Scotland offers up some fantastic scenery by day. But for a growing number of tourists, it’s the spectacular views by night that are attracting them to remote ‘dark sky’ parks. By Sam Roberts Where best in Scotland can you go to see clear night skies? If you said that Scotland has long and dark winter nights, it would be a colossal understatement. The sunsets are early, and the sunrises are late – it makes for short winter days. However, the long nights offer incredible stargazing opportunities! Scotland, especially in the Highlands, has minimal light pollution. And in certain parts of the country, you will struggle to find a better stargazing spot globally. Furthermore, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the Northern lights or the Milky Way. I have been fortunate enough to see the stars in some of the worlds most fabulous stargazing locations, including the Egyptian Desert, India’s Thar Desert, the Australian bush, and the desolate jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand. There isn’t anything more inspiring, eye-opening, and deeply humbling than seeing the stars and realising how irrelevant we are! So where are the best spots in Scotland to marvel at the universe at night? The Best Spots to See the Stars in Scotland Torridon Torridon is the most notorious spot for clear night skies in Scotland. Visitors love the tranquil surroundings underneath dramatic mountains in the Northwest Scottish Highlands. Tourists also visit here for climbing, hiking, photography spots, and majestic wildlife. Luskentyre Sands The Luskentyre Sands Beach looks like it could be in the Caribbean. Not only is it miles of stunning white sands, idyllic blue seas, and one of TripAdvisor’s best beaches. But it remains an excellent spot to see the stars during the night. Tomintoul and the Glenlivet Estate Tomintoul and the Glenlivet Estate is one of Scotland’s hidden gems. The area will bless you with rugged scenery, hiking spots, and the potential to see the Northern Lights at night. You can find the location in the east of Cairngorms National Park. The Galloway Forest Park and the Scottish Dark Observatory The Galloway Forest Park received dark sky status in 2009, making it the UK’s first location to receive that accolade. And the local government built the Scottish Dark Observatory in 2012. You can explore the area by yourself and even find a wild-camping location nearby. Assynt Assynt is home to the Glencanisp Estate, an official dark sky discovery site. But the spot is in the far north of the Scottish Highlands, so it will take a dedicated individual to head here. The sky’s views will reward you because it is hard to find clearer skies in Britain. What makes these locations growth areas in activity holidays? Activity holidays have grown in popularity in the last decade. And the main activities people want are hiking, walking, and cycling. It is challenging to find a better location globally than Scotland for activity holidays. One of Scotland’s most significant benefits is the legality to go wild camping. Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland allows you to pitch up a tent wherever you want as long as you respect the environment. You can go cycling, mountain climbing, and hiking through endless valleys in Scotland. Spots like Torridon offer infinite adventure. I visited Queenstown, New Zealand in January 2020, and the sheer array of adventurous opportunities blew me away. You could hike huge mountains, bungee jump off tall bridges, and go mountain biking. New Zealand is an eclectic mixture of adventure and a nation everyone should visit once. Moreover, countries like Norway, Switzerland, and Greece are excellent European activity holiday locations. But Scotland remains an incredible world-leading spot for activity holidays for all the above reasons. Where should beginners go? If it is the first time that you’ve decided to go stargazing? You might enjoy heading somewhere that offers a guided tour and night viewing packages. I’m not someone who always enjoys a guided tour. Quite frankly, I love the freedom of doing my thing without waiting for others. But when it comes to looking at the stars, what do I know? I’m not an astrologer, and I could not tell the difference between Jupiter or Planet Zog, which is a made-up planet, by the way. So if I’m going to benefit from a night of stargazing – like most people – I’m better off having a guide to explain what I’m seeing. At least until I learn more about astrology, and coming to think of it, writing this article has inspired me to do so! Let’s look at some excellent beginner night viewing packages. The Torridon Hotel The Torridon Hotel is one of the world’s best hotels for stargazing. Situated in an area classed as Bortle 1 or 2, it is one of the world’s darkest places for seeing the stars. You will enjoy a three-course seasonal menu with astronomer Stephen Mackintosh. You’ll then receive a presentation on the stars, skies, and what you’ll