Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Early alert for Hebridean Dark Skies Festival

While it doesn’t really matter (I am nowhere near the Hebrides, and certainly can’t afford to go there just to look at sky, no matter HOW dark it is), I guarantee you I will have forgotten all about this by February.

But it is worth noting how many Dark Sky events are being organised in Scotland now.

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will take place on the Isle of Lewis from 8-21 February.

Speakers will include Chris Lintott from BBC’s The Sky at Night, science presenter Heather Couper and Astronomer Royal for Scotland, John Brown.

There will be live music performances and screenings of films, including The Rocket Post and the silent movie Wunder Der Schöpfung.

Arts centre An Lanntair, Stornoway Astronomical Society, Calanais Visitor Centre, Gallan Head Community Trust and Lews Castle College UHI are involved in the festival.

Stargazing events will be held at Gallan Head and the Calanais Standing Stones.

First Hebridean Dark Skies Festival to be held

See this Events Page for dates of the many events being held during this festival.

The story of the ‘Rocket Post’ is one I came across many years ago, and was a fascinating attempt, years ahead of its time.

Starry sky

Starry sky

12/10/2018 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Scotland gains another ‘Dark Sky’ award

I like to give a mention to ‘Dark Sky’ awards made to areas of Scotland, when I’m lucky enough to spot them.

A large area of woodland in hills above Loch Ness has become a Dark Sky Discovery site.

Abriachan Forest Trust has been awarded Milky Way class Dark Sky status, the first location in the Inverness area to receive the certification.

There are other Dark Sky Discovery sites in the Highlands, including Castlehill Heritage Centre near Thurso.

The status is only awarded by Dark Sky Discovery to places with “very clear views” of the Milky Way galaxy.

Via ‘Milky Way’ designation for forest near Loch Ness

It’s a bit of a sad story in a way, and while the subject may not be impinging directly on this newly awarded site (yet?), it does wave the tiniest of warning flags for its future if care is not taken.

I refer to a paper I saw recently, reporting the findings of a survey carried out using a new set of satellite images taken of the Earth as seen at night.

Both worrying and disappointingly, it seems that despite the continuing switch to LED illumination, and efforts through cooperation and legislation to deliver more efficient and directed outdoor lighting sources which should reduce light pollution, artificially illuminated area of the Earth are actually growing BRIGHTER, not dimmer.

It would seem that while we are producing lighting units which use less energy, we are not using that to provide the same lighting for less energy consumption, but maintaining the same budget and pouring out MORE light for the same cost.

Well, that’s my take based on what I see.

Council’s HAVE reduced consumption by using better and more directed street lighting (I’ve even seen some being slated for REMOVING lighting they consider excessive), while commercial interests are simply getting more ‘Bang for their Buck’, and installing brighter lights to advertise their presence, yet paying no more to run them.

Since I won’t be getting anywhere this site any time soon, this random night sky wallpaper scene will have to do.

Dark Sky

Dark Sky

28/11/2017 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dark Sky Observatory opens in Galloway Forest Park

Astronomer and telescopeI thought it might be a good idea to have a specific entry about the opening of the new Dark Sky Observatory in Galloway Forest Park.

Reason being that since I mention the project beginning back in January, I have receive two comment, both complaining that they cannot find detail of the observatory, or how to find it.

The answer was quite simple, and a little bit obvious had the complainants actually read what I had written in Dark Sky Observatory built in Dalmellington in Galloway Forest Park where I merely announce the start of the project, and the award of funds towards it. It did not exist then, so it wasn’t possible for me to include either information about it, and what it contained, or specific direction to the site, which is something I always do when I describe a feature.

Although the observatory has now both been completed and officially opened by Scotland’s First Minister: Alex Salmond officially opens Dark Sky Observatory, I still cannot provide details. But if you are really keen, you can go and look for it in the Craigengillan Estate in Dalmellington

The facility is not being opened to the public immediately, because the main 20-inch telescope is still being calibrated.

