Leslie and I had spent the day out in Glen Tanar enjoying a sunny but cold walk out in the hills. Though cloud had come and gone during the day, by the evening it was a chill night with the stars steady in an inky sky. With a rapid substorm developing I kept an eye on various aurora services during the evening until it became apparent that the Northern Lights were being seen all across the UK. Even from our kitchen window in central Aberdeen it was apparent that there was a bright green glow in the northern sky. We barely hesitated, grabbing warm clothing and camera gear before driving out to our usual spot near Midmar in Aberdeenshire.
There were flurries of snow as we headed west and we briefly wondered whether we had made a mistake in not driving out to the coast. However, we were committed and soon pulled up in the parking spot to find that, since my last visit, the forestry had been logged and there was now an even better northern horizon.
Stepping out of the car it was apparent that a pale green glow filled most of the northern sky. I quickly had the camera set up and fired off a few test shots at various exposure lengths, quickly finding that the pale green belied more complex colours at the fringes.
We didn't have to wait long before this ethereal glow suddenly shimmered and crystallised into a bright and complex structure with rays and curtains hanging in the sky. With a whoop we watched as the whole sky suddenly erupted in colour and shape as the display intensified before our eyes.
After this initial period the aurora died down to a pale green arc; some structure continued to be revealed by photography. We only had to wait a few more minutes though before the activity picked up once again, this time a brightening along the lower edge of the arc signaled a period of rays and curtains that extended far to the south.
It was strange to be looking behind us to see activity but this tallied with reports of the Northern Lights seen as far south as Norfolk during the course of the evening.
We finally noticed that a large snow storm was rapidly approaching us, swallowing the aurora and the stars as it advanced. We reluctantly packed up and headed back towards Aberdeen. Just before the snow hit there was a chance to get a final view and so I pulled the car safely off the road and took a final set of photos as the clouds continued their march southward.
A Note On Alert Services
This winter I have started using the Aurora Alert service provided by Andy Stables who is based on the Isle of Skye. This has proved to be both accurate and timely and combines both data and crowd-sourced obervations to give a good idea of what is visible and where from. It is a Chrome app so can be used on both Apple and Android devices, as well as from any desktop computer. I recommend checking it out if you are at all interested in catching the Northern Lights.