The regions of Tomintoul and Glenlivet are some of the best places to see the unfiltered night sky in Scotland. The area was declared a Dark Sky Park and is considered the world’s most Northerly Dark Sky Park!
Set in the Cairngorms National Park, there’s no doubt that the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park is one of the foremost attractions for stargazers coming to Scotland. If you’re curious about the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park and want more information, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s cover everything you need to know about this beautiful International Dark Sky Park.
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History of the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park
The expansive Cairngorms National Park has been a prominent attraction for visitors to Scotland since its establishment as a national park in 2003. Its lacking of pollution and abundance of verdant forests and towering mountains also meant that the Cairngorms National Park was one of the best places to see the stunning dark skies.
One region, particularly the Tomintoul and Glenlivet area, is naturally shielded from light pollution thanks to the high mountains surrounding the remote site. And with local efforts to reduce light pollution, the Tomintoul and Glenlivet area was awarded the prestigious status of being called an International Dark Sky Park in November 2018.
Since 2018, visitors can enjoy numerous Dark Sky discovery sites and astronomy events throughout the year. These events are hosted by amazing and knowledgeable volunteers from groups like the Cairngorms Astronomy Group, and there’s so much to learn about the wonders of the night.
Highlights of the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park
The Cairngorms National Park is filled with things to do, and the Glenlivet and Tomintoul area is no exception. You’re only a stone’s throw away from Candacraig, so there’s no reason not to stop by.
Here are the highlights you should add to your list of things to do at this Cairngorms Dark Sky Park.
Attend Star-Gazing & the Celtic Sky
Each year during the Winter months, the Cairngorms Astronomy Group and the Tomintoul & Glenlivet Development Trust offer the chance to combine history and astronomy with their Star-Gazing & the Celtic Sky event!
This event occurs at the Inveravon Church & Pictish Stones, featuring stones built by the ancient Celts over 2000 years ago. An experienced astronomer takes you through the history of the rocks and the cultural heritage of building these monuments to the Celts. Questions like what the Celts saw in the night sky, what we could learn of Pictish astronomy from these stones, and many more fascinating questions are at the forefront of discussion.
If you want to learn more about Scottish astronomical history, this event is for you. Keep in mind this event sits outside the borders of the Cairngorms National Park and is easily reached by heading North along the A95.
Try a Moon Viewing Session
As you wander through the stunning Cairngorms National Park, why not stop by the town of Tomintoul and look closer at our nearest celestial body – the Moon?
The Cairngorm Astronomy Club & Tomintoul & Glenlivet Discovery Centre hosts the Moon in the Square Telescope event during the darker months of the year (generally between September and March) and treats visitors to a Moon viewing session they will remember. Using a powerful Celestron telescope, you can easily see the numerous craters and scars etched across the Moon from millions of years of asteroid impacts.
This event happens at The Square, a hotel in Tomintoul. If you want to experience a guided tour of the night sky and Moon in the local area of Tomintoul, this is the event for you.
Enjoy a Starlit Nature Trail
Thousands of holiday-makers and locals flock to the Cairngorms National Park each year for easy access to one of Scotland’s most naturally beautiful regions. Why combine your love of flourishing nature trails with some of the darkest skies in Scotland?
A starlit nature trail is one of the best ways to experience the Cairngorm mountains and see a night sky brimming with stars, nebulae, and the bright band of the Milkway Galaxy. The Tomintoul area has plenty of options for nighttime walks where you can truly appreciate why these night skies have been internationally recognised.
We recommend arriving in Scotland in the darker months of the year and setting out around late afternoon to give yourself an excellent opportunity to see the fantastic views during the day before you transition into viewing constellations and shooting stars.
Visit the Park’s Discovery Sites
One of the best places to see the night sky in the area is one of three Dark Sky Discovery Sites scattered around Tomintoul and Glenlivet. Taking the time to stop by a Dark Sky Discovery Site should be at the top of your to-do list if you’re a budding astronomer. Here are the three you should look out for:
Tomintoul Field of Hope. Just a stone’s throw away from the town of Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands, you can enjoy stargazing without fear of living civilisation behind at the Tomintoul Field of Hope. The area has easy access to car parking and interpretation signs to spot your favourite constellations.
The Carrachs. The Carrachs offer some of the best views you can expect from a Dark Sky Discovery Site and sits just outside of Chapeltown. With an easy-to-access car park, a telescope user will find it simple to bring their equipment and set up for an evening of great views.
Blairfindy Moor. The last of the three discovery sites, but one that nonetheless can provide excellent views to astrophotographers who want to capture the unfiltered beauty of the night sky above them. The Dark Skies Project designated this hillside location as one of the best places to see the night sky, and we can understand why!
Stop by the Cairngorms Visitor Centre
If you want more information on the best places in the Cairngorms National Park to discover the transcendent night sky, we recommend stopping by one of the National Park’s many visitor centres!
The Grantown-on-Spey Visitor Centre is just a 25-minute drive away if you’re exploring the Tomintoul Area or Glenlivet Estate. Here, you can learn about the best spots to take stunning dark skies photographs, find out about guided night sky tours, and any other questions about exploring this astronomical playground.
Otherwise, you can also learn about the best attractions and activities during the day while in the Cairngorms, animals to look out for, and the top forest trail to give you the best views.
See the Aurora Borealis
There’s no better place to look for the Aurora Borealis, referred to by the ancient Gaelic Scots as The Nimble Men. The secret to maximising your chances of seeing the famed Northern Lights are two key ingredients: patience and timing.
The best time of year to see the Northern Lights is between mid-October and mid-March, and it’s best to find a clear and high vantage point. Although this may seem obvious, always double check you’re facing North if you’re staking out the area for the Aurora Borealis!
It’s also recommended you set aside a couple of nights to a week to ensure you give yourself the best opportunity to see the lights – sometimes, the Northern Lights are difficult to pin down!
The Cairngorms National Park is filled with fantastic accommodation options for those who want to enjoy the stunning dark skies of the Tomintoul and Glenlivet areas. You can choose excellent bed and breakfasts, self-catering homes, inns, and more in Tomintoul and Glenlivet.
Drive North, and you’ll find larger towns like Elgin, Keith, and Inverness with ample options for luxurious hotels if you can’t help but have quality-of-life amenities. We also recommend looking throughout the Cairngorms for camping and glamping options to make the most of the bountiful natural landscape around you.
We’ve written articles that take you through the top accommodation options in towns like Elgin & Keith – check those out if you need some inspiration.
Things to Do Nearby
The Cairngorms National Park is filled with countless attractions that visitors to Scotland will be overjoyed to tackle! Everything from stunning nature trails that take you up and down the mountainous terrain to seeing the diverse and splendid wildlife that the National Park offers.
You can hike up to 55 Munros throughout the park, with six of the UK’s highest within the park, or try pony trekking with the experienced guides of the Cairngorms. The Cairngorms reindeer are also a highlight you need to see!
Natural attractions aside, the National Park is also filled with brilliant historical and cultural things to do! There are water sports and ski centres throughout the Cairngorms and unique and information places like Highland Folk Museum, gin distillery tours, and much more!
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