Last month, I went on an ever so slight Bucket List trip… Road tripping around Scotland.
I’ve been to Scotland before, on holiday to Dundee but that had nothing on this.
I come from Southern England, so travelling up to Scotland is a bit of a mission. Nonetheless, I’m sure Americans/Australians would tell me it’s nothing! It supposedly takes 5 hours to drive to Southern Scotland from my house, but with the inevitable real life traffic, you have to leave about 7/8 hours, which we luckily did.
We left at lunchtime on a Friday, and drove up to Dumfries and Galloway, the home of the UK’s first Dark Sky Park – Galloway Forest Park. Established in 1947, it’s a fairly popular place for Star Gazers and the area is well established in recognition of this – our host was telling us how the whole town had to change their light bulbs in order to get the status, and all of the street lights are pointed downwards, just providing a small ring of light on the ground, instead of shooting out in all directions and obstructing the views of the night sky.
We stayed at The Knowe B&B which was lovely, and in a perfect position for our evening activities – visiting The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory in Dalmellington. They offer a lot of events and evenings, for amateur and experienced astronomers alike which you can book online. We would definitely classify ourselves as amateur, and I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything at all, in fact it seemed most people there were the same as us. Nonetheless, the in house astronomer and volunteer were able to answer any questions and provide insight into everything people were asking, so I would definitely say if you have any interest whatsoever, it’s worth the visit. It’s not too expensive, and provides an experience you won’t forget. They have a few telescopes, which they set up to point and different constellations, and give an overview of. They also pointed out the constellations you can see technically with the naked eye – we even saw the Milky Way. (Though coming from near London I haven’t managed to see many of them from my back garden as of yet!)
In saying that, not all of those experiences are necessarily positive…
They warn you before you go that the Observatory is on a rough road, not designed for all cars and that it is in the middle of nowhere. They are not over exaggerating.
When you sign up you’re provided with a slightly hilarious list of instructions on how to get there. My favourite was ‘Open the gate, you will see a wooden bridge with no sides over a river… Drive over it.’ We were in a slightly lowered car, and it was quite the adventure… I would definitely recommend a 4 x 4 or at least a small front wheel drive car, and to memorise the instructions. I don’t know how people get up there in the rain… It’s very steep and there are a lot of bends, and of course, being something you do at night and due to it’s location, it’s incredibly dark. If you took a wrong turn you could be there forever. We also swore we could hear wolves… So at least you won’t be alone.
Also, it is weather dependent – if it’s cloudy, the sky can be as dark as you like and you won’t see much. They do still have things to see and do inside though, so it’s not a complete right off.
Nonetheless, if you’re up for an adventure, willing to give yourselves lots of time and keep in mind that it is going to be a bit of a challenge, go for it!
I don’t have any pictures of the observatory I’m afraid, as funnily enough, it was a bit dark!
Anyway, we made it there and back, over the wooden bridge with no sides and back to our warm, cosy beds. ready for another day of adventure.
There is a lot more to do in the area than we initially did, but we needed to push on – we only stopped there because I wanted to go to the observatory, and it made sense to have a stop off on the way. We were going much, much further North.
I’m not sure how you would get around the area without a car and you definitely wouldn’t make it to the observatory (Obviously you could do it on foot, but it might take a while), so I would recommend hiring one if you don’t have one.
So… that was our first day in Scotland. Well, half day. And we’d already managed to do something we’ll never forget… Not bad going!
The next morning, we were up bright and early with all our hiking gear ready to head for… Glen Nevis! (The post for which will be released tomorrow).
Has anyone ever been to a Dark Sky Park before? I’ve been to Moab and the Grand Canyon, and we were camping at the time, so it was pretty amazing but we didn’t go to an Observatory or have a telescope to peek through, which makes all the difference.