Last year the Tomintoul and Glenlivet – Cairngorms Dark Sky Park was newly designated by the International Dark Sky Association. Not only is it the darkest Dark Sky Park in the UK but it’s the most northerly Dark Sky Park in the world. I can’t wait to visit!
Once you’ve experienced a truly dark sky – one free of most light pollution – it sticks in your memory and soon becomes addictive. Away from the scourge of street lighting, security lights and settlements a mind-blowing sea of constellations, planets and stars is on display.
The Tomintoul and Glenlivet – Cairngorms Dark Sky Park occupies an area with very little light pollution at the centre of this satellite image, and is shielded from nearby settlements in Speyside and Deeside by surrounding hills. In comparison with urban areas which typically measure less than 18.0 mpsas (magnitudes per square arcsecond) and rural skies which are often 21.3 – 21.5 mpsas, the sky quality away from settlements in the Cairngorms Dark Sky Park measures 21.7 – 21.8 mpsas, just short of the darkest skies on earth at 22.0 mpsas.
The Cairngorms Dark Sky Park is one of five dark sky locations in Scotland and among 115 across the world. The ‘gold tier’ award is the culmination of several years’ work by the volunteer-led Dark Skies Project to reduce light pollution and preserve the natural darkness of the night skies within The Glenlivet Estate and the Cairngorms National Park. Supported by the National Lottery funded Tomintoul & Glenlivet Landscape Partnership, the project has worked closely with distilleries, farms, Moray District Council and households to change outdoor lighting and reduce light pollution.
The dark sky designation will bring benefits to wildlife (such as moths, birds and bats), will save energy and money, and will also help to boost astro-tourism in this part of Scotland. It’s hoped that this initiative, spearheaded by the Cairngorms Astronomy Group, will bring amateur astronomers and photographers from far and wide to experience the jaw-dropping delights of the aurora, shooting stars and other stargazing experiences.
To learn more about the benefits of reducing light pollution take a look at this short six minute video, Losing the Dark.
You can get a great stargazing experience anywhere within the park but the three designated discovery sites on the map below perhaps offer the best views of the night sky. There’s further information about the recommended viewing sites on the website and in the Dark Sky Park’s leaflet. For dark sky visitors, accommodation is also available locally that can provide you with telescopes, guides and even stargazing tours of the night sky (check out Easter Corrie self-catering as well as the Tomintoul and Glenlivet accommodation pages).