Most tourists who visit Scotland head for the highlands and islands for the spectacular scenery or maybe to the big cities of Glasgow or Edinburgh to soak up some of the culture but for those with a couple of days to spare or who are seeking something a bit different there is an interesting alternative.
In the southwest region of Scotland lies a dark, dark place! The 300 square miles of Galloway Forest Park is an area containing tree-clad glens, lochs and some of the highest hills in southern Scotland. There are few buildings, few people and very little artificial light. That’s why, in 2009, the International Dark Sky Association chose Galloway Forest Park to be the first national park in the UK to be given Dark Sky Park status.
WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Many people who live in cities never really get to see the stars because of the light pollution from street lights, house lights, advertising signs etc., but get away from all that distracting artificial light and you will be rewarded with a spectacular night-time experience – the wonders of the universe laid out before you!
Even with the naked eye you can see stars and other astronomical objects which can’t be seen from a city and if you bring binoculars you could spot some of the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn (you may even find the Horsehead Nebula) whilst the closest object to us, the Moon, is revealed as a fascinating world of dust-filled craters and sheer cliffs.
You may see shooting stars streaking through the sky on their fiery path to oblivion or, if your timing is right, a whole meteor shower making its annual visit to our planet’s atmosphere. With luck you might be the one to spot something unusual in the heavens – a supernova maybe or even ET’s spaceship!
HOW DARK IS DARK?
So how dark is it in Scotland’s biggest dark sky park? The sky quality meter scale, which measures just how dark things get, goes from 0 (not dark at all) to 25 (as dark as it can get) and on this scale the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park rates at up to 23. Considering that a photographer’s darkroom is rated at 24 that is pretty dark!
You can visit the dark sky park on your own if you wish but for those not familiar with the area it is probably best to start with the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory. Located on a hilltop at the edge of the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park the observatory is home to two telescopes (one of which is housed in a five-metre dome) and an elevated open-air observation platform for naked-eye viewing of the wonders of the night sky.
The observatory runs a series of events all year round so whenever you visit Scotland you will find something of interest. Feel free to bring a flask of something hot and a pack of sandwiches – all that stellar exploring might make you hungry!
A Scotsman born and bred I love to roam Scotland’s hills and wild places taking photographs and writing about my travels around the country and all things to do with my homeland.