New Hebridean Dark Skies Festival launched

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The first Hebridean Dark Skies Festival has been announced and will take place on Lewis and Harris from February 8 to 21 next year.

The packed two-week programme features stargazing, talks, family activities, film screenings and workshops, with events at An Lanntair, Gallan Head, and the Calanais standing stones.

The festival is part-financed by Outer Hebrides LEADER funding, in partnership with Stornoway Astronomical Society, Calanais Visitor Centre, Gallan Head Community Trust and Lews Castle College, and with support from Outer Hebrides Tourism and Natural Retreats.

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is an ambitious, high quality programme of arts and science events set to draw more visitors to the islands during the winter months.

They have some of the darkest skies in the UK. Many astronomical sights can be seen through the naked eye including the Orion Nebula (more than 1,500 light years away), the Milky Way, and one of the Milky Way’s companion galaxies the Great Andromeda Galaxy.

The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, can also be seen from the islands, one of the best spots in the UK for watching this phenomenon.

Festival highlights will include speakers such as Chris Lintott from BBC’s The Sky at Night, international science presenters Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, and astronomer royal for Scotland John Brown, who will help launch the festival as well as visiting Gallan Head, where he has been supporting Gallan Head Community Trust’s ambitious plans to build a new
observatory on the most north-westerly point in Britain.

A programme of quality arts events will also run throughout the festival. These include a special Hebridean version of Whatever Gets You Through The Night, the acclaimed multimedia project by Cora Bissett, Swimmer One and David Greig, featuring songs and stories from the darkest hours by some of Scotland’s top musicians, playwrights and poets. This new version, put together for the festival by members of the original creative team, will include live performances by Rachel Sermanni and Emma Pollock, and more names to be announced.

Space Ape by Andy Cannon – winner of best production for children and young people at the 2018 CATS awards – will have its Hebridean premiere.

And the festival’s opening gala on Friday February 8 will see Herschel 36 revisit and refine their acclaimed live score for groundbreaking silent movie Wunder Der Schöpfung, originally commissioned by the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival. The event will be introduced by John Brown.

Other festival highlights include: a festival screening of Hebridean favourite The Rocket Post introduced by the film’s star Shauna Macdonald; an evening of dark skies-themed discussion and song with musician Emma Pollock and PHD researcher Natalie Marr; an ‘exploration day’ of telescope workshops, science talks, and other family-friendly activities, led by Stornoway Astronomical Society and An Lanntair’s education team.

There will be an inflatable indoor planetarium with events over two days, guaranteeing an astronomical experience whatever the weather.

Stargazing events will be held at Gallan Head and Calanais Visitor Centre, site of the famous Calanais stones, and there will be an exhibition featuring some of the best dark skies photography from the Hebrides.

Three days of events will be targeted for pre-school children in the An Lanntair auditorium, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, the festival will close with a screening of First Man, the acclaimed new film starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

The festival will also screen In The Shadow of the Moon, David Sington’s acclaimed 2007 documentary, featuring interviews with every surviving member of all the Apollo missions.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, events and marketing co-ordinator for An Lanntair, said: ‘We’re really excited to be leading on the launch of this ambitious new festival.

‘We’ve worked very hard to make sure this festival offers something for everyone – it’s part science festival, part arts festival, part outdoor festival,
with things to do for all ages.’

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will run from Friday February 8 to Thursday February 21, 2019. For programme details, and to book tickets, visit www.lanntair.com/darkskies or call the An Lanntair box office on 01851 708480.