THE dark winter nights will be celebrated at a new festival taking place on the Isle of Lewis. The ambitious Hebridean Dark Skies Festival features two weeks of science and stargazing events hosted by the likes of The Sky At Night’s Chris Lintott and Scotland’s Astronomer Royal John Brown, as well as a high-quality arts programme at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway.

The festival also features events at the world-famous Calanais standing stones and at Gallan Head, the most north-westerly point in Britain, where the local community trust have hopes for a new observatory.

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Their campaign is backed by Brown, who will lead a walking event around the site and introduce the opening gala film of Wunder Der Schöpfung, a German silent film from 1925 intended as a public information film about everything known of the cosmos at the time.

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“It is a deeply strange and very wonderful film,” says An Lanntair’s events co-ordinator Andrew Eaton-Lewis, noting that the screening will have live accompaniment by Herschel 36, an electronic duo from Glasgow.

Eaton-Lewis, who recently moved from Portobello to Gallan Head, also makes music as Swimmer One and is an experienced festival programmer with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. The dark skies in the Hebrides really are very dark, he says.

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“The further away you get from Stornoway, the skies are just extraordinary,” says Eaton-Lewis. “You can see the Northern Lights, you can see various different galaxies and astronomical sights. And recently we saw something which I didn’t know even existed until a year ago – a moonbow.”

The right conditions for lunar rainbows might be a question asked of Lintott when The Sky At Night he visits the festival after the close of its Dark Skies Exploration Day One on February 9, the first of two free (but ticketed) days of talks and workshops, many of which are aimed at children and young people.

Other big names to visit are international science broadcasters professors Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, who is training to be an astronaut with Virgin Galactic.

Complementing the science events is an arts programme which looks at the significance of dark skies to human beings, and the intersections of art and science.

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The festival will close with a screening of First Man, the acclaimed new film starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. Also featured will be In The Shadow Of The Moon, a 2007 documentary featuring interviews with every surviving member of all the Apollo missions, and a screening of Rocket Post, a 2005 film about the efforts of scientist Gerhard Zucker to bring a rocket-powered mail service to the Western Isles in the 1930s.

Its Canadian-born star Shauna Macdonald, who grew up in Portobello, will introduce the film after recently picking up the award for best film actress at the Scottish Baftas for her performance in sci-fi movie White Chamber.

More theatrical events include Andy Cannon’s award-winning children’s sci-fi show Space Ape and a Hebridean version of Whatever Gets You Through The Night, an acclaimed multimedia project created by Cora Bissett with Swimmer One and David Greig which first debuted as a live show at the much-missed Arches in Glasgow in 2012.

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A heady, poignant patchwork of stories, songs and films, the project comprised new work by around 25 of the country’s most unique writers and musicians creating something inspired by the hours between midnight and 4am.

Emma Pollock and Rachel Sermanni, musician-songwriters from the original project, will be joined by Gaelic singer Ceitlin LR Smith and rising band The Sea Atlas, fronted by Hebridean musician Calum Buchanan.

Pollock, whose song Dark Skies soundtracks the festival’s enchanting trailer, also features in an event on February 9 asking if and why dark skies are important to human health, happiness and creativity. Joining her will be Natalie Marr, a visual artist currently doing PhD research into dark sky spaces, with particular emphasis on Galloway Forest Park, one of only four officially designated Dark Sky Parks in the world.

Pollock grew up in nearby Castle Douglas and her Dark Skies is inspired by childhood memories of looking up to the sky in reflection and wonder.

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“I was very keen to look beyond astronomy and science at the broader sense of what dark skies mean, and why dark skies matter,” says Eaton-Lewis.” The idea of a dark skies festival is quite new, and it’s a response to there being so much light pollution. There are millions of people across the world who will never properly see a dark sky, and it’s something that we miss.”

Away from the Edinburgh glare, Eaton-Lewis is happy to see galaxies again.

“When I first moved here, people would say: ‘Oh, the winters are really long and really dark’,” he recalls. “This is about making that something to celebrate. There is something quite magical about being enveloped in darkness.

“In winter, even though the weather can get quite harsh, you have these extraordinarily beautiful days here and the light is gorgeous. It’s a really lovely place to be and part of this festival is celebrating that.”

Buy tickets and see the full programme at

Watch the trailer at