Scotland Northern Lights: All You Need to Know About the Spectacular Phenomenon
Updated On: August 04, 2022
Are you fond of nature? Do you wish to see a captivating natural event like no other?
Then Scotland shall be on the list of your next destinations.
Scotland features the exceptional phenomenon of the Northern Lights which you can vividly see during the long period of dark days in Autumn and Winter. The further north you go, the better you can see the Northern Lights clearly, but it is not impossible to capture them anywhere in Scotland provided that the right natural conditions of the weather, exceptionally clear sky, and darkness combine.
Scientific Reasons for the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, or as known in Scotland as the Aurora Borealis, are a natural unique phenomenon that happens in the sky of the Earth’s Northern Pole. They are colourful patterns of light that cover the sky. During large solar explosions and flares, huge quantities of particles are thrown out into deep space from the Sun. When the particles meet the Earth’s magnetic shield, they are led towards the magnetic North Pole, where they interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere.
This interaction causes a release of energy that forms the Northern Lights. The lights are formed in a Ring-shaped area called aurora oval of green, blue, red, and white colours. This happens approximately 100 kilometres above our heads. Of Course, the phenomenon is not limited to the nighttime, but the daylight aurora we cannot see. Nighttime, on the other hand, we can vividly see provided that the sky is clear.
Best Places in Scotland to enjoy the Northern Lights
If you plan to visit the best attractions in Scotland, it is recommended to join an organized tour that offers a tour guide and relieves your worries about the reservation details and the tour’s plan. But if you are a free wanderer of places worldwide, we advise you to join Facebook groups where members who are interested in haunting the auroras in Scotland are gathered.
This will help you know where and when you can see the auroras during the days of your visit. If you are lucky you can see the auroras in different places in the Scottish sky. The golden rule is, that the more north you go, the better your chance to witness auroras.
1- Visit the Orkney Islands
Orkney is located 10 miles north of the coast of Caithness. It consists of 70 islands of which only 20 are inhabited. It has the Mainland Island which is the sixth-largest island in Scotland and the tenth in Britain. Mainland has a 5000 years old UNESCO World Heritage site called the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” that deserves to be included in your tour’s plan. You can also enjoy sightseeing around the island’s coasts and cliffs to add a great adventure to your trip.
Definitely, the amusements in Orkney never end, but it is also a great place to witness Scotland’s Northern Lights. To begin with, join the Orkney Aurora Group on Facebook to be able to track down with others the possibility of witnessing the Northern Lights.
As mentioned before, to see the auroras, all nature’s conditions have to be combined. And do not forget to book the date of your visit to Scotland during Autumn or Winter. You will need to be prepared for camping as seeing the auroras in the inhabited areas are difficult because of the extensive towns’ lights.
Where to stay in Orkney?
There is a wide range of accommodation options in Orkney from apartments to hotels.
Our top picks are:
The Kirkwall Hotel
The hotel is highly rated in the Orkney Islands. It is located near the centre of Kirkwall. You will have access to the city’s main attractions including the Orkney Museum and the Saint Magnus Cathedral. You can also pay a visit to the town’s Pickaquoy leisure centre and cinema which are about 15 minutes walk from the hotel.
Ayre Hotel & Ayre Apartments
A highly-rated hotel for couples. The location of the hotel is perfect and near the centre of Kirkwall city. They also offer cooked breakfast, lunch bar, and evening menus.
2- Visit the Island of Lewis & Harris
Lewis and Harris island is one of the Outer Hebrides islands in Scotland. It is one of the main tourist attraction places in the country; being the largest island in Scotland and the third largest in Britain. It is an island with a long history, and thus has remarkable ancient ruins to visit. Adding to that, its natural beauty and landscapes are incomparable to any other. One can spend days wandering around along its deserted beaches, join a sightseeing tour to learn about the history of the land, or book a boat trip.
