As June is the month of the Summer Solstice and the Longest Day, our night sky never quite gets dark and it’s not the greatest for spotting faint stars. However, there are 2-3 hours when you can spot the Summer Constellations that are up in the southern night sky just now and you can use the four bright stars, Arcturus, Antares, Vega and Spica to find your way around them. Meanwhile, Venus is brighter than anything else apart from the moon and you can find it shining as the “Evening Star” low down on the western horizon as night falls. Finally, we can expect to see a partial eclipse on June 10 when sun will be about 40% covered by the moon’s shadow.
This month, the sun sets around 10:00 pm, so the stars and the constellations start won’t become visible until about 11:30 pm and with sunrise at about 4:30 am, it means that you only have about 2-3 hours to spot them. In fact, it never really gets dark, but it is possible to spot the Summer Constellations that are up in our southern sky just now. Unlike the few, big and bright Winter Constellations, these Summer Constellations are more numerous, smaller and fainter, but you can use four bright stars that are easy to find to navigate your way around them. These stars are Arcturus, Antares, Vega and Spica.
Above Scorpius, you will find Ophiuchus (the Serpent-Bearer). It is a large constellation, which straddles the celestial equator, and it is commonly depicted as a man grasping a snake. This snake is represented by the constellation of Serpens (the Serpent), which is immediately to the west of Ophiuchus. Above Serpens is the semi-circular constellation of Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), which is made up of 4 bright stars that represent the crown of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos in Greek mythology, who helped the hero Theseus kill the Minotaur and find his way out of the labyrinth in which the creature lived.
High up in the south-eastern sky, you will find Vega, the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra (the Lyre) and the fifth brightest star in our night sky. Vega acts as the guide star to the Keystone, a rectangle of four stars in the constellation Hercules, the fifth largest constellations in our night sky. To find the Keystone, trace a straight line from Vega and towards Arcturus. You will find it about one third of the way along this line. The Keystone represents the body of Hercules and is home to M13, the Great Global Cluster, a bee-like swarm of a third of a million red giant stars. It is one of the brightest globular clusters and although it is visible to the naked eye, it will be easier to see when using binoculars or a small telescope.
The first quarter Moon (a half moon) is on 18 June and the following night, you will see the half-Moon sitting above Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Just under a week later, on 24 June, the full Moon will rise in the south-east just before 11:00 pm. In Colonial America, this full Moon was referred to as the Strawberry Moon because this was when these little red berries ripened. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon because it occurred at the beginning of the summer heat.
Similar to last month, June’s full Moon will be a supermoon (full Moons are those within 228,420 miles of Earth) and the fourth of four supermoons that occur in 2021. This one will be the third biggest and brightest full Moon of the year at only 224,662 miles away from Earth and because it happens in June it is termed a Super Strawberry Moon.
A few days after this full Moon, early on 27 June, you will find the Moon setting low in the south, with Saturn above and to the left of it, while the following morning of 28 June it will be sitting in between Saturn and Jupiter. The Moon moves further to the left on 29 June, rising in the south-east at around 1:30 am with Jupiter sitting very close to it as it travels westward, low down on the southern horizon.
This is a great month for spotting Venus as it will be brighter than anything else in the night sky, apart from the Moon. You’ll find it low on the western horizon in the dusk twilight, just before it sets at around 11:00 pm. As the month passes, Venus gets higher in the sky, moving up and to its left to get closer and closer to Mars, which is almost 200 times fainter than this “Evening Star”.
On 23 June, you find Mars low in the evening twilight, right in front of the Beehive (Praesepe) Star Cluster. It will be well worth looking at through binoculars or a small telescope as this is a wonderful swarm of a thousand stars. In fact, it is one of the nearest open cluster of stars to us, with a larger population of stars than most other nearby clusters.
Saturn rises in the south-east at about 1:00 am, while Jupiter follows about half an hour later, rising above the horizon at a point below and to the left of Saturn. Half an hour after that, a very faint Neptune follows Jupiter to appear above the horizon but is may not possible to see it as the dawn twilight approaches.
June is a quiet month meteor showers as most of them occur when it is daylight. In reality, we need to wait until the Perseid Meteor Shower in August for our next good show. Radiating from the constellation of Perseus, It will peak on the night of 11-12 August. This year, the Moon will only be 13% full on that night and is expected to set as the meteors begin to appear so, you will likely see around 50 to 75 meteors per hour if the sky is clear. Also look out for them on the nights before and after as they will probably put on a good show then too.
This year, the Summer Solstice will occur on 21 June at 03:32 GMT (04:43 BST) and is the exact moment when the northern hemisphere is tilted most towards the Sun. However, many people refer to the Summer Solstice as the Longest Day of the year, when the number of hours of daylight are at their maximum and the number of hours of night are at their minimum. On 21 June this year, our sunrise will be 4:30:17 am and our sunset will be 10:19:33 pm, giving us 17 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds of daylight. On June 20, our hours of daylight will be 6 seconds less and on June 22 they will be 3 seconds less.
Annular Solar Eclipse
On 10 June an annular solar eclipse will appear over Canada, Greenland and Siberia, when the Moon will pass between Earth and the Sun, thereby partly obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth. During an annular eclipse, the Moon's apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun's, so it block’s most of the Sun's light and cause the Sun to look like an annulus or ring.
Here on the Peninsulas, we can expect to see a partial eclipse and while it will not be as spectacular, it will still be a sight to witness and fortunately for us, the further north and west you are the more complete the eclipse will be. In the south-east of the UK, you can expect about 20% of the Sun to be covered by the moon’s shadow, but here in the north-west, we can expect the Sun to be covered by about 40%. Look out for the eclipse from about 10:00 am on June 10, when the Moon will first appear to take a bite out of the Sun, after which it will reach maximum eclipse and then move off the Sun at around 1:00 pm.