You can get an idea of what the place looks like at this blog: Scottish Dark Sky Observatory « Dark Sky Diary

There is mention of it having a page in something called ‘Facebook’, but since I have that barred and blocked from my browser, and will not touch it with the proverbial barge-pole, you’ll have to hunt that option down for yourself.

When the observatory does go online with a real web site, I will add an ‘Update’ to the foot of the posting.

The Scottish Government provided £100,000 towards the cost of the observatory:

The new observatory, costing almost £700,000 in total, has been described as a “huge asset” to the area.

Mr Salmond said: “The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is no less than stunning.

“It is situated in one of only five gold tier dark sky parks in the world, and is the only public use observatory in a Dark Sky Park anywhere in the world.

“Curiosity about science and a passion for learning more about the world around us are the cornerstones of ensuring the next generations of innovators upon whom Scotland’s future depends.”

He said it was a “fantastic asset” for the tourist economy in the area and for the whole of Scotland in general.

“Most importantly, it is also a huge economic asset for the local community – attracting direct employment, encouraging visitors to come here and providing an inspirational resource for local children and adults alike,” he added.

You can read a little more about the opening here: Observatory at Scotland’s ‘dark sky’ park opens up skies to public

06/10/2012 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Sky Observatory built in Dalmellington in Galloway Forest Park

Astronomer and telescopeFor the opening of the observatory see Dark Sky Observatory opens in Galloway Forest Park

It was only in June 2009 that we noted: Galloway Forest Park wins Dark Sky award.

Now, less than two years later, work has started on building a Dark Sky Observatory in the park, aided by £94,000 in funding from the Scottish Government.

The new facility will be used by schools, colleges and universities.

The new observatory, costing almost £700,000 in total, aims to build on the park’s status and will offer visitors a chance to observe the Northern Lights, the Milky Way, planets, comets and shooting stars.

Mr Ewing said: “Scotland has made an immense contribution to shaping the modern world through science and research excellence, and this new observatory builds on our reputation as a hotbed of innovation and ideas.

“The creation of a state-of-the-art, first of its kind in Britain, observatory will attract stargazers and astronomers from near and far.

“The Galloway Forest Park area enjoys some of the darkest skies in the world and this new facility will showcase the area’s stunning natural scenery and resources to attract new visitors and investment to Ayrshire.”

Observatory manager Cath Seeds said it had taken two years to “generate the enthusiasm and raise funds for this project”.

She paid tribute to the wide range of organisations funding the scheme.

“Often, the science can feel overwhelming, so we want the observatory to break down these barriers by bringing together astronomy, nocturnal natural history and arts and crafts inspired by the night sky,” she said.

“We also want to play a key role in the future development of this area.

“Great things are occurring and great talent is abundant.

“Our role is to improve science in our community, whether by inspiring the next generation of scientists or providing the spark needed by an inventor to produce something truly remarkable.”

Via BBC News – Dark Sky Observatory work under way in Dalmellington

The deputy leader of East Ayrshire council has described the observatory as a ‘huge asset’ to the area, and which will attract local visitors, tourists, and international stargazers.

See also Dark Sky Scotland.

Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park

Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park logoThere is one tiny observation (just a detail, not a criticism) which is possible worthy of note. While the location of the observatory is in an area that clearly does not suffer the chronic light pollution of more central areas:


It does not actually lie in either the DSP (dark sky park), or the buffer zone defined around it.

See the detailed Forestry Commission’s zone map here: Light Zone diagram for Dumfries and Galloway.