encounter on the excursion. The tour will provide you with full equipment, and it is available from September to March. Scottish Dark Sky Observatory Suppose you’re like me and need to brush up on your astronomy knowledge, visit the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory. The observatory offers pre-booked visits, and if you’re a club, school, or society, you can book an event here. There are two massive telescopes, including a 20’ Planewave CDK telescope in a 5-metre dome. Many pre-booked events have guest speakers from world-leading astronomers that will guide you throughout your experience. Galloway Forest Park Galloway Forest Park is the largest park in Scotland. There are only 4 ‘Dark Sky Parks’ in Europe, and Galloway Forest Park is one of them. On a clear night, visitors can see up to 7000 stars – perfect for anyone looking to appreciate the mind-blowing vastness of the universe. There are four dark sky rangers offering tailor-made experiences and packages to visitors to guide you through an incredible stargazing experience. Conclusion Scotland is one of the worlds most desirable countries for stargazing. I believe the best way to see the stars is by wild-camping in a remote spot. I advise you to pitch up your tent, camp out for the night, and be careful with the environment. It remains frustratingly challenging to find wild-camping spots in Europe. But Scotland allows you to do it. And why wouldn’t you take advantage of seeing the incredible night skies?
The Statue of Liberty is the most iconic statue in the world. But whose real life face provided inspiration for Lady Liberty?
The Statue of Liberty is possibly the most famous landmark in the entire world and is a huge tourist attraction for people all around the world. The figure of a woman wearing a crown and holding a flaming torch is symbolic of America. However, not many people know the history of woman who posed for this world famous statue and how she has influenced many around the globe. There may not be one definitive answer but there are certainly some interesting theories. By Phil Taylor The statue of Liberty is situated in New York on Liberty Island and it dominates the island. The 305 foot (from ground level) statue was first erected on the island in 1886 after being designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built in France before arriving in New York. Bartholdi was the brainchild of this iconic monument as it was proposed that the French people gifted the American people to commemorate 100 years of their independence from the British. History of the Statue of Liberty The idea of a statue was first mooted by Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society who in conversation with Bartholdi in 1865 stated, “If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations”. It took a lot longer for the idea to be commissioned with France at war but in 1871 Bartholdi crossed the Atlantic. He focused on Bedloe’s Island as the perfect location because sail boats would be using the harbour and see the statue as they arrived into New York. There is a debate as to what was the real intention of the Statue of Liberty especially as Bartholdi held such strong abolitionist views and wanted all slaves to be free. It was even his intention to have chains in her hands instead of the tablet we see today. Inspiration for the Statue A study concluded that, “The Statue of Liberty would never have been conceived or built if its principal French and American advocates had not been active abolitionists who understood slavery as the cause of the Civil War and its end as the realization of the promise of liberty for all as codified in the Declaration of Independence. But the Statue of Liberty was not intended entirely as a monument to the end of slavery. Still, the presence of shackles at the foot of the monument combined with the implication of a black model does make for an interesting debate.” Liberty Enlightening the World, as it is originally known, was seen mainly as the sign of liberty which was a controversial subject with many people during the 19th century seeing liberty as an act of violence or rebellion. Bartholdi, wanted to change that conception. Bartholdi wanted a woman to represent liberty and freedom but drew inspiration from many different concepts. One concept he chose was to draw inspiration from the ancient classical statues such as Helios in Rhodes. This led to him using the Roman Goddess Libertas and Sol Invictus as his muse. However, many wonder who was the actual model for the statue and there are quite a few ideas. Many speculate it is in fact Bartholdi’s mother as Lady Liberty shares her stern stare and features with Bartholdi’s mother. Bartholdi never disputed people’s assumptions so it is believed that he used his mother to be the face of the famous statue. What a son! Mistress of Sculptor? It is also speculated that his mistress was the model. They would later be married in 1876 which is credible because the statue was finished in 1886 but it was a decade after he had already started designing it. Apparently she would always joke that the statue has the same body as her but as we know there are no distinguishable features about the body! As well as being influenced by the classics such as the Greek Goddess Hera or Helios, Bartholdi is believed to have taken inspiration from a painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre called La V or The Truth which now hangs in the Muse d’Orsay. The painting depicts a woman holding a flame above her head and stood in a similar position to the statue of Liberty. Freed Slave? Finally, there are reports that Bartholdi used an African woman or even an African- American woman to pose for the modelling. With the Frenchman being a staunch supporter of freedom and to celebrate the Union victory over the Confederacy then this was the perfect response. Having worked in Egypt as well, there is a strong possibility that he used an African woman. But some do not believe this to be true as the facial features do not bear any resemblance to that of an African woman and there is no written evidence that this was Bartholdi’s thoughts to have an African woman to symbolise the break from slavery; despite being very much against slavery and initially wanting Lady Liberty to have chains. What we do know is that Bartholdi wanted a goddess. As Edward Berenson, author of Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story states, “Bartholdi produced a series of drawings in which the proposed statue began as a gigantic female fellah, or Arab peasant and gradually evolved into a colossal goddess…” All we know for saw is that there was a woman in Bartholdi’s mind and whoever that woman was she has changed America forever.
Genealogy is now the second most popular hobby in America. But it can be an expensive one! What free websites are available to research your family history?
Genealogy. The study of our family history, our heritage, and who we are – at least for those on the former side of the nature/nurture argument. In the US, it has become the second most popular hobby, as well as being an international craze. Are there any free and easy ways to find out your family’s history? By Andrew Cook Hailing from two Greek words, the first meaning ‘race’ or ‘family’, and the second meaning ‘theory’ or ‘science’, the study of genealogy is both ancient, and modern. The history of family history for most people, is a rather short tale. For the vast majority of people, the Genealogy craze didn’t take off until the 1970s. When author Alex Haley published his resoundingly successful book ‘Roots’ in 1976, he desired to inspire a new age of black Americans to discover their genealogies which had been obscured or lost due to the dark history of slavery. What he did, however, was inspire a decades-long craze which still continues to this day. Even in the US, genealogy is the second most popular hobby after gardening, and also the second most searched topic after pornography! However the history of genealogy for important individuals hails back to beyond biblical times. Ancient Genealogy If you’ve ever read a bible, you’ll probably remember that section you skipped over. You know which one – the ‘begat’ section. Certainly I cannot recall most of the bible, but I remember being a child, skipping over page after page of ‘Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech.’. While not the most interesting Sunday reading for a child, it does continue to show that lineage has been of constant interest to us for thousands of years. Centuries later, kingdoms were won, and civil wars started based on nothing more than bloodlines. The impression that ‘royal blood’ and the various degrees of separation involved, made one suitable of becoming a monarch. In European courts, bloodlines and ‘the making of the pedigree’ were essential in most marriages. It was expected to ensure that the lineage was kept ‘pure and true’. Obsessed we may have been, but with an awfully small gene pool to draw upon it may have had questionable effects at times. As a side effect it may even have promoted the Illuminati conspiracy. The fact that so many heads of state are related to one another means that one single family is controlling us all? Nope. Just that not many generations ago, royals were still marrying their cousins! Just look at World War 2 – Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II, and King George V were all cousins, and grandsons of Queen Victoria! Perhaps, had she still been alive, she could have kept her descendants in check and prevented World War 1! Modern Genealogy We’ve come a great deal further now. No longer is genealogy reserved for the aristocracy, we can now research our own lineages due to modern miracles such as DNA testing, and the internet! While DNA testing might seem the be-all and end-all to genealogy, (due to its ability to uncover sordid family secrets), the internet is probably the most useful tool in any beginner genealogist’s toolkit. You might be eager to find out if you’re descended from Celts, Romans, or Vikings, but the first recommended steps you should take involve researching your immediate family, and thanks to online databases – it’s never been easier! Now, records of birth, death, and marriage are more easily available than ever. In decades past, tracking down these items would require a great deal of travel for physical copies, but a few google searches – and you’re half-way complete! The age of easy-to-access information is available for all of us, and it’s definitely the starting point for anyone to discover their recent family history! Beginner’s steps? The main reason any beginner should start with family tree records is simple. DNA is complicated, and the tools used are just as complex. Different projects use different identifying markers within your DNA. The world of DNA testing is like the world of programming – different languages are available for different uses, and they ALL require some research before using. World Gen Web is one of the most highly recommended starting points. As a non-profit, they are completely free, and their databases are incredibly comprehensive. Transcriptions from volunteers mean that they are posting records dating back to the 1500s! They also filter by country, so that you’re not getting bogged down with unrelated names from five countries away. DNA Testing For those dead-set on DNA testing, ancestry.com is arguably the most well-known. However, there are actually many other viable alternatives for testing, both with benefits and drawbacks – and they do come with a price tag. You may be looking at ancestry.com, 23andme.com, or familytreedna.com, but they all share the same thing in common. They tend to cross reference within their own databases. So if you’re committed to tracking down your genetic heritage, you’re likely to need a cross referencing service such as gedmatch.com. Programs like this have the ability to match your autosomal DNA with other individuals’ DNA across a plethora of genealogy testing websites. Ultimately giving you a little more bang for your buck. Is DNA everything? Good luck on your quest in genealogy! Maybe you’ll confirm your suspicions, maybe you’ll find a surprise or two. After all, like 6 degrees of separation, we’re all related to a celebrity or two in our past. Mathematically speaking, going back 20 generations would give us all 1,048,576 great-great-great… grandparents! Ultimately we have to remember that, however important and fascinating genealogy is to us, it’s no more important than our present day company. Am I related to Robert the Bruce? Possibly! But it’s not a factor in our daily lives, merely an interesting piece of history. Genealogy doesn’t make us who we are. The people we love and the choices we make are what defines us.
Is Geotagging on Instagram causing long-lasting environmental to natural beauty spots? Many would say ‘yes’, and some tourist boards are even going as far as to running campaigns on social media to discourage tagging. By Sam Roberts Instagram has had a significant impact on the travel industry since 2014. I have been lucky to have travelled worldwide. And I have seen the effects of geotagging on natural beauty. It has led to trail erosion, wildlife, and increased litter. And in countries like Thailand – it has destroyed parts of the country. Islands like Koh Phi Phi are the prime example of places damaged by over-tourism and under-regulation. Geotagging has led to an escalation in tourists looking to visit a spot, to get an idyllic Instagram picture. Some of us have heard those colloquial phrases “do it for the gram,” in reference to people visiting geotagging hotspots – often taking hazardous pictures – to get likeable Instagram posts. So what is the impact on Scotland’s natural beauty? What is Geotagging? Not everyone has heard of the phrase geotagging; it remains a relatively new phrase, among the younger generations. Geotagging is where social media users share their location on sites like Instagram via GPS systems. GPS isn’t a new-found technology. The military has used it for decades, and you’ve likely used a sat-nav device since the 2000s. As technology has improved, GPS has become available in smartphones, fitness watches, and drones. Today, most of us use devices capable of geotagging. Is geotagging ruining natural wonders? Many argue, yes. The New York Times suggested a popular Instagram spot, the Delta Lake, has increased from two hikers per day to 145 hikers per day since 2015. Local tourism board member Mr Moderna, claimed: “The landscape was under threat from visitors drawn by the beautiful vistas on Instagram.” But that’s not the first time that locals have criticised photo-tourism. Hong Kong has become a popular geotagging spot. Especially in public housing developments, where influencers clammer to get the perfect photograph. Another prime example is Horseshoe Bend, Colorado. In 2010 only a few thousand people visited. But the location became a geotagging spot in 2014, and over one million tourists came by 2018. In response, facilities started to crumble, dirt tracks became destroyed, and staff erected railings after a visitor fell to their death. Sherwin Banda, president of Africa Travel Inc, suggested tourists using geotagging while on safari are giving opportunities to poachers. Leaving a GPS trace of the location where you saw animals makes hunters jobs ten-times easier – endangering precious wildlife in the process. Does everyone agree that geotagging is an issue? Not everyone. An article written by Vice Media claimed that we should stop blaming geotagging for ruining the great outdoors. Instead, we should focus on increasing funding for public land. And if local authorities adequately fund public land – increasing tourism numbers from geotagging wouldn’t be a concern. Many argue that there is a fine line between encouraging visitors and boosting the local economy and prioritising conservation. But due to the lack of funding and understaffing; that has become increasingly difficult to balance. According to Sheila Faalasli, the social media manager at the National Parks Conservation Association “many park services are in despair due to budget constraints, and it would cost $12 billion to fix them all.” Christian Le Mont, the social media coordinator at Latino Outdoors, suggests that Instagram is a powerful tool for increasing conservation awareness, stating “a photo on social media can spark that passion.” What action have local authorities taken so far? Isle of Skye, Scotland Police in the Isle Of Skye noticed a significant uptake in visitors in previous years, and have warned visitors not to come unless they have accommodation on the island. Mumbai, India After a bystander died trying to save three girls that fell into a river while posing for a selfie, Mumbai banned selfies at 16 popular tourist hotspots. Faroe Islands Every year the Faroe Islands close for one week so local staff can repair the damage done to tourist spots, popular trails, and natural environment. Boracay, The Philippines The Philippines banned all tourists from Boracay, its most popular island for one year in 2018 due to its significant damage from over-tourism and geotagging. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand The Thai government closed Maya Beach – the most popular beach in Thailand – for numerous months in 2019. Mass tourism was destroying the beach, forcing the government to take action. What are Scotland’s most popular geotagging hotspots? Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye The Fairy Pools are popular with wild swimmers and Instagram influencers. The stunning pools attract millions of visitors per year because of the crystal clear waters and spectacular photo opportunities. The Isle of Harris, Scotland The Isle of Harris is nothing short of spectacular. It is a mixture of stunning blue waters, white sands, and secluded hiking hotspots. You might mistake the island for somewhere in the tropics with its pristine beaches. Loch Lomond, Trossachs National Park Loch Lomond is as beautiful a spot as you’ll find in Europe. Home to small boats, canoes, and kayaks gliding across the still blue waters, it remains a hugely popular geotagging hotspot. Fingal’s Cave, Staffa Island Fingals Cave is one of the world’s most unique caves. The question around the formation of the cave remains a mystery, but it is a popular geotagging hotspot due to its majestic nature. Ben Nevis, Scotland Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the United Kingdom. Due to the increase in geotagging; tourists clammer to the top to get a shot of the stunning views. What is the future for geotagging? The Oxford Dictionary shortlisted overtourism for “Word of the Year 2018,” but let’s be honest, it has been a growing issue for decades, not just a few years. One of the most significant issues before 2020 was the lack of regulation on geotagging spots. It became evident that local authorities were more concerned about immediate mass tourism profits instead of implementing restrictions on visitors clambering to Instagram hotspots. These don’t need to be heavy restrictions. If authorities closed popular trails, beaches, and landmarks for days or weeks at a time to repair, they could maintain sustainability and profitability. Banning geotagging will prove challenging, but managing tourism numbers is a straightforward approach. The travel industry will never be the same after the covid19. But it has given national parks and governments the crucial opportunity to reevaluate mass tourism. Scotland and the rest of the world have the chance to balance the incredible economic benefits of mass tourism, with sensibly managed tourism numbers promoting sustainability of the environment. I believe it is perhaps a blessing in disguise, or maybe a wasted opportunity. Time will tell.
