With more freedom after lockdown, now is your chance to unwind, watch the universe go by and bless your lucky stars.
The Highlands has some of the largest expanses of dark sky in Europe making it the perfect destination for eager stargazers. With very low levels of light pollution, the area around Inverness and the Cairngorms National Park is the perfect location to view the night black skies filled with dazzling stars, distant planets and streaking meteors. It is also home to the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world and the darkest in the UK.
The autumn is a great time to watch the night sky, when it gets dark earlier but it’s still warm outside. And there’s plenty to do during the day too. Here is some inspiration for your autumn stargazing holiday around Inverness and the Cairngorms National Park.
1. Tomintoul and Glenlivet, Cairngorms National Park
By Night 🌟 The Cairngorms Dark Sky Park
Going for a walk after dark in the Cairngorms National Park will leave you breathless. Discover the wonders of the night sky at the incredible Tomintoul & Glenlivet Cairngorms Dark Sky Park. This is the most northernly Dark Sky Park in the world and the darkest in the UK.
Easily accessible, this is one of the areas in Scotland with the least amount of light pollution. You will be amazed at the sheer number and the brilliance of the stars visible. And according to a new study, this is also the best place in the UK to see the Perseid meteor showers lightening the night skies this month. There are many other perfect stargazing spots in the Cairngorms National Park, including the Cairngorm Mountain Carpark, the Glen Tanar Estate, Braemar, Abernethy Forest, and Glenshee. Join the the Cairngorms Astronomy Group to explerience them all.
By Day 🌄 Glenlivet Estate
The beautiful Glenlivet Estate has some of the finest landscapes of the Highlands, with clear rivers, sheltered straths, glens and woods, high heather-covered hills, and a wonderful sense of peace, quiet and open space. With 90 square miles of rolling hills, you can enjoy some great outdoor pursuits whatever the season, from walking and mountain biking, to fishing and skiing.
Follow the ancient ‘whisky roads’ used by smugglers and visit the famous ‘hidden’ Catholic Seminary at Scalan. Put on your walking boots and walk through forests and open moorlands or head out for a guided trek in the hills amongst stunning scenery. Don’t miss the fun-packed, flowing single track on the Glenlivet mountain bike trails.
By Night 🌠 JSL Observatory
Join the Highlands Astronomical Society and explore the universe at the Jim Savage-Lowden Observatory in Culloden near Inverness. Here amateur astronomers and others with an interest in astronomy share their passion for the stars, planets and other wonders of the Universe. You can join dark sky sessions from September through March.
By Day ☀️ Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre
Visit the powerfully moving and atmospheric battlefield where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to a tragic end. Culloden was the last major battle to be fought on British soil. Join a guided tour where an expert guide will lead you around the key areas of action on Culloden Moor, as well as visiting the memorial cairn around which lie the graves of 1,500 fallen Jacobite soldiers.
Explore the interactive visitor centre, view fascinating artefacts from both sides of the confrontation, and experience the battle in the immersive surround 360-degree theatre, which puts you right in the heart of the action.
3. Moray Speyside
By Night 🔭 Moray Astronomy Club
The sky is not the limit as you go stargazing in beautiful Moray Speyside. Let your imagination go wild and marvel at a flood of stars amidst the incredible black canvas of the Moray coast. The Moray Coast is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights and was named as one of the 7 best places in the Scotsman.
Join Moray Astronomy Club SIGMA and watch the stars from the dark site just outside Elgin with experts and enthusiasts alike guiding you through the night sky. Or zoom into galaxies and dying stars at the Morayvia Planetarium, when it reopens in 2021. This sci-tech attraction brings astronomy, aerospace, technology and arts under one roof. The entire night sky can be seen, and high resolution images of the planets are projected on the inside of seven metre diameter inflatable dome.
By Day 🌅 Moray Speyside Coastal Trail
Breathe in the sea breeze and immerse yourself in the immense skies and seascapes of the Moray Coast Trail, one of the most scenic stretches of coastline in the world. Enjoy a sense of wilderness with dramatic cliffs, stunning sandy beaches, coastal formations and attractive fishing villages. Gaze at the ocean to spot dolphins, or go for a family dinosaur hunt at Hopeman and find the fossilised footprints of pre-dinosaur reptiles in the exposed sandstone cliffs.
Beginning in Forres and ending in Cullen, this beautiful 72 km route is split into sections, so you can pick a section for a day walk near your home, or tackle the whole route.
