Standing at the edge of a Scottish forest on a clear night and looking to the heavens will convince you that there is no better place for stargazing than Scotland.
Ask any astronomer for the best stargazing spots in the world, and they’ll say the Atacama Desert in Chile, or Hawaii, or possibly out in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Press them further, and you might save yourself a trek halfway across the world. Scotland invariably makes it into the world top 10, and here’s why.
1. Lights out
After cloudy skies, light pollution is the stargazer’s biggest enemy. Scotland’s population density at 68 people per square km (p/km2) is one of the lowest in Europe, and once you leave the central belt it drops dramatically to around 9p/km2 (England’s population density is 400p/km2). Clearly, fewer people create less light, making Scotland a stargazer’s dream. And of course, Scotland’s long winter nights keep it darker for longer too.
2. Dark Sky Park
An International Dark Sky Park is defined as “a location of exceptional night time beauty, dark skies education, and preservation of the night time environment.” Stop off at Galloway Forest Park in southern Scotland en route to your holiday in Strathyre or Argyll. It is one of only seven gold standard Dark Sky Parks in the world, and the first in the UK. With a Sky Quality Meter score of 21-23.6 out of 25 it’s as near to total darkness as you can get.
3. Dark Sky Curators
A term we’ve coined for those who campaign to keep our skies visible at night. Organisations such as the International Dark Sky Association and Dark Sky Discovery work to reduce light pollution, provide accessible spots for stargazing and run dark sky events. In Scotland these organisations are active preserving and publicising Scotland’s unique stargazing credentials. We do our bit at Forest Holidays. If you are on a Strathyre or Argyll holiday with us you will notice we don’t have outside lighting. This keeps light pollution low and allows you to see the skies as you would never normally see them.
4. The Northern Lights
Scotland is the best stargazing UK location to see the awe-inspiring aurora borealis, or northern lights, as they are more familiarly known. This winter 2013/2014 is the best time for over a decade to see these dramatic light displays that peak to a “Solar Maximum” every 11 years.
5. When Dawn Breaks…
When the Milky Way gives way to the morning sun, Scotland is revealed as a land of beauty and majesty. The splendour of the night skies is matched by a daytime landscape of snow-capped mountains, misty lochs and magical forests. It certainly has more going for it than the middle of the Atacama Desert in Chile! And it’s easier to get to.
What do you think? Have you been stargazing in Scotland? If you have yet to start your stargazing adventure, take a look at our Beginner’s Guide to Stargazing and our month by month Stargazing in the Forest guides, to whet your appetite. Then book a Scottish forest lodge and pack the binoculars. Happy Stargazing!
5 of the best stargazing spots in Scotland
1. Galloway Forest Park – one of only two Dark Sky Parks in Europe
2. Isle of Skye – one of the darkest places in Europe, nine locations on the isle are Dark Sky Discovery Sites
3. West coast of Kintyre – on a clear night you will see the Milky Way in all its glory
4. Royal Observatory Edinburgh – join a Public Astronomy Evening to see and learn more about the night skies
5. A hot tub in Strathyre or Argyll - stay at our lodges in Scotland and enjoy the laid back approach to stargazing - don’t forget the wine!
5 stargazing tips
1. Head for the dark – stars are shy; the darker it is, the more the stars will come out
2. Adjust your eyes – you’ll see 10 times more stars 20 minutes after switching off your torch
3. Take binoculars – you can see plenty with the naked eye, but a small pair of binoculars will take you to the next level
4. Use an app – try Google Sky Maps which will tell you exactly what you are seeing in the sky
5. Wrap up – Scottish winter nights are not for the feint-hearted. Layers upon layers and a good pair of gloves are essential, along with hot drinks.