during dusk. I hope one day I can see this meteorshower from very southern locations such as Namibia.
Another meteorshower is also active in this period: the eta Lyrids. This meteor shower is a remnant of the Comet C/1983 H1 (IRAS-Araki-Alcock).

A high-pressure area above Scandinavia ensured a calm weather type in which a weak front moved from the northeast to the southwest. On April 30 the sky cleared slowly during the day. However, the sky was not deep blue, but a little hazy. This improved slightly as the day progressed. In 2015 I observed from a meadow surrounded by trees and bushes behind the campsite. Because fog might occur, I decided to look for a more open location where the weak northeast wind had more strength. I found such a location at 500 meters from our house next to a lake. View perfect from the west over the south to the east. I had the lake and a number of large trees behind me.

April 30/May 1, 2019
After a short sleep in the evening alarm went off at 22h UT. Next, I walked to the location across the illuminated camping site and into the darkness. I found a nice place in the grass near the lake and so the observations could start. Towards the east the sky was a bit brighter, perhaps from Buzancy, but I didn’t see any direct lighting in that direction.
Although the sky was a bit hazy at a lower altitude, the sky was breathtakingly beautiful with a very dark sky background. After the first SQM measurement I could not believe my eyes: SQM 21.80 … That is better than what Michel Vandeputte ever measured in Revest du Bion (Provence)! There he measured a SQM maximum of 21.65. Gradually the SQM rose slightly to 21.85 during the night.
This session was a very nice one. At night there were first the noises of the frogs and ducks, sometimes together with a dog or cow barking. Then I heard a Cuckoo in the morning, and after 1h30m UT when dusk sets in, the bird sounds were rapidly increasing. A bat regularly flew through my field of view, a few times in the distance a car. It is so nice to observe under these circumstances, what a joy! Such conditions are no longer to be found in most parts of the Netherlands! And the choice for this location was correct, because further on towards Buzancy and the pasture where I observed in 2015 were filled with fog. The weak breeze had prevented the fog to appear at my location.
I was able to observe between 22h30m pm and 2h36m UT, effectively exactly 4.00 hours. Limiting magnitude started at 6.7 but dropped slightly when the haze appeared. Thanks to the dark starry sky, quite a few meteors were seen, a 59 in total! That is an average of 15 per hour and for me a record for May! Most meteors were weak, most of them were magnitude +4 or +5. The brightest ones were some meteors of +1 and +2. Attention was paid to meteors from Comet 1983/D Iras-Aracki-Alcock: the eta Lyrids (ELY), Antihelions (ANT) and the eta Aquariids (ETA, radiant appears at 01h30m UT). As many as 5 possible ELYs were seen, 7 ANT and 1 ETA. The latter appeared at 2h12m UT, a fast and long +4 ETA in Ophiuchus.
When I ended the session, the temperature is 0 degrees Celsius. A short time after the session I enjoy the peace and quietness and birdsongs. Then I cleaned up my stuff and walked back to the campsite.

May 4/5, 2019
The weather remained calm and warm until Thursday, but it was often (partly) cloudy at night. Cold air would then gain ground over large parts of Europe. This was accompanied by a lot of clouds and some rain. Clearings were expected after a cold front moving by during the course of Saturday evening. The predictions of the HIRLAM model indicated that it would get completely clear just after 23h UT. So, I set the alarm clock at that time and then looked outside: wow…. The sky was very clear! Very low southeast Antares and Jupiter were bright! There was no mist or fog and there was a northwestern wind. When I walked to the location I still saw some clouds hanging low east: they stood out black against the clear starry sky… A few minutes later they were also disappeared.
It was now extremely quiet outside, there was no traffic at all this Sunday morning. However, during the entire period I heard a bird that whistles cheerfully all night long. A beautiful ambiance with the dark starry sky! The temperature this night was -3 degrees Celsius and my sleeping bag was covered white from the frost. The observations:

Period 23h23m-00h24m UT: limiting magnitude 6.70, SQM 21.67, T.eff. 1 hour.
At first, I was a bit surprised by the SQM measurements, which was lower than the previous night while the starry sky was much brighter at a lower altitude! This can be explained, towards Buzancy there was now some lighting visible that during the previous session was apparently blocked by fog and/or haze. It did not disturb at that distance (more than 1 km), but the SQM meter still picked it up. The big difference was this night at a lower altitude, where the starry sky was much brighter than in the previous night.
During this observing period, I counted 2 eta Lyrids, 2 Antihelions and 10 sporadic meteors. Ofcourse a lot of weak meteors, the brightest meteor was a slow meteor of +2 coming from the north (Cepheus).

Period 00h24m-01h25m UT: limiting magnitude 6.70, SQM 21.63, t.eff. 1 hour.
A busy period! In total I counted 2 eta Lyrids, 2 Antihelions and 15 sporadic meteors. As expected most meteors were weak. At 1h17m UT I saw something moving fast in the corner of my eye from Cygnus to Pegasus with a short fierce flare of -2. A +4 meteor with a long trail shot through Ophiuchus, perhaps an APEX meteor. A fluctuating +2 Antihelion was also nice to see.

Period 01h25m-02h26m UT: limiting magnitude 6.58, SQM 21.49, t.eff. 1 hour.
The Milky Way is getting higher and now it is very impressive: from Cassiopeia I could follow it beautifully through Cygnus, Aquila (with the dark dust band) and the bright parts in Saggitarius with Jupiter in it. To the left of it Saturn. The Milky way was now comparable to what it looks like in Provence. And just above the horizon in the south I saw the two stars G and λ Scorpio (both about magnitude +2). In my home town Ermelo they do not rise above the horizon!
Fewer meteors this period. From 2h UT the twilight also became noticeable, after 2:15 UT it went faster. In total I observed 1 eta Lyrid, 2 Antihelions, 1 eta Aquariid and 9 sporadic meteors. A number of beautiful meteors: a +2 Antihelion meteor, at 01h57m UT a fast sporadic meteor of +1 in Ophiuchus with a 1 second persistent train. Then a +3 eta Aquariid and at 02h23m UT the most beautiful meteor of this session: a fast blue-yellow magnitude -1 APEX meteor shoots through the constellations of Ophiuchus, Hercules and Corona Borealis with a persistent train of 2 seconds.
At 2h22m UT the ISS appeared just above Jupiter. It then moved slowly through the “star-cloud” of Scutum to the east.

Period 02h26m-02h43m UT, limiting magnitude 6.20, t.eff. 0.267 hours.
Twilight appeared faster now! Only two meteors were seen during this period, a +3 eta Aquariid with persistent train and one sporadic meteor. The lm dropped from 6.3 to 6.0. Nature was waking up in the meantime, many birds were audible with the Chuckoo and an Oriole as the most striking attendees.
I concluded this session and quickly walked back to our rented house. After two hours of sleep, we packed up our stuff and returned to the Netherlands. I am really pleased with these two beautiful sessions from this dark location in northern France.

Figure 1. The observation field of the author. To the left behind the trees, the small village of Buzancy is 1 km away. The photo was taken towards the east. Facing south gives a full view of the sky

[1] Miskotte K., Een visuele waarneemactie in Noord Frankrijk, eRadiant 2015-2, p. 49.
[2] Miskotte K., De Orioniden vanuit Noord Frankrijk, eRadiant 2017-6, p. 143-145.
[3] Miskotte K., Midsummer nights 2018. Meteor observations at Any Martin Rieux, Northern France, Meteornews 2018-4, p. 201-203.
[4] Langbroek M., The tale of two mad Meteorhunters, WGN, Vol. 23, No. 6, p. 251 – 253.