The Northern Lights are probably what you would call a bucket list item, well at least I would. Some time again I outlined my two stage plan in an attempt to see the aurora borealis, but owing to cloud cover stage one in Scotland proved a disappointing fail. To be fair, Scotland was always a long shot. I’d always thought that stage two would prove more successful, and I wasn’t wrong.
To be fair to Scotland, and more specifically the Isle of Skye where we stayed for the most part, there was actually an aurora whilst we were there … there was just too much cloud to see it. I stood in the cold and the dark at the back of our wonderful little cottage for what felt like hours, just praying for break in the clouds long enough for me to at least get a glimpse Alas my efforts were in vain.
Onto stage then, Iceland. I’d been keeping a track of a range of aurora forecasts in the days between our Scotland and Iceland trips. They made good reading, the KP scale (1 lowest, 9 highest) was at a 4. There had been reports and photos of aurora sittings just outside of Reykjavik at only KP2, so at KP4 I thought we might be onto a winner, we just needed any cloud to bugger off.
Friday, the night of our arrival in Iceland seemed to provide us (the gf and I) with the best opportunity for spotting the lights over the course of our stay. We decided to book a tour group for that evening thinking that they would know all the best spots for sittings and have access to pro tools which would allow them to monitor cloud cover etc. Well we weren’t wrong. After setting off from central Reykjavik at 10pm, but 11pm we were stood at the side of a road in the middle nowhere witnessing what I can only describe as natures very own light show. It was magical!
Woah, hang on there, that Friday in March was the 15th, Paddy’s day wasn’t until the Sunday, so whats with the post title?
Well, even after witnessing the lights on the Friday, as sad as this sounds, I wasn’t entirely happy with the images I’d captured of the lights. I realise it should all be about witnessing the lights and appreciating how lucky I was to even catch a glimpse, but my crooked mind couldn’t get over some of the photos other people on our tour had captured. Even those that had openly declared they knew sod all about photography had taken amazing pictures whereas mine were shite by comparison.
I didn’t sulk over the next couple of days, far from it, the next two days were packed with a whale watching tour and a tour of the Golden Circle. But deep down I was secretly praying that I might get a second chance, that something might stir in the sky’s above.
You probably know whats coming, but just let me tell the story for dramatic effect.
Come Sunday evening we made our way to an Irish bar to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. The scenes were happy ones. An old drunk fella got up on stage, played three cords of a song no one knew and fell backwards over the drum kit. Potentially the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, especially after he had only moments before declared
“I shouldn’t even be up here”
We drank, sang, ate some incredible Irish stew which was laid on for free and chatted to some of the locals. It was a craicing night – I make no apologies for that joke … you’re welcome.
Once back at the apartment the mrs duly fell asleep, but on the off chance I thought just have a peak at my phone. I hadnt checked the forecasts all day and as it was our last night I had nothing to lose. For weeks now I’d been following a fella up in Scotland who posts facebook updates about impending auroa’s in Europe. He’s very good, and no sooner had I logged onto his page I saw a stream of updates from throughout the day …
|09.17: NOAA have just alerted that we have hit G1. There is a Kp 5 storm overhead just now.|
and then …
|15.00: 3pm and we are still hovering at Kp 6, so the G2 geomagnetic storm is still raging overhead.Anyone who has clear skies tonight should get a terrific display of the aurora borealis.It’s not looking too promising for us on Skye again, unfortunately. There’s an outside chance that we might get some breaks around 9pm.|
and then …
|18.00: Another alert from NOAA that we are at G2 (Kp 6) again. This storm just keeps on going!The aurora will be visible to the eye as soon as it is dark enough if you have clear skies.|
Crap, what time was it? 10pm. I grabbed my tiny tri-pod plus my new camera and bolted. I knew there was a little park not too far from our apartment where it might just be dark enough to spot a slash of green through the night sky, but I didn’t even need to get that far …
The KP scale that night in Reykjavik reached 8, 8 out of 9. That’s bloody high and bloody rare. The aurora was visible throughout the whole city. I snapped about for 15 minutes or so thinking it might disappear, but it didn’t shift. Confident it would remain for a little while long I ran back to the apartment and woke Esther from her post Guinness induced slumber. Bleary eyed she threw on her coat and staggered outside and looked up … we didn’t really say anything for a while, we just walked and looked skyward. Words weren’t really needed. I snapped a few more pictures and then we walked back to the apartment and went to sleep. How apt that the sky had turned green for St Patrick’s Day.
Mission accomplished :)