Sun rise, sun set

I live near York which is about 53.5 degrees north in latitude. Where in North America would that be? Just a bit south of Prince Rupert, BC. Sadly, York lacks all the lovely ski resorts of British Columbia. On the longest day of the year we get about 17 hours of daylight. Let me rephrase that: the time between sunrise and sunset is 17 hours. Some days you don’t see the sun so we have to take sunrise and sunset times on faith. I used to wonder why England had so many famous astronomers and then I realised that when you can’t see the sky all the time you have to learn how to predict when celestial events were going to occur. Stonehenge is probably a 5000 year-old ‘observatory’. On December 21st, the shortest day of the year, we get about 7 hours of ‘daylight’. At that time of year it’s cold and wet and dark the whole time you’re NOT at work.

Berwick-upon-Tweed is right next to the border with Scotland but still in England and is about as far north as Ketchikan, Alaska. In the south, Penzance (in Cornwall) is further north than most of the border between the US and Canada which runs at 49 degrees north in the west and mid-west of the continent. So England is more-or-less north of the 48 contiguous states in America.

And Scotland is further north including the Orkney and Shetland islands. The Shetlands are roughly as far north as Anchorage, Alaska and Bergen, Norway. At times of the year up there you can stand outside at midnight and read your watch with ease. You can also get some lovely displays of the Northern Lights. I was on an archaeