Northern Lights

I’ve just returned from an amazing campervan trip to the wilds of Scotland. It was stormy, windy, wet, sometimes sunny, and utterly gorgeous. ‘Summer’ holidays are best taken in September, I reckon. 

The NC500 tourist route around the tip of Scotland is one of the world’s must-drive roads and it’s easy to see why – misty mountains, bracing winds and wild seas. There’s not much in the way of mobile phone data (a relief in many ways) and most of the roads are single track with frequent passing places and, for the most part, obliging drivers. Terrifying nights on a cliff in gale force winds notwithstanding, I think it was one of the best van trips we’ve ever had. There were even Northern Lights on the Orkney Islands.


I lost count of the breathless social media stories of those dancing green lights in the night sky. I looked in wonder at the national news items that outlined, with absolute certainty, the dates and times and venues for The Lights to appear. So informed, I spent several nights endlessly scanning the night skies, opening and closing the van’s blinds, arranged into a standing position in the direction of the North Star. But it wasn’t to be. They were not in the mood to dance on the nights I watched. 

Instead, I saw the brightest stars sitting atop the Ring of Brodgar stone circle. I saw the Milky Way as a starry smudge streaked across the sky. I saw  constellations that looked as if they’d been drawn on by the gods; firm and clear. Neolithic people stood on this same spot and looked into this very sky, seeing pinpricks of light that are still shining. It was a haunting reminder that I am very small indeed.

I took the lesson and used it to shake off the self-righteous indignation that other people (just down the road!) got the see the Northern Lights and I didn’t. Mother Nature owes me nothing. In fact, it’s the other way around. So I thanked her for the gift of neolithic stars and stones, the gift of fearful gusts of wind, the gift of Highland wildness. 

And when I wasn’t even looking, we met a wonderful couple from Cornwall who’d just got the exact same van as ours. Cue much chat and laughter and sharing of stories. This was another gift. These unexpected treasures happen when we least expect them. And they’re all the better for it.

Who needs magical dancing green lights? My Scottish lesson: don’t try so hard.