Being in Lewis and Harris there are must-see places that you have to put on your list like the Calanais Standing Stones, the Blackhouse at Arnol, Stornoway, and the Museum Nan Eilean. Since the island is full of untouched landscapes that have minimum light pollution, you can be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights at night. Make sure to check the Aurora Watch UK page on Facebook which sends you an alert of aurora activity in the United Kingdom.
Best Accommodation Places in Lewis and Harris Island
Located on Cromwell Street, in Stornoway. In the hotel, you will enjoy the amazing view of Lewis Castle and its grounds. It is also near the town centre. Besides, you do not need to worry about dining options as you can find what you need in their Boatshed Restaurant.
One of the best hotels in Stornoway is located half a kilometre away from Stornoway Lewis Ferry Terminal and less than 4.8 km from the airport. You can enjoy your meals in the hotel’s restaurant which offers both Scottish food and international cuisine.
3- Visit the Shetland Islands
Visiting Shetland can be one of your most exciting trips in Scotland. However, you have to make sure that you reserve everything beforehand. Shetland is one of the places that lack public transportation in Scotland and it is better to move around by car. Also, the weather on the island is continuously changing so you have to constantly be ready with your jackets even in Summer times. One last challenge is communicating with the locals as they have one of the strongest accents in Scotland.
Leaving all that aside, Shetland has the best natural landscapes in the country. You can enjoy sightseeing and hiking and the views will never fail you. Also if you are into ruins and architecture you can find amazing stone buildings all around the island. And despite being depicted in a recent TV crime series called Shetland, it is one of the safest places to visit in the world. The locals are very welcoming and helpful.
Being the most northern part of Scotland, it is one of the best places to witness the aurora. Nevertheless, it can be challenging to see the Northern Lights in Shetland because of the cloudy weather on the island.
Best Accommodation Places in Shetland
The Shetland Hotel
It is a great accommodation option in Shetland. The hotel is located near the centre of Lerwick, the Holmsgarth Ferry Terminal and the nearest airport is 9 kilometres away.
Busta House Hotel
An archaic built house that was originally established in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is located over the shore of Busta Voe with an amazing natural view. You might also get the chance to see the aurora from the hotel.
4- Visit the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is located north of the coast of Scotland. It is one of the places that you need to put on your bucket list to visit at least once in your life. If you are lucky enough to visit it on good weather days, you will be fascinated by its natural beauty, rock formation, and hills that provide exceptional landscape scenery. Just rent a car and drive around and you will not be disappointed.
One of the important places to visit is the Neist Light House which is located at the western tip of the Island.
Depending on the time of the year, you can get the chance to see whales, dolphins, and basking sharks. It is a great place for landscape photographs. Also, you could be in luck and witness the aurora at night since the light pollution at this place is at its minimum.
Best Accommodation Places in the Isle of Skye
The Royal Hotel
The hotel is located in the main town of the Isle of Skye, Portree. The majority of the hotel rooms have a sea view. It also includes restaurants that serve seafood options according to your taste.
Creaggan Ard Guest House
The guest house is located in Kyle of Lochalsh. It is where you can enjoy the tranquillity of Scotland’s landscapes. The property is about a 1 and half-hour drive away from the Neist Light House.
How to Get Around in Scotland?
The best option to choose for moving around in Scotland is by car as most of the attraction places in the country cannot be accessed by public transportations. But one of the best public transportations in Scotland is the train which covers most of the important cities including the Capital. Another option is travelling by bus. You can consult the Scotland Traveline website for the available schedules to plan your journey.
The Scotland Northern Lights Myth
Being a natural phenomenon that happens in the Northern Poles, and before the scientific explanations mentioned earlier in this article came to light, humanity made sense of the colourful lights in the sky through inventing myths and legends.