The Commission has produced a list of potential viewing sites, and an accompanying map:

The numbers on the map correspond to these locations:

  1. Galloway Red Deer range car park
  2. Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre car park
  3. Glentrool Visitor Centre
  4. Bruce’s stone car parks
  5. Caldons woodlands
  6. Kirroughtree Visitor Centre
  7. Loch Braden car park
  8. Loch Doon West end car park
  9. Talnotry
  10. Raiders road west end car park

map of potential viewing sites (PDF 1.2Mb)


Looking at some of the comments made after this later article, it seems that the matter of light pollution is not taken seriously by many – probably not a surprise, given the response the same folk probably give ‘ordinary’ pollution…

Light pollution ‘saturates’ UK’s night skies

Reminds me of many of my neighbours, who are slowly having up-lighters built into their gardens and driveways as some sort of fashion statement that started a few years ago. Built into the ground, they point straight into the sky. Others are going for down-lighters to wash the walls of their lovely domiciles, and have thirty or more of these little halogen gems burning away as soon as it gets dark – and it’s not to light their visitors’ way, as they don’t go off until dawn, so they are purely for show.

One of the local bookies has a back door accessed over a lawn – it has about a hundred small vertical uplighters (installed only a few weeks ago) highlighting the path from the street to the door when it is dark.

29/01/2012 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Has somebody noticed Scotland’s dark skies?

50% tourism increase by 2015It’s two years since I noted Galloway Forest Park wins Dark Sky award.

To me, given the Scottish Government’s edict of a 50% increase in the amount collected from tourists, issued a few years ago (and I think seldom referred to nowadays – other than by me, it’s a regular in this Blog), this is something unique, and which should have been jumped on as an asset, and relatively valuable USP (unique selling proposition).

But it wasn’t, at least not in any obvious way in those past two years – opportunity lost.

So called Dark Skies Tourism may be small, but it doesn’t take much to cater for enthusiasts. They bring their own equipment, which can be as simple as the naked eye, as dark skies mean that a lot can be seen compared to anywhere near a light polluted city or urban environment. What they really need is just a little organisation, hotels and guest houses that don’t make an issue of, or have silly rules about guests leaving and returning during hours of darkness. I’ve stayed in a few odd places with odd rules in the past, hopefully a thing of the past and they are all gone now, but nonetheless, for dark sky observers, it would be a disaster to land in such a place.

Light pollution

It’s not too clear, but the clip from a NASA view of the night-time Earth does show the notable difference between the north-west of Scotland, and the rest of the country.

The BBC recently made a short film on the subject:

BBC News – Dark skies tourism boosts Scottish economy

At the same time, it also covered the matter of light pollution, and referred to the annual Star Count:

BBC News – Light pollution: Is there a solution?

See also:

International Dark-Sky Association

Organisation of parties to suitable viewing places in the deserted north-west of Scotland might not be a bad idea either. I used to tour the area in search of specific historic locations, and to save time would often travel at night. Being something of an insomniac, I could make the most of daylight to explore, without wasting daylight hours on travel. However, one thing that often stopped me in my tracks was the simple act of filling my car with petrol. Sorties into some areas meant ending my days prematurely as I could only travel 300 miles on one tank of fuel. Since petrol stations are both rare in such areas, and run to shop hours (usually shut before 6 pm), trips into dry areas had to be planned to reach one before it closed, or I had to give up before running out of petrol. Seriously.

On more than one occasion, if I had been held up on the road, I had to park up in a small village and sleep in the car, waiting for the local petrol station to open up in the morning. Hard to believe for city folk used to 24/7 fuel supplies, but if I could not fill up before 6 pm, I could only go as far as the remains in my tank allowed until thing opened up the next morning – and a spare gallon in the boot didn’t help much. Id have had to go a lot further than that to get to a 24/7 garage, and I had them all logged in my GPS. This was a few years ago, so I can only assume things are even worse now, given the various media stories of more and more petrol station closures in the north as the price rises and sales fall.

Even though it seems to be missing opportunities, the numbers seem to show that visitor numbers to Scotland are rising…

However, it also warns that a closer look at the number shows that while they may be on the increase, they are not bringing in the new money the decree call for, as the rise is in staycations (people choosing to holiday at home), while the number of overseas visitors is actually dropping.