Which planet is known as the red planet? Mars is the next step for mankind in the solar system and has been a source of fear and fascination for mankind. But science is now beginning to unravel the red planet’s mysteries. By Phil Taylor Mars is the next step for mankind in the solar system. There has been such a fascination surrounding the planet for thousands of years and it is understandable. The planet is a stark contrast to our own, despite many similarities, and conjures up images that we would not even think of being on our planet. But why are humans obsessed with Mars and why is Mars so distinctive? It all began 4.5 billion years ago when the solar system was formed and Mars began its life as a planet next to Earth. However, the planet has a weaker gravity and is smaller in size, compared to Earth (where the iron sank to the core) allowed it to be different to its neighbour. Red planet Mars is often called the red planet due to the colour of the planet and how it looks through a telescope, to the naked eye and, thanks to the Mars Rover, video images of the planet. It is unusual that the colour of the planet is red but there is a good reason for it. Just like Earth, Mars is rich in iron and the surface of the planet is incredibly dusty. According to NASA, the iron minerals oxidise, or rust, causing the soil to look red. So, that suggests that the water on the planet has caused the fourth planet from the sun to have the red colour but similar to Earth it could have life on its planet. The bloody colour of the planet can be seen from millions of miles away and was even seen by the Romans who named the planet due to its red colour. So, not to quote Monty Python too much, what did the Romans ever do for us? Romans influence on Mars Roman mythology has influenced our lives massively and in everyday life they are ever present. They even influenced the days of the week for us with the days named after Roman deities which follow those names of the planets including dies Iovis, “the day of Jupiter”, dies Veneris, “the day of Venus” and dies Saturni, “the day of Saturn”. Dies Martis, “the day of Mars” is the one we are concerned with. Mars, which is now modern day Tuesday, influenced the Anglo Saxons who used Gods themselves for their days of the week. Tuesday is named for the god Tiw, about whom relatively little is known. Tiw was probably associated with warfare, just like the Roman God Mars. So who was Mars and why was Mars such an influence? Mars was a Roman God who represented war and second only to Jupiter in the Roman pantheon. He was a very important God, especially with the attitude of the Roman Empire. Despite a lot of the myths being taken from Greek Mythology and their God of war Ares, Mars was more level headed and was the protector for the capital Rome. Mars’ importance in mythology is incredibly important as it is believed he is the father of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. The month of March is named after him as are festivals and ceremonies highlighting the importance of the God on Roman culture. So how did he also have a planet named after him? Well it is believed that with his ties to Ares and even before that Babylonians Nergal, a god of war and fire. The Greeks likely adapted this Babylonian nomenclature, calling the planet Pyroeis; think about pyro in our language today. The connection of war and fire was adapted by the Romans to name the planet Mars. The fire related to Mars is a direct correlation to that of the fiery colour of the planet and the red colour represents blood shed of the enemy of people who tried to defy the Roman Empire. Could we live on the Red Planet? Now this is a big question and one we do not know the answer for at the moment. It adds to human fascination surrounding the red planet and how we want to know more about it. However, although we do not know if it is a habitable planet at the moment people are working towards building a colony on the planet. Elon Musk in particular has always stated how important the planet is to him and in a recent tweet he stated his intentions about building a colony once again: “About half my money is intended to help problems on Earth and half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life (of all species) in case Earth gets hit by a meteor like the dinosaurs or WW3 happens and we destroy ourselves,” the tweet said. So with Musk’s intention to build on Mars, would you want to be one of the first to live there? Afterall, Mars Real estate might be a reality very soon!