'Dark Skies Festival' reveals events set to light up the Outer Hebrides this winter

It was created to capitalise on the Outer Hebrides being able to offer some of the best stargazing in the UK.

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 7:00 am
The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis are a hugely popular destination for stargazers. Picture: Scott Davidson
The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis are a hugely popular destination for stargazers. Picture: Scott Davidson

Now Scotland’s ‘dark skies’ festival is hoped to give islanders and visitors something to look forward after nearly a year of coronavirus restrictions.

Late-night stargazing trips, night swims, an astronomy-themed art exhibition, live music events, expert talks and a series of darkness-themed film screenings are all lined up for the two-week event on the Isle of Lewis in February.

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Staged by the Stornoway-based arts centre An Lanntair, the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will have a programme which can be adapted to suit any restrictions which are in place over events and travel to the islands.

Organisers hope that the event, which is funded by ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, will be an “important showcase” for Lewis early in the new year and that the event, which is now in its third year, will encourage people to visit Lewis at a traditional quiet period in its tourism calendar, as long as there are no travel restrictions in place when the festival is held.

Special guests include the singer-songwriters Kathryn Joseph and Karine Polwart, the broadcaster Dallas Campbell, climate scientist Tamsin Edwards, and sound artist and percussionist Renzo Spiteri.

The festival will include the first exhibition in Scotland staged by the London-based art collective Lumen, whose work is inspired by astronomy and light. Their show will feature time-lapse footage of the night sky captured around the world.

Festival programmer Andrew Eaton-Lewis said: “This year has been immensely challenging for anyone who creates live

events, and we’re taking a very cautious approach, with a programme that is adaptable to various lockdown scenarios in order to ensure the safety of our audiences and guests.

“We have always wanted this festival to provide something for people to look forward to during the darkest months of the year.

“This feels more important than ever as we enter a winter of continued lockdown restrictions.

"We are hopeful that by February we will be able to put on a full programme of live events, but whatever form the festival takes it will once again be a very special celebration of

Highland Astronomy will be among the organisers of stargazing events in the line-up for next year's festival. Picture: Ken Armstrong

the breathtaking beauty of the Hebrides in winter.

“The festival has been a great success for An Lanntair and the island over its first two years and we're keen to keep up that momentum, but obviously that cannot be at the expense of anyone's safety, especially given that Lewis has only had a very small number of Covid cases so far.

“The majority of festival-goers are from the Hebrides but we did welcome a significant number of visitors to the island this year and we hope we'll be able to do so again.

“Public health must always come first, obviously, but the festival is already considered to be an important showcase for Lewis, which is reflected in the increased support of CalMac, who are one of our principal funders this year.”

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is due to run from 5-18 February. Picture: Highland Astronomy

Kathryn Joseph, a former winner of the Scottish Album of the Year Award, said: “I feel so lucky to get to be part of the beautiful Hebridean Dark Skies Festival and I cannot wait for all of it. My dad lives on Lewis so it will be very lovely to get to be back there.”

Andrew MacNair, head of marketing at CalMac, said: “The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival promotes the beauty of the area through inspiring and unique events.”

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Broadcaster Dallas Campbell, presenter of The Gadget Show and Bang Goes The Theory, will be among the guests at the festival. Picture: Bella Falk

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