4. Loch Ness
By Night 🌙 Sunset on the loch
Get away from the crowd and head to the more scenic and wild south side for spectacular views of Scotland’s most iconic loch. Visit Inverfarigaig village, located below the rocky bluffs of Dun Dearduil and watch the sunset from the historic Inverfarigaig Pier, which was built by the famous engineer Thomas Telford. For sunrise, head to the spectacular Suidhe Viewpoint, one of the highest points on the Loch Ness 360° Trail and the perfect place to enjoy some unspoiled views at dusk.
By Day ☀️ Loch Ness 360° Trail
While in the area, don’t miss the new Loch Ness 360 Trail, an epic walking, cycling, running and outdoor activity trail looping the entire circumference of Loch Ness. This 80 miles long distance trail connects the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail into one circuit around the famous loch amongst stunning Highland scenery. Whether you walk, run or cycle, you can start and finish in the Highland Capital of Inverness, or join the trail at any point of your choice.
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"To be sure, I am a forest and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness will find banks full of roses under my cypresses." – Friedrich Nietzsche ☠ ☠ #tattoo #inverness #hotel #travel #scotland #birmingham #palermo #galaxys10plus #digitalphotography #instapic #instadaily #instaphoto #uktrip #igersinverness #highlands #igershighlands #thisisscotland #scottishwonders #canal #firth #caledoniancanal #clachnaharry #thescottishcollective #beauly #beaulyfirth #sunrise #dawn #sunset #dark #twilight
By Night 🌇 Clachnaharry Sea Lock
Clachnaharry is a former fishing village on the edge of Inverness, and also an amazing viewpoint.
Follow the towpath along the Muirtown Basin to Clachnaharry Sea Lock, where the Caledonian Canal meets the sea. Here boats can sail out into the Moray Firth and ultimately the North Sea. This is a very picturesque spot and you can often witness spectacular sunsets and surnrise over the Beauly Firth and the mountains behind. This is also a great area for wildlife, so look out look for dolphins and seals, and wading birds.
By Day ☀️ The Caledonian Canal
Stretching from Fort William to Inverness, the Caledonian Canal is truly an engineering marvel. Creating this 60 miles long canal across the heart of the Scottish Highlands from coast to coast was the idea of Thomas Telford. Today it is also the perfect route to enjoy a great family day.
Starting from Tomnahurich Bridge, take a leisurely journey along the towpath on the Dochgarroch Loop, one of the most popular circular routes for walking and cycling in Inverness. Stroll along the towpath with the River Ness on one side and the canal on the other. Once at Dochgarroch, you can relax and have a picnic, spot birds and other wildlife and watch the boats go by.
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One of the things I love about my farm is it being right next to our amazing community forest, so I am surrounded by beautiful walks and all sorts of brilliant activities. Tonight was my first directors meeting (feeling very honoured😊🤗!) – and to top it off the stars came out for the last half of my walk home, so I gazed at Venus, the Milky Way and the Crab Nebula before turning in. Some days end in pure bliss 🥰 (photo © Micheal Mearns @mikerock1986 – I am not that good!) #stargazing #communityforest #abriachanforesttrust #itsahardlife #farmlife #farmtobewild #abriachan #darksky #starlitwalk
By Night 🌌 Abriachan Community Forest
Watch the milky way at Abriachan Community Forest near the legendary Loch Ness. Abriachan is an excellent spot for stargazing, being elevated in the high moors above loch ness and well away from urban light pollution. The site also has excellent daytime activities and is very family orientated. You can take part in public observing and astronomy events hosted by Abriachan Community Trust and Highland Astronomy Tours.
By Day 🚵 Abriachan Mountain Biking Trail
For great views of Loch Ness and the Great Glen, go off the beaten track and up into the hills surrounding Loch Ness.
Explore the woodland and moorland walking trails laid out by the Abriachan Forest Community Trust, ranging from a short stroll to longer walks. Along the way, you’ll find some unexpected pieces of art: a replica Bronze Age hut, sculptures, a whisky still, a reconstructed shieling and a treehouse! You can also enjoy 14km of great mountain biking trails – known as the Kelpies’ Trails – after the famous and mythical local water horse.
We have some great freedoms in Scotland – you can get off the beaten track and find the darkest of dark skies. Those freedoms come with responsibilities, if in doubt check the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and know the code before you go.
Find out more about Scotland’s dark skies