I went on a road trip to Assynt to try my luck aurora hunting!

Road Trip to Assynt - Aurora Photography

I was visiting the far North of Scotland at the end of October, and the fact that there was a new moon was an added incentive for me to try photographing the Aurora.

On checking the aurora forecast I found it was really promising, as a coronal hole was moving round on the sun into an Earth facing position. It would soon be blasting charged particles at the planet which were due to hit that night and the solar wind would be enhanced for a few days.Coronal hole stream Sun activity that caused the Aurora seen at Stac Pollaidh Credit: NASA

I couldn’t believe that the far Northwest had clear skies forecast too. I packed the old Landrover with my gear and headed off on the 8 hour drive stopping only to buy a map of Lochinver at Aviemore (where we spent our summer holidays).

I spotted the iconic Scottish Peak Stac Pollaidh through the trees as the scenery became ever more impressive and knew that I should head out and have a look for the Northern lights around there.

By the time I left Lochinver after a quick snack I was feeling less than chipper after the long drive and could have done with a few hours rest but eventually found the start of the route up Stac Pollaidh as it was getting dark.

Once up on the ridge I found a spot for the tripod (there wasn’t a breath of wind that night) and (making sure I didn’t walk backwards off the other side of the ridge!) I set up the camera pointing North with the stars filling the night sky.

Sure enough there was a glow on the horizon. It was predicted on the Space weather website to reach KP6 that night, which was very promising up at that latitude. After an hour or two great beams started to appear over the coastline like huge torchlights in the sky; then they would disappear just as suddenly as they had arrived.

This went on for a good while but activity started to die down a bit and with it came the realisation that I had been on the go for a long time. It was getting a bit cold standing up there, so I took my hand-warmers off the lens (attached with elastic bands to keep dew off the glass) and started using them on my hands!

I decided to head down, it had been a good adventure…I felt loads better walking down than I had setting off up the hill. I got in the car and starting driving, hoping to figure out where Lochinver was but I wasn’t sure on the dark roads.

When I got out to find the map, I turned and couldn’t believe the beautiful sight unfolding from space above the very peak where I had been standing. I took a test shot on the road and then dashed over towards the water’s edge.Road to Northern Lights, Assynt, Scotland

The way the aurora was drifting across was stunning, with some beautiful structure to the lights and the Milky Way was shining bright above Loch Lurgainn. I watched in awe.

There was a great green glow to the North, again with beams.

After another hour or so I decided to head off. All the way back I kept stopping, as the lights repeatedly became active. I was driving along with the added excitement of avoiding the herds of deer roaming everywhere, whilst sleep crept up.

I watched the moon come up around 3am and the Aurora was still dancing wildly on the outskirts of the village. I got back and had an hour’s rest before a much needed delicious cooked breakfast at the smashing Park House B&B, 23 hours after setting off.

It had been a wild and awesome trip. I would do it all again in an instant.

 

This photo was the winner of the John Muir Wild Places Award in Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year 2017. It was also highly commended and published in the competition book. It has been on display in the competition gallery in Edinburgh and has just gone on display at the Alan Reece Wild Places Gallery in Pitlochry.


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