Susanne experiences both the dark and brighter side of the West Coast
As we meandered away from the dazzling beams of the Land Rover, it was as if someone has flicked a switch. We were quickly enveloped in a blanket of darkness, free from light pollution other than the distant twinkle of stars that punctuated the inky sky overhead.
Without the several minutes needed for our eyes to adjust to the abrupt blackness, the group stumbled and fumbled along the stony forest track, trying to keep up with the red light from our guide’s head-torch as it floated through the frosty night air.
A Primeval Darkness
The very nature of a forest designated with a Dark Sky status means that it is home to a primeval sort of darkness that we rarely experience in the enlightened modern world, and it caused my senses to amp up to a heightened state.
The flames from a brazier ahead were a welcome sight on such a chilly night and as I join the circle huddled around the fire, I felt an instinctive connection with the basic natural world that my distant ancestors would have understood much better than I can.
Matthew, one of four Galloway Forest Park Dark Sky Rangers, and our guide for the evening, explained more about our location. He enthusiastically pointed out star constellations visible to the naked eye, and with the use of a telescope and binoculars we were able to examine the magnified details of the moon.
After our brief introduction to the spectacular stellar wonders that can be found in the 300 square miles of this remote part of Scotland, we followed Matthew and his red light back towards the white glow from the Land Rover.
Nocturnal by Nature
This was not my first nocturnal visit to Galloway Forest Park; I had previously spent the night under the stars in a campervan, but on this occasion, however, I was part of a media group for the launch of VisitScotland’s new Spirit of Scotland campaign to enjoy an immersive experience the UK’s only ‘Dark Sky Park’ and one of only four in the Western world.
We had dined in a shipping container converted into a pop-up mobile restaurant by Tom and Dick Lewis of the renowned Mhor brand. With the majority of the ingredients sourced from within 30 minutes of our dining spot overlooking Loch Riecawr, our taste-buds immersed themselves in local cheese, oysters and vegetables.
Photography tuition and a nocturnal wildlife walk completed our introduction to some of the elements of #ScotSpirit that can be found in a part of the country – which is still relatively undiscovered by visitors.
The Outdoor Capital of the UK
The following week I drove north through a snow storm in Glen Coe towards Fort William, a region popular with tourists and of complete geographical contrast to Dumfries and Galloway. The rugged mountain terrain of Lochaber has played a big part in the area gaining its reputation as an outdoor playground and indeed marketing itself at The Outdoor Capital of the UK.
My visit coincided with the annual Fort William Mountain Festival and through various events I got an insight in to the diverse mountain culture that undoubtedly forms part of #ScotSpirit.
There is nothing like a local guide to help gain a deeper understanding of a place, and thanks to Ian from Wild West Tours (who was featured in the February issue of The Scots Magazine) I was introduced to some of the diverse components that make up the Lochaber Spirit.
As we drove through the wintry mountainous backdrops of Glen Etive, Glen Coe, Glen Nevis and Glen Roy, Ian imparted his broad knowledge about how the landscape was formed, historical events, movie locations, native wildlife, community projects and even points out the exact tree that Bear Grylls climbed on his visit here!
As my time in Lochaber drew to an end I hopped on Britain’s only Mountain Gondola at the Nevis Range and travelled 2150ft up the slopes of Aonach Mòr. As I stood on the snowy mountainside absorbing my experiences of the last fortnight, I looked across the land below where geographical differences are united by a unique Scottish Spirit.
The Scotlanders are currently working on our next campaign which will see us exploring the best of Glasgow – more details coming soon so watch this space!
Find all the Scotlanders’ travel blogs from us at Scotlanders’ Corner