Views of the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Rùm and Canna are ever-changing as you make the journey from east to west along the coast of Moidart and north Ardnamurchan and past its spectacular cliffs, dramatic rocky shores and beautiful white sand beaches. While the dramatic peaks of Rùm’s Cuillin Mountain range are ever present, the distinctive profile of Eigg and its highest hill, An Sgurr, is a prominent feature at first, but it gradually disappears from view to be replaced by the more diminutive profile of Muck as you reach the journey’s end…….
Scotland has 40 National Scenic Areas which cover 13% of its land mass and they earn this designation because their outstanding scenery makes them the country’s finest Landscapes. One of these areas is Morar, Moidart and Ardnamurchan here on Scotland’s north-west coast. It is home to a coastline of spectacular cliffs, dramatic rocky shores and beautiful white sand beaches. Added to all of this are breath-taking views of the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Rùm and Canna, which sit a few miles west out in the Sound of Arisaig and just south of the Isle of Skye.
As you travel from Moidart in the east, to Ardnamurchan in the west, your perspective of the Small Isles changes significantly, with both them and features on them coming into view and disappearing again after only a few miles. This everchanging view makes photographing both them and this coastline an absolute joy and now that the evening sun is in the north-west, my plan for the coming weeks is to photograph to do just that. My aim is to capture this spectacular coastline while it is bathed in warm sunlight at the end of our long summer days. In the meantime, however, I thought I would describe this somewhat special journey and share some of the images that I already have.
On reaching Glenuig, you can turn off the main road, drive past the Glenuig Inn and continue westward for about a mile and a half to reach the road end. From there, a short walk takes you to Smirisary, an isolated and roadless crofting village that sits between a rocky foreshore and a steep hillside about two miles to the west of Glenuig. As you walk the final half mile to the village, your view of the sea is obstructed by a small hill, but as you get to the top of it, the view dramatically opens up to reveal islands that you feel you can almost touch (Image 3).
I like to visit Smirisary in mid to late summer. It is a great place to capture Muck, Eigg and Rùm sitting in flat calm seas while they are silhouetted against the colourful skies that are a feature of the sunsets there at that time of year. From there, you get a closer view of the distinctive shape of An Sgurr and the dramatic peaks of the Rùm and its Cuillin mountain range, which sits behind Eigg and simply adds to the magic you are witnessing (Image 4).
If you want to get a view of the Small Isles on this part of your journey, you need to head out to the small but beautiful sandy beach at Ardtoe where a short walk out to the headland on its western side brings the southern end of Eigg and An Sgurr back into view. From there, you also get a glimpse of Rùm because the high peaks of the Rùm Cuillin are just visible above the land that shelters the beach from the open sea (Image 1 and Image 7).
While at Ardtoe and if you don’t mind a walk over uneven and often boggy ground, you can make your way out to the end of Rubha Luinngeanach where you get a more open view of Eigg with Rùm behind it. It was at this spot where I witnessed what I think is the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen over the Small Isles (Image 8). I was out there on a rather cloudy July evening, so my hopes of getting a good image were not high. Suddenly the clouds beyond the skerry of Sgeir an Eidigh parted and allowed the most intense of crepuscular rays to shine down on the Isle of Eigg and silhouetted it against the golden backdrop that they had created. It is a moment that is forever etched on my memory.
On leaving Ardtoe to head back towards Acharacle, you’ll find that a slight diversion down the road towards Arivegaig rewards you with a fine view out through the entrance of Kentra Bay to Eigg, where An Sgurr sits directly behind the gap between the land and the sea (Image 9).
The road to Arivegaig is also a spot where you can catch a full moon setting behind the Rùm Cuillin on a clear winter morning (Image 10).
The next part of the journey west takes you along the side of Loch Sunart and it is a good few miles before you see the Small Isles again because the road now takes you along the southern coast of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. It is not until you pass Camas nan Geall and follow the road north around the side of Ben Hiant to reach Doire Daraich before they come back into view again (Image 11).
Given how far west you have travelled to reach there, the perspective is now very different because Eigg now sits to the right of Rùm, while the drive down to Kilmory brings the Muck back into view as reach the phone box just before the village (Image 12).
It is from the hills above Portuairk from where I think you get the most dramatic view of Rùm and the magnificent peaks of its Cuillin mountain range. It is simply majestic, sitting there beyond Sanna Bay and the significantly more diminutive Isle of Muck (Image 15).
While there, it is well worth taking the walk from Portuairk to the beautiful white sand beach at Sanna because, as you climb over the hill that separates the two, another magnificent view of the Small Isles reveals itself (Image 16). It is from there that you can see all the Small Isles because the fourth and, up until now, elusive Isle of Canna reveals itself. If you stop there for a little whole and look north over the beach you can just make it out, sitting well out the west of the Isle of Rùm, which has Eigg to its east and Muck to its south.
Our journey from east to west along this beautiful Moidart and Ardnamurchan coastline ends at Ardnamurchan Point. It is as far west as you can go on the British Mainland and is home to the iconic Ardnamurchan Lighthouse which so many visitors head for when they visit the West Highland Peninsulas.
While you do get a clear view of the Small Isles from there, they do not readily sit in any photographic composition that features the lighthouse because the camera tends to point in a direction looking away from them or is at an angle where the islands are hidden by the lighthouse itself.
It takes a walk out on to the rocks of Dubh Rubha Mor at low tide before you can point the camera north, across the bay of Briaghlann, and capture both the lighthouse and the now familiar profile of Rùm and Muck behind it and it seems fitting that I end this journey with an image of the sun setting on this very scene (Image 17).
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.