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5 Amazing Dark Skies experiences in Scotland

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Scotland enjoys some of the darkest skies in Europe thanks to large areas of low light pollution, especially in the Highlands and islands away from large centres of urban settlement.  On a clear night, constellations of stars, the planets, the Milky Way galaxy and even the Northern Lights are just a few of the wonders to behold in Scotland’s night skies. If you would like to plan an astronomical adventure of your own, here are 5 great ways that you can experience Scotland’s ‘Dark Skies’.

1. Take a trip to Galloway Forest Park

Galloway Forest Park, Scotland’s largest forest park also boasts the status of being only one of four designated ‘International Dark Sky Parks’ in the Western world and the only one in the UK.  This International Dark Sky Park is the perfect site to explore the darkest skies in Europe and having been on two stargazing adventures there myself, I can confirm it is the ideal place for anyone wanting to appreciate the wonders of the universe, with over 7,000 stars and planets visible to the naked eye.

Four Biosphere Dark Sky Rangers with a variety of skills and specialisms also run events and tailor-made experiences designed to encourage everyone to get outdoors and enjoy the night sky. Please be aware that the Dark Sky Observatory is permanently closed.

2. Visit a public observatory

If you want a closer view of the planets and stars with some expert tuition on hand to point out the many other visible astronomical features, a trip to one of Scotland’s public observatories is a must. Mills Observatory in Dundee, The Thomas Coats Observatory in Paisley (temporarily closed), Airdrie Public Observatory and The Royal Observatory in Edinburgh all provide access to a range of powerful telescopes guaranteed to provide a whole new perspective of the night sky.  Some of the observatories hold regular events and individuals can book to join one of their public astronomy evenings.

3. Go hunting for the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights above Rowardennan on Loch Lomond

The Northern Lights above Rowardennan on Loch Lomond |

Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket-list for as long as I can remember.  Two years ago I finally witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of dancing green lights on my very own doorstep, right here in Scotland.  I didn’t realise that with a bit of planning, the right conditions and a dose of luck, Scotland offers a good chance of spotting the colourful Aurora Borealis lighting up the night sky.  Although the northern regions of the country offer the best chances of catching a display, they can occasionally be seen further south due to the low light pollution.

4. Stay on the Isle of Coll

Sunset on the Isle of Coll | Photo by Wendy North via Flickr

Sunset on the Isle of Coll | Photo by Wendy North via Flickr

Scottish islands are great places to enjoy the night sky due to their generally low light pollution, but the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides is the only one in Scotland that can boast the status of being a ‘Dark Skies Island’. Even more impressively, it is only one of two such designated islands in the world.  Lack of street lights, a small population and local commitment to conservation have helped Coll to remain a place of natural beauty.  Specially designed ‘Coll and the Cosmos’ stargazing weekend breaks using state of the art technology can be booked by visitors wanting to make the most of the island’s dark sky and are a perfect introduction for those with no prior knowledge of astronomy.

5. Camp under the stars

A clear, starlit winter night across Loch Cluanie, Highlands.

A clear, starlit winter night across Loch Cluanie, Highlands | Image by Paul Tomkins – VisitScotland

Personally I can’t think of a better way to enjoy Scotland’s dark skies than by spending a night beneath them.  Luckily responsible wild camping is permissible in Scotland, meaning you can get off the beaten path and sleep under the stars for free.  To help make the most of your stargazing adventure remember to wrap up warm as clear nights often mean cold nights, pitch your tent away from light pollution, and use a red torch so your night vision won’t be affected.  With so many remote regions and quiet islands to choose from, camping under the stars on a clear night has to be one of the most magical and memorable ways to experience Scotland.

To learn more about Dark Skies in Scotland and find out where to get the best views of the night sky, please visit our Dark Skies Parks and Stargazing page.