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12/10/2017

Coll's Star Attraction

Person standing under the stars and milky way

No streetlights. No brightly lit buildings. Nothing but the moon, and thousands upon thousands of stars illuminating the natural landscape. It's little wonder that Coll is a favourite with astronomy-lovers.

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The Western Isles are spectacular to visit in winter - and none more than Coll. Why? Because the cold makes the island's rugged beachscapes even more dramatic. And the short days give you the best chance to enjoy this dark sky reserve's glittering nighttime displays.

A Dark Skies reserve

Coll isn't just the best spot for stargazing in Scotland - it's among the best in the world. This small island is about as dark as it's possible for a functioning community to be. Come nightfall, the landscape is encased in an inky blackness, pierced only by the glow of the fires burning millions of light years away.

Here's how to get the most out of your stargazing trip:

Plan your dates

The timing of your trip will determine how much stargazing you can do. Winter, with its long, dark nights and cool, crisp air, is best. The dark sky season - the best time to visit if stargazing is on your wish list - runs from September to mid-April.


Top tip
The brighter the moon, the harder it is to see the stars.

Check a moon phase chart before you go, and aim to visit during a new moon - or as close to one as your dates allow.

Planning to visit in summer? The long days and light nights mean you're unlikely to see many stars. In June, for example, the sky is never completely black. Instead, explore the unspoiled sandy beaches and go corncrake spotting in the RSPB nature reserves, and return in winter to witness the full majesty of the Milky Way.

Wrap up

Stargazing is best on cold, clear nights, so wearing several layers is essential. Taking along a flask of your favourite warm (or warming!) drink is also a good idea.

Find a good spot

Arinagour sounds like something from the Lord of the Rings, but is, in fact, the heart of the Coll community. There's so little artificial light here, you don't have to wander far to find a great stargazing spot - the area beside the church, is one of the best on the island.

The more adventurous can take a drive along the single-track roads to RSPB Totronald - the car park on the edge of the reserve is ideal. Or head to the Cliad football pitch, where you'll get a 360˚ view of the night sky.

For a map of all the best stargazing spots, visit darkskycoll.co.uk

DIY a stargazing torch

Artificial light can mess with your night vison and make it harder for you to spot those all-important constellations. But a little bit of light is essential so you can see what you're doing. Our top tip - make a night-vision friendly light by covering the end of a torch in red cellophane.

Pack binoculars

Stargazing doesn't need to involve lots of specialist equipment. Unless you already own a telescope (and have mastered all its various dials and switches), don't feel you need to bring one. Binoculars are just as good for beginner stargazers - and you'll be able to see a lot without any equipment at all.

Tick off the big names

Start simple - swot up on easily recognisable groups of stars - such as the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt - before you go. There are lots of great books and apps out there for stargazing beginners. Once you've found these in the night sky, use them to navigate your way to other constellations.

Get a guide

Coll and the Cosmos weekend breaks, run by the Coll Bunkhouse and Cosmos Planetarium, are ideal for night sky enthusiasts of all ages. Think of it like your very own guided tour of the universe.

Ready to go? Start planning your stargazing trip.

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