“The Devil’s Bathtub, surely ?”, I said. “A tub to keep beef in ?“, my son offered, optimistically.
It was while pondering the curious origins** of the dramatic 500-foot hollow in the hills above the small town of Moffat that we pulled up on the roadside. We found a spot just where the boundaries of South Lanarkshire, Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders meet: quiet and with a full view of the sky as the orangey light was just beginning to fade.
We weren’t there for a ritual culling of celebrities (shame) but to actually see some shooting stars. We’d travelled down to find the deepest, darkest view of the night sky for our annual camping trip to see the Perseids meteor shower.
Conditions last night ware supposedly the best in eight years to see the Perseids, coming just after a new moon. Luckily for us, it was also a cloudless night and we’d watched the sun slowly setting as we drove south down the M74, Last night and today provided a brief ‘weather window’ during which has otherwise been a really dismal and wet summer.
So we made the most of it.
We parked up the van, settled down for a game of Rumikub while the light faded, and feasted on crisps and chocolate. If you can’t get up to stuff like this during the summer holidays when you’re ten, what else are you going to write back at school in your dreaded “what I did in the summer holidays” story ?
A little while later, just as the game had descended into chaos following a spot of cheating, I made my excuses and went out to look for the International Space Station flying overhead. I should have concentrated more on my camera settings rather than the game, since my photos weren’t altogether successful. (Or at least half as successful as they should have been had I remembered to plug in my remote shutter cable …).
We set out our chairs, lit the Swedish candle and enjoyed the fire as the stars came out. I’d selected this spot since it was just off the motorway but well away from light pollution, yet not as far as the now-famous Galloway Dark Sky Park. There were many, many more stars than I would normally see at home and the Milky Way was clearly visible with the naked eye; I can’t recall ever seeing it from home.
As the night wore on we experimented with camera settings – sometimes we were even successful ! – and had great fun watching the stars and meteors. We put out a rug and cushions, lying on our backs gazing sky-wards. We must have seen dozens of shooting stars, some quick and fleeting and others leaving bright trails across the sky. It’s just amazing to think that they’re just pea-sized fragments of rock and ice burning up on the Earth’s atmosphere. And mind-boggling to think that there are billions and billions of stars in our solar system.
With the fire extinguished, condensation having soaked our rug (and frequently the camera lens), we put on the van’s heater to warm ourselves up before rolling into bed in the early hours.
Next morning we awoke to sun beating against the van: it was too warm to lie in. Coffee and bacon rolls recharged our batteries before we meandered back home past the Devil’s Beeftub, the wind farms and conifer plantations. It was great to have seen lots of meteors and stars, with not a celebrity in sight.
** The Devil’s Beeftub was apparently named after the Johnstone Clan, often referred to as the devils, used the deep natural hollow to keep their stolen cattle back in the 16th and 17th centuries.