Thursday, 1 February 2018

A "once in a blue moon" night

Lunacy - intermittent insanity, formerly believed to be related to phases of the moon. 

The night of 31st January saw a "supermoon", the third in a series of full moon events where the moon would be at a comparatively close distance from the earth. It was also a "blue moon" - the second full moon in a calendar month, which as the saying goes, doesn't come around that often.  Predicted to appear 7% larger and be 15% brighter than an average full moon, it seemed like a good idea to try and experience it to best advantage.

We are fortunate in having very little light pollution at home, so it there might be a good view, but how about getting up into the hills to see the effect amongst winter mountains?

I set out from Crathie on Deeside at sunset, aiming to spend a night out and get the best possible view.

Emerging form the forest onto the open hill well after sunset, I thought that maybe I'd made a mistake.  A snowstorm came sweeping in from the north west and made for some fairly brisk conditions on the walk in.

My destination for the night was Gelder Shiel bothy on the Balmoral estate.  I'd noted fresh bootprints on the track and so was expecting to find somebody else in residence, and so it proved.  Mike and his dog "Sheba" had arrived just before dark and had the stove lit and the place nice and warm.

I've used Gelder Shiel several times; my abiding memories are of a very cold stone building, but a recent renovation by the MBA and the "Ballater Chiels" has transformed it into one of the best of bothies, cosy and warm.  Once settled into the bothy, I took a look outside....

...where the cloud had broken up and the full moon was sailing high in a ragged sky, almost stroboscopic as the cloud alternately obscured and cleared.

In the small wood surrounding the bothy the effect was all light and shade, a zebra pattern on the fresh snow.

Mike and I took a walk up the track above the bothy.  When the cloud cleared, the light levels were truly astounding, our shadows sharply delineated.

All the images in this post were taken on a compact camera with the flash switched out, the light levels really were as portrayed.  Behind Mike and Sheba is Lochnagar, the cliffs floodlit with brilliant light.

Moonlight is often described as "silver", but this went beyond that - it was arc-light bright.  Every feature in the landscape was picked out sharp and clear - an utterly brilliant night to be out.

The contrast between moonlight and shade was as marked as that between sunlight and shadow.

Bright it may have been, but it was also searingly cold in a strong northerly wind.  We three returned to the bothy and banked up the wood-burner.

I took a walk out just before getting into the sleeping bag, there was a corona around the moon formed by ice crystals in the lower atmosphere.

As the moon moved across the sky it shone through the skylights in the bothy.  A brief turn out in the small hours to answer a call of nature had me diving back for the camera - the bothy washed by light.

I had to leave early to be home and do a day's work.  All night the wind had roared around the building, making some weird noises as the gusts built.  I headed out into what would normally have been pitch blackness, but on this morning was still lit by a super supermoon.  Truly this had been a "once in a blue moon night".

By the time I reached home just after dawn, the day had turned very nasty - a northerly gale and stinging showers rattled in as February roared in.  But what a great night it had been.....


  1. A great night indeed.
    Nice to have met you and some great photos.
    Mike and Sheba.

  2. Hi Mike, and welcome! It was great to meet you and Sheba - thanks for the company; hope to meet you both again sometime

    Kind Regards

  3. Well done, Ian. You sought out the fullness of the experience. Our "bothy" by Loch Alsh offered amenities, but by no means the connection that you had with this rare moon. It was still, however, most impressive. Warm wishes from us both.

    1. It was a cracking night D & J, a rare moon indeed. More "Carpe Noctis" than Carpe Diem!


  4. Brilliant. That bothy photo takes me right back. Not been in that place for many years. Looks different but amazing how the memories just jump out again with such clarity.

    1. You should visit gelder Shiel again Bob, it's a place transformed in comfort!