Maybe they have discovered the advantages of the staycation too.

BBC News – Rise in Scottish tourist numbers

21/01/2012 Posted by | Civilian | , | Leave a comment

Galloway Forest Park wins Dark Sky award

I didn’t expect the decision over the Dark Sky award bid for the Galloway Forest Park to come quite so swiftly after the assessment, but all went well, and the forest has now been officially unveiled as the first Dark Sky Park in the UK.

The award was announced by the International Dark Sky Association, and has confirmed Galloway as one of the best places for stargazing in the world.

It seems that the selection process includes a measurement of the darkness of the sky using a sky quality meter, the higher the reading the better the viewing conditions. The darkest reading, as might be found in a photographer’s dark room (if you could find one now that digital photography has seen off most of the film based work), is rated 24. Big cities such as Glasgow or Edinburgh return readings in the region of 15 or 16, but Galloway Forest Park managed a result of 23, giving it the highest status available – gold.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Galloway Forest Park sees about 850,000 visitors per annum, and Keith Muir, Forestry Commission Scotland’s head of tourism and recreation in Galloway, said: “We have big plans to double this over time”.

Of course, they don’t want to be too successful now, attract thousands of new visitors, build loads of visitor centres, and all the other places that support these, bring more buildings, people… and light.


Only the second Dark Sky ‘Reserve’, Exmoor National Park (yes, I know it’s not in Scotland) was awarded this status in November 2011:

The night sky above Exmoor National Park has been awarded a special protection status.

It has been granted International Dark-Sky Reserve (IDR) status by the International Dark-Sky Association.

This status means the night-sky is protected and lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution.

BBC News – Exmoor National Park is Europe’s first dark sky reserve

Pity the folk that run out national parks seem to be more interested in exercising their own power over those that live in, or use the parks, and developing them, to get on with something like this, which one would have thought would have been much easier to have achieve in isolated and deserted Scotland, than overpopulated and densely populated England, but there you are.

16/11/2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Dark skies over Galloway forest

I’ve rambled on a bit about Dark Skies before, and mentioned Dark Sky Scotland, and the subject has made it into the news with the announcement that Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) has applied to the International Dark Sky Association (IDSA) for such an award to be made to the area of Galloway Forest Park.

Only three areas have achieved this status to date, and all are in the US: Utah, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The forest park will be visited by two members of the IDSA UK board, who will carry out an assessment and decide if the area meets the required criteria, and if it does, if it merits silver or gold status. The application has been supported by the assistance of the Wigtownshire Astronomical Society and students from Glasgow University.

The IDSA will meets on November 14 and 15,  and a decision on the Galloway Forest Park application should follow soon after.

It would be something of a notable achievement if this award could be brought here, as light pollution is something of an anathema in these days when we are supposed be environmentally aware. Instead of working towards the potential energy saving which would be gained by switching off unnecessary lighting, there seems to be a concerted effort by anyone with money to add some sort of public illumination to their possessions, and draw attention to them. This ranges all the way from my neighbours, who now take delight in having illumination installed on their homes, paths and in their garden, all the way to the bottomless pockets of corporate giants, who signal their success with floodlighting of their buildings. Both seem free to spill as much light as they wish, with some lighting units pointing straight into the sky, and not even being dispersed by washing up the surface of a wall or building. Even public streets now have uplighters installed at ground level, in pedestrian precincts, firing straight into the sky above.

Councils seem to be the “good guys” these days, and now lighting they install seems to generally conform to rules that demand no direct sky illumination, and lighting units that deliberately direct their illumination downwards, or towards their subject.

I live on the outskirts of the city, and there’s little chance of seeing anything low in the sky these days, but I have spent nights driving through the forests of Galloway, and the sky view there is amazing, with a detail and clarity which a city dweller will never see and enjoy.

Here’s hoping that drive won’t have to extend to Lapland, Sweden, in future.

18/10/2009 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: