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Northern lights

The Magical Northern Lights

By Jane Sowerby

Seeing the Northern Lights has been a long standing leader on my ‘bucket list’. The spectacular natural phenomenon has interested me for years, and after reading that we’re currently in the liveliest phase of the solar cycle for 10 years, I decided it was about time to stop talking about it and actually do it. 

There’s loads of information online with destination recommendations to chase the Northern Lights, but most places are very expensive. Myself and two friends wanted to do it on a budget. After quite a bit of searching, I found what looked like the perfect place for us. So we got out the diaries and booked it! 

One of our main considerations for location was that it had to be inside the Arctic Circle. Obviously this still doesn’t guarantee a sighting, but the percentage of likelihood is higher. Also, there’s something quite special about saying you’ve travelled to the Arctic Circle. We flew into Tromso in Northern Norway, about three and a half hours from Gatwick. 

A lot of people stay in Tromso itself, but it’s quite a large city and therefore has a considerable amount of light pollution, affecting how much you can see the Aurora Borealis. We hired a car from the airport – of course I went for a Ford! I knew the Kuga would serve us well in terms of space, as well as being capable of getting us off the tourist trail. 

An hour and a half drive from the airport got us to a little car ferry, crossing one of the many beautiful fjords in the area. The locals didn’t speak a lot of English, but they did manage to translate that there was a storm coming, so the light show wouldn’t be visible:

“The storm will be here for three nights, how long are you here for?” 
“Three nights.”

We tried to convince ourselves that it wasn’t important if we didn’t get to see them, this part of the world is still stunning anyway. However, deep down I was praying the local knowledge was wrong this time.

The storm did come for our first night there – howling winds and heavy snowfall. We were cosy and warm in our cute little wood cabin in the middle of nowhere though. The owners were so friendly and tried to make things as accessible as possible for me. There was a ramp to get into the cabin and everything was on one level. I had to sit cross-legged on the floor to have a shower but I’m used to doing that when travelling. We had as much free wood as we could burn in the lovely wood burner, and cooked our own food to keep the cost down.

The following day the storm seemed to be clearing. The sun rose about 8.30am, but was only just visible over the top of the mountains, and then it set about 2pm. We drove around in the dusk light - it felt like we were the only people in the area, so peaceful and calm. A road trip about 9pm out as far north as the road would take us in search of the northern lights was fruitless. Then we went out again about midnight, driving the Kuga up a really snowy track behind the cabin away from any kind of light pollution, and this time we were rewarded.

I can honestly say it was one of the most mesmerising experiences ever, one I will never forget. It’s so hard to describe in words what we witnessed, but it was incredibly magical and ‘otherworldly’. It started off fairly subtly, with a long cloud-like arc spreading across the clear night sky. I wasn’t convinced at first that it wasn’t actually just a cloud. Then the ‘cloud’ jumped to a completely different position. I’m pretty sure clouds don’t do that! We were then treated to a show of greens and purples, ethereal pulsating lights dancing in the sky above us. 

Celestial wonder is a very apt description, we felt so privileged to be in the right place at the right time. Although a successful sighting does depend on good planning, a huge part of it is just down to luck. The next night the storm returned and it was impossible to see anything at all in the night sky. One thing is certain - now we’ve found our little Arctic oasis, we will definitely be returning. I can see how people get addicted to chasing the Northern Lights!