Glenelg dark skies, a star gazing heaven!


Glenelg Dark Skies

The Glenelg area is renowned for its spectacular scenery but when night falls another scenic vision unfolds above the horizon – Dark Skies. If you have lived in cities or suburbia all your life it’s sometimes hard to take in, or even describe your first look at a light unpolluted sky on a crystal clear night. WOW is common, as are expletives! It really is awesome. Many visitors come to the Highlands and particularly the Glenelg peninsula for the wide open spaces and views and the sky offers the greatest expanse of all.


When to view

“At night” may be the obvious answer!! Yet in truth it should be “At night when it’s dark” Midnight June, not good for Star Gazing! and as the summer this far North rarely sees true darkness (the photo on the right was taken at midnight in June) then limitations do apply. A bright, full moon also affects things, though it adds its own natural beauty to the surroundings. So the perfect time for viewing dark skies would be from October to the end of March and away from the full moon period. Apart from Christmas and NewYear this also has the advantage of being away from the main holiday season and accommodation will be cheaper! The other criteria to get the best from dark skies are of course, clear skies but this is Scotland and unfortunately there can be no guarantee on weather conditions!


Where to view

Depending where you are staying you may be able to simply take a couple of chairs outside and switch all the lights off in the property! However, if you are surrounded by trees or have lights from other properties intruding you may have to walk a short way (don’t forget the torches!) or may prefer to drive to a higher vantage point. Pick your location during daylight hours.


Dark Skies What you can see

The sky’s the limit really (sorry!) but names you have probably heard of, The Plough, Orions Belt, The Great Square of Pegasus (these are known as “asterisms”) are all visible plus the Milky Way, planets and thousands of stars – time to Google!! Look for our twin – “Glenelg (Mars)”!! (Well to be honest you won’t see Glenelg on Mars with a pair of binoculars but you can see Mars!) You can find more info on


What to take with you

Dress the part: The best clear, dark nights appear late autumn, early spring and during the winter. If you jump out of a warm car on a cool night it Moon from Glenelg, hand held camera doesn’t take long before you will appreciate some warm clothing. Torches; obviously walking around in the dark is likely to result in an accident if you can’t see where you are going, so a torch is needed but you need a red filter over the lens or you will find the normal whitelight effects your eyes for quite a while. Something as simple as red cellophane from a sweetie wrapper is perfect. Another alternative is a couple of glow sticks. A Flask; why not be comfortable if it’s a bit chilly? Binoculars; you don’t need a mega telescope to improve the vision; binoculars are perfect for star gazing. A star map is also handy. (Check with your accommodation provider, they may already include some of these items.)



Book wise; Steve Owens, Astronomer and member of the IDA International Dark-Sky Association, has written the easy to read Stargazing for Dummies, a good starter for anyone wanting to actually know what they are looking at and the best ways to do it. The Google Star Chart is a great app for Android devices, just download and point to the sky. It locates position by gps and shows the stars and planets you are looking at – amazing! For Apple users, Star Map gives similar results. Just use your favourite search engine to find more useful media. NB, we have very, very, very (I mean it!) slow broadband in Glenelg so download before you visit.


Ongoing interest

Interest after the Stars and Mars event has continued and recently Steve Owens, (mentioned above), came to Glenelg to give a series of interesting talks and presentations on Dark Skies. (Also attended by Prof John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland). Scotland is well presented in the world of Dark Skies; two of the 24 worldwide Dark Sky communities are in Scotland. In November, 2009 the Galloway Forest Park became the UK’s first Dark Sky Park and on 9th December 2013, the tiny Hebridean Island of Coll was also awarded Dark-Sky status.

Alastair Holgate

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