photo taken near Dundee by John Gilmour as featured in AuroraWatch
Of course the best viewing place is in the Arctic Circle, but the Northern Lights are occasionally visible from Britain. On rare occasions they are visible as far south as the Mediterranean.
Lancaster University’s AuroraWatch has a gallery of images that testify to the visibility of the Aurora in places like Folkestone and Staffordshire. The photographs show awe-inspiring displays of green and red light rampaging above the roof tops and television aerials.
The chance of seeing the Northern Lights in the UK is best when exceptional solar activity provokes a geomagnetic storm. When particles collide with the atmosphere, air molecules light up. This is also, apparently, how TVs work. AuroraWatch has an illustrated step-by-step explanation of the phenomenon that’s as clear as you’re going to get. You can consult the site for current geomagnetic activity or even sign up for a free email service that alerts you to favourable conditions for seeing the Lights.
Northern Lights in Scottish folklore
In Scottish Gaelic folklore the Northern Lights are known as the Na Fir Chlis – “the Nimble Men”. The Lights were described as epic fights among sky warriors or fallen angels. Blood from the wounded fell to earth and spotted the “bloodstones” or heliotrope found in the Hebrides.