In Roman mythology, for instance, the goddess of the dawn was called Aurora. Thus, Aurora Borealis is translated as the ‘Dawn of the North,’. The Scots, on the other hand, have seen these lights in their sky that appear during different times of the year. According to Scottish myth, the skies are said to be blood from the fights among sky warriors or fallen angels. The wounded blood falls to earth and spotted the “bloodstones” or heliotrope found in the Hebrides, which are the Scottish archipelago.
Another well-known Scottish story is that the skies have blazed red before the French Revolution and accordingly this sign was later considered to have been a sign of the coming strife in their Gallic neighbour state.
The Scotland Northern Lights Influence on Art and Literature
The unique natural phenomenon has influenced artists throughout the years. One of the recent works of art was His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. The novels were published over 20 years ago featuring a rich world that combines different elements of science, history, and mythology.
It featured the phenomenon of the Scotland Northern Lights and the myth revolving around it in a magnificent creative way. The first book in the trilogy series was actually named “Northern lights”. Pullman created a new universe of his imagination that had many allegories of our life today.
“In the case of His Dark Materials, it wasn’t until I’d got halfway through the first part, Northern Lights, that I realised I was writing a story about leaving childhood behind, or the journey from innocence to experience. I was happy to discover that because I thought I might have something to say about it; I was just rather surprised to find that the story I was writing had been perfectly shaped, no doubt by my unconscious mind, to contain and express it.” Philip Pullman, the Guardian
And as described by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post “His Dark Materials is a novel of electrifying power and splendour, deserving celebration, as violent as a fairy tale and as shocking as art must be.”
Pullman’s creation was adapted into a series by HBO that went viral. The Screen Writer Jack Throne has managed to recreate Pullman’s vision and creation in an innovative and captivating way. In addition to the choice of talented actors and actresses who were passionate about the work. The series featured James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson, and Dafne Keen as the main characters, and many other supporting actors and actresses who added to the success of the series.
It is now rated 7.9 on IMBD and for a good reason. The production team made an extreme effort to create customs, locations, representation of the demons, etc. For example, they used puppets while shooting to locate the demons and their reaction and then reworked that with CGI, which influenced the realistic interactions between the characters and their daemons that we have seen on the screen.
Nothing in the show making was left to chance, everything was made with dedication and effort and the audience appreciated that effort. While watching the series you will be really involved in their world and the different universe dimensions that together create larger-than-life characters.
It is about humanity and the war between innocence and experience, besides the universality of human natures even across different universe dimensions that together, and if united, can achieve the impossible and defeat the darkness. This representation may actually refer to human struggles in our world.
Watching the series, the audience is first introduced to Lyra’s world which featured Demons (animal companions). The demons have the ability to constantly change and take any form according to the situation and how their companion feel, thinks or what they need in case of being a companion to a child, while it chooses a constant form in case of adults and cannot change.
Adult Demons’ forms are not chosen haphazardly, they rather represent the final characteristics of their companions and how they think. For example, Lord Asriel demon is a snow leopard that is quiet, strong, and highly intelligent. This representation is to differentiate between a child that is flexible and an adult who is stable and steadfast. Hence, that was the key to the whole idea that brought about the uniqueness of Lyra’s world.
Then the imagination does not stop here, the Northern Lights are depicted as the gateway to a number of alternate universe fantasy worlds which are different forms of existence in the worlds that Lyra visits. One of the characters who sought to find these worlds as part of his academic exploration is Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father.
To achieve his academic revolution, lord Asriel was supported by Gordon college’s revolutionary academic freedom that provided a counter institution to the demands of the Magisterium. The Magisterium is the governing powerful institution that imposes laws and codes on the world, which included restricting scientific research. Lord Asriel in one f his meetings with the academia, described the Magisterium as being medieval and ignorant. He even called it a war and that gave him self-justifications for all his actions in the series under the name of war casualties, including not being the father his daughter needs.
His Dark Materials is a magical world that would make your time worthwhile. Watch the first two seasons of the series on HBO and get ready for the third one that is due to release in 2022.