Wigtown Astronomy Weekend 2002

By Yvonne Cherry

After last year's cancellation due to the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks and the ever persistent cloudy skies on a previous visit the year before, I must admit we set off on our journey with an element of trepidation. Should we be so bold as to hope for clear skies, proving once and for all what a wonderful universe we were part of? Could we possibly see some of what we have learned over the months through discussion and photographs? I must admit… I had everything crossed!

The journey there took about 3 hours and we passed through some lovely little villages. So this was what the countryside was like, roughly a million miles from my house in Grangemouth. The weather, however, was in a playful mood. Clear spells, showers, heavy rain and snow capped hills were just some of the challenges it threw my way. Upon arrival at Borrowmoss Cottages, snuggled in the heart of the surrounding darkness, we did what every self-respecting astronomer would do… we went for a fish supper. It was important we were appropriately fuelled for a potential night of observing.

This, unfortunately, was not to be. Once everyone had arrived, we made our way in convoy to Palnure Forestry Commission's Visitor Centre to meet up with Wigtown Astronomy Society to take part in their group discussions and presentations. This started with their club Chairperson Helen, showing us some constellations in the sky using the overhead projector. This then went on to a presentation regarding the planets and their atmospheres.

Douglas Cooper then presented his pictures taken by his Coolpix digital camera. This included colourful sunsets, various cloud formations, rainbows and sun pictures taken through his Hydrogen Alpha Filter. These were received with much interest and questions regarding how his pictures were taken and which camera he considered to be of most value for money currently on the market. Centre stage was then taken by Walter Scott who enthralled his audience with pictures of aurora, lunar and planetary shots as well as constellations. The clear skies, however, still eluded us and we returned to the cottages to end the evening with tea and coffee, toast and (courtesy of Malcolm Gibb) a small nightcap… or two!

Saturday saw us up bright and early, not as the cock crowed but as the cow mooed. It still remained overcast but we stayed hopeful. Wigtown offers a huge variety of second hand book and comic shops which covers every topic you could possibly wish to read about. You would be hard pushed to not find something in these shops to capture your attention. I was transported back in time as I looked at various books which featured quite heavily in my childhood. Enid Blyton has a lot to answer for. We also visited a couple of art shops where some antiques were housed too. Other villages nearby were worthy of a visit too and the day was your own to do what you wished.

The distillery at Bladnoch provided the afternoon's entertainment. Various local produce were being sold at stalls including meat products, yoghurts and milk products and ice cream. Vegetarian and Vegan tastes were also catered for. Distillery tours ran throughout the day and a live band and ceilidh were the evening's entertainment. Things, however, were definitely looking up. The sun was beginning to break through the clouds. Could the weather possibly be on our side for once?

After meeting up with the rest of the gang for dinner, we were thrilled when the skies were clear as dusk began to fall. We made our way down to the local harbour and watched as the stars and planets started to appear in an increasingly darkening sky. The thin crescent moon provided an ideal opportunity to set up the equipment which would be put to very good use once darkness fell.

As Venus followed the Sun, clear observations were made of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, Orion and the Orion Nebula were also clearly visible and the Milky Way ran over the sky in a huge arch. We also spent some time looking at the comet currently visible in the sky… and upon viewing it through Russell's binoculars, I was amazed by how big it's tail was.


All in all, the view was unbelievable and was the clearest and most numerous in stars, that I have ever seen. Observers from the Wigtown Astronomy Association, Renfrewshire Astronomy Association and a few passers-by all joined in that night. Lots of discussion took place regarding what we were seeing and we took pleasure in pointing out some stars and planets to people who were unsure what was there. This appeared to very much make their night and they seemed very impressed. Malcolm furnished them with our web address so that they will know of our next visit and perhaps view some of the photographs taken that night.

We remained there for a good couple of hours, before the mists started rolling in and our view became obscured. With light hearts, we made our way back to the cottages for tea, toast, discussion and, courtesy of Douglas Cooper, a small nightcap… or three!

Overall, the trip was excellent and I am already looking forward to next year. The Sunday morning offered us a chance to view the sun through a solar filter where sunspots were clearly visible. The trip back home was through the picturesque route and we passed a village called Laurieston!

We all thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, and felt we were very lucky to get some observation done.