Even in darkness, the Caithness ‘Big Sky’ provides an awesome display, with or without the Northern Lights.
Distance from Mey House: 0 Miles
Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/qmFIE
Before becoming residents of the Highlands we took regular holiday trips here usually in June or July to take advantage of the long days and good weather but this meant that we were unwittingly excluding one of the Highlands’ greatest jewels from our itinerary; the Night Sky.
We relocated to Caithness in late July 2013 and although the solstice had already passed some 4 weeks before, the days were still incredibly long (over 18 hours daylight) so it wasn’t until late August that the growing darkness began to reveal the star studded dome that envelops Mey House.
One particular night, after a neighbourly visit to The Castle Arms, I found myself standing slack jawed in the garden with my head craning across 180 degrees of sky in astonishment; the Milky Way blazed starlight in a vast arc overhead, shooting stars streaked silently across the sky and noctilucent clouds shimmered an eerie blue high above the earth (Google the latter to learn what they are)!
I had never been much of a stargazer nor had I developed any skill as a night photographer but within a matter of days I found myself spending countless hours standing in the garden looking dumbstruck at the heavens and desperately trying to learn how to photograph it all. Thankfully, my skills had developed sufficiently enough to capture the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) which made the first of their many subsequent appearances later that same week.
When seen from Mey House, the Aurora seems to germinate over the Orkneys creating a flickering luminous glow of green and red light which is often as far south as they venture (as seen in the lighthouse picture). However, on a night of particularly strong solar activity the lights dance their way across the Orkney Islands and over the Pentland Firth until they are weaving, darting and wafting right above Mey House.
Goodness knows what the ancient inhabitants of Orkney made of it all, perhaps it was the night sky that inspired (or terrorised) them into building the plethora of monuments that seem out of proportion to the landmass and its population? For myself, the heavenly panorama is an awesome and humbling sight despite the modern scientific explanation for it all.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Caithness is one of the best places in the UK to view the night sky as not only are there very low levels of light and atmospheric pollution but also because the sky scape is so vast.
GREAT FOR: Watch this video in HD, it says it all! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpMa-vNB9mo
RECOMMENDATION: Visit Caithness or the Orkney Islands between late August and early April to see the sky at its best (the lengthening summer days make star gazing less rewarding outside these times).