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  • Merry dancers over the Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney - image by John Wishart

Northern Lights

For centuries, the Northern Lights, or ‘Merry Dancers’ as they’re known in Orkney, have captivated onlookers and given birth to countless myths and legends about their origin and meaning.

Nowadays, we know that the Aurora Borealis are caused by charged solar particles colliding with atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, but the spectacle of the Northern Lights remains awe-inspiring.

There’s no doubt that Orkney is one of the best places in the UK to try and catch a glimpse of them, with low levels of light pollution and unobstructed views wherever you look. That said, dark, clear skies are needed, in addition to the right levels of atmospheric activity, so there are never any guarantees when the dancers will make an appearance.

You’ll need some photography skills to get the best out of our aurora displays too - don't expect bright, dancing colours, shimmering across the sky, like you might see as far north as Iceland, Lapland or Svalbard. Instead, use your camera's settings to capture the moment perfectly.

If you’re planning a bit of aurora hunting in Orkney, then the Orkney Aurora Group on Facebook is a great place to start. Members post regular updates on the potential for a display, and you’ll even get real time information and images from those ‘out in the field’, tracking down a sighting of the Merry Dancers.

Favourite locations include the coastline at Birsay and at the Broch of Gurness. Inganess bay and Wideford Hill, both just outside Kirkwall, are easily accessible too – essentially anywhere with a clear view north is worth a visit.

Read our blog for more tips and hints on making the most of the Northern Lights in Orkney.