By: Kjartan Bollason, Holar University and Snæfellsnes Regional Park
Taking part in a learning journey Kjartan Bollason from Iceland got to experience first-hand how Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere have developed “Darkness Tourism” into a valuable and sustainable asset.
As the sun sets and darkness surrounds us, the starry sky opens with all its glittering stars, the Milky Way and the moon. Or what? Do we see the stars and the galaxy or is it our streetlights that light up the sky? We need streetlights to safely show us where we drive, walk and ride our bicycles but could we light our way without lighting up the sky?
In a small village in the county of Galloway, in the south of Scotland, south of Glasgow, residents have changed their streetlights using LEDs that both consume less electricity and have less brightness than ordinary streetlights. The lights are directed down and avoid letting the light go up into the sky or into the windows of houses in the village. Great for the local inhabitants – but also providing the foundation for a new tourism attraction.
The night sky and stories of the night
The village lies in a vast woodland where there are few built up areas and thus very little light pollution. This makes the skies dark and gives visitors a unique opportunity to see the night sky in all its glory – something which is not easy in our modern world of city streets and freeways. The
people at the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere have therefore decided to offer overnight hikes, where you can see stars and if you are lucky – all the Milky Way. Taking tours with local rangers, visitors not only experience the starry sky but also learn all kinds of stories that our ancestors have created about the stars, whether it be Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Scots, Germans or Vikings. Thus, in just a few hours night walk with a local guide, one can gaze into the history of humanity thousands of years back in time.
This walk in the dark, where your trail is only illuminated by the light of the stars, create a sense of adventure and a memorable experience for tourist. But the darkness also gives the natural inhabitants of the forest – insects, birds and other animals – an opportunity to hunt or to rest according to their needs, undisturbed by the visitors to the area. The Galloway Dark Skies Park thus preserves and provides a wide range of shelter and adventure for all its residents whilst connecting visitors with old and new stories of our starry night sky.