Arts & culture

Once in a Lifetime

“As if from heaven itself, great curtains of delicate light hung and trembled.” Phillip Pullman

Words: Rebecca Knight

The northern lights are one of nature’s greatest spectacles. However, it is a sight many believe to be limited to those willing to trek to the Arctic Circle. This is misleading – you can catch a glimpse of them right here in bonny Scotland without sacrificing your beach holiday funds. Scotland actually lies at the same latitude as Stavenger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska, delivering this light show almost right to your doorstep. You have no excuse not to tick the shimmering marvel off your bucket list.

As the days get colder and the long autumn nights creep toward us, the northern lights are perfectly placed to brighten up this dismal time of year. There is something about the Aurora Borealis that blasts away the dreary cold, replacing it with awed expressions hidden under bundles of blankets, sipping thermoses of tea and hot chocolate. This is not only something you should see but also experience at least once in your lifetime, if only to reassure yourself there are some perks to those bleak Scottish nights.

Northern Scotland offers the best place to see the northern lights – the Shetlands or Orkney are prime locations. Of course, you can see the Aurora Borealis almost anywhere in Scotland if the right conditions are met. On a clear night when the Aurora is truly strong, it can be seen from Arthur’s Seat. The coast of Fife is a safe bet for catching a bit of the action if you don’t have the time for a lengthy trip up north. The beaches of St. Andrews also allow a glimpse of the sky unhindered by light pollution – just make sure you’re looking in the right direction and don’t mistake the lights of Dundee for nature’s miracle.

Autumn and winter are the best seasons to take in the Aurora displays thanks to the long, dark nights. A decent sighting of the northern lights requires a sky clear of clouds and low light pollution. Being prepared to stay up until the wee hours of the morning is also a huge bonus. The Auroras are most active between March and April and September and October, however it is difficult to give an exact answer as to when they will appear, arguably part of the magic of the event. However, for those who prefer more solid evidence they won’t be staying up late just for the stars, visit By mapping geometric activity by the hour, the information service is able to predict when the ‘Mirrie Dancers’ will be making an appearance. Keep an eye out, aurora chasers.