Many think that you have to make the trip to Iceland, Norway, Lapland or Greenland to be in with a chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis, but due to its northerly location, parts of Scotland are actually well-positioned to catch a glimpse of the bucket-list phenomenon, which is caused by solar winds sending charged solar particles into the Earth’s magnetic field.
The best parts of Scotland to spot the Northern Lights are, unsurprisingly, its northern-most, such as the Outer Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetland Islands.
However, in the right conditions, it is possible to spot the Northern Lights in other parts of Scotland, including Fort William, where people have been fortunate enough to take some fabulous photos of the lightshow.
The name is derived from Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn) and Boreas (the Greek name for north wind). However, they’re so much a part of Scottish Gaelic folklore that they have their own Gaelic name: ‘Na Fir Chlis’, which means the lively or nimble ones, or more commonly today, ‘the merry dancers’.
So how can you increase your chances of spotting the Northern lights? Read our tips.
Tips for spotting the Northern Lights in Fort William
Choose the right time of year
Nights are longer in autumn and winter, giving you a much greater window of opportunity to spot the Aurora Borealis. It’s rare to see them over spring, summer and early autumn when the skies are not as dark. October to February is your best bet for long, dark nights. We also recommend avoiding nights with a full moon as the brighter skies make the Northern Lights harder to spot.
Clear skies are key
Clear skies are a combination of a few different factors – you need a cloudless night and an area with low light pollution. The lack of night-time light pollution near us at Ben Nevis Holiday Park makes for some crystal-clear night skies – perfect for stargazing even if the Northern Lights don’t make an appearance.
Get an app
If you’re just randomly looking up at the night sky you’ll most likely be disappointed. Download a dedicated northern lights app and you’ll get notifications about the best windows for potential viewing. You may need to set your alarm for the middle of the night! You can also use a compass app to identify where north is, although we recommend looking in all directions to be on the safe side.
If you’re dead set on spotting the northern lights, follow the tips and advice and remember, you will need a lot of patience, determination – and warm clothes!