Dog-friendly dark sky areas to see the northern lights in Scotland
5 minute read
Isle of Skye
Famous for its dramatic, rocky escarpments and pristine white-sand beaches, the Isle of Skye is a fantastic place to gaze up at the sky come darkness. Its sparse population and remoteness from the mainland, with just one bridge connecting it to the Kyle of Lochalsh, means the skies here are littered with stars on a clear night, and so its northern lights displays are often spectacular, too. The coastal area around Broadford – near the cosy little Bothan Buidheag – is designated a Dark Sky Discovery Site. You can park just off the A87 (///staining.benched.retrial) and wander through the trees onto the beach for the best views.
Galloway Forest Park
The remote hills and lochs of Galloway Forest Park enjoy such little light pollution they were designated the UK’s first ever Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association in 2009. It’s said that over 7,000 stars are visible to the naked eye on a clear night here, and the dusty band that is the Milky Way can often be seen striping across the sky in spring. There are three visitor centres from where you can enjoy stargazing – Kirroughtree, Clatteringshaws and Glentrool – where information panels offer tips on star-spotting. Galloway Forest Park is just a 30-minute drive from our Dumfries & Galloway places.
Slains Castle, Aberdeenshire
On the eastern Aberdeenshire coast lies a vast ruin of a castle, teetering on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. From here, not only can you enjoy spectacular stargazing opportunities with a truly impressive foreground – it’s a hugely popular spot for local nighttime photographers thanks to the castle remains – but you’ve also a solid chance of seeing the northern lights during winter. Bring a flask of something hot and enjoy the light show. Be sure to keep the dog on a lead here as there are cliff edges with sheer drops. Just an hour’s drive from Slains Castle car park (AB42 0NR), you can stay at Barley Bothy, The Sheep Shed or The Dairy at Denend — all in Huntly.
Bealach na Ba Viewpoint, the Highlands
The views from Bealach na Ba Viewpoint – a perilously winding mountain pass on the Applecross Peninsula in northwest Scotland – are spectacular at any time of day. When it’s light, you can see right across the water to the islands of Skye, Rum, Raasay, Harris, Rona and Lewis. Come nighttime, a vast dark sky spreads out above the islands below offering an exceptionally beautiful outlook when the stars and aurora come out. With the dog on a lead (for safety) and a torch, wander a few hundred metres beyond the viewpoint parking area (IV54 8XF) and up to a transmitter station for even better views.
The Shetland archipelago is Scotland’s northernmost collection of islands, making it one of the best locations in the country for northern lights hunting. Getting here is a challenge, but it’s also half the fun – you can take an overnight ferry with dog-friendly cabins from Aberdeen – and once you’re here there’s ample reward for your efforts. Wild, windswept and immensely rugged coastlines await on all islands across Shetland, but on Unst is where the magic is: this northernmost isle has just a few hundred people living here, so light pollution is minimal and views over the North Sea are endless. Head out onto the boardwalks of Hermaness Nature Reserve (ZE2 9EQ) for the best views, or wander around the Viking Unst Project get pictures of the night’s sky with a reconstruction of a Viking longhouse and boat in the foreground.
Top tip: Download the AuroraWatch app to be notified when conditions are optimum for the lights.
Where to stay
For a really special holiday in Scotland, our inspectors suggest:
The Douglas Boathouse, Newton - sleeps 4 humans, 2 dogs
The Dairy at Denend, Huntly - sleeps 4 humans, 4 dogs
Old Parkhill Cottage, Newburgh - sleeps 6 humans, 2 dogs
Barley Bothy, Huntly - sleeps 4 humans, 4 dogs
Denend Farmhouse, Aberdeenshire - sleeps 8 humans, 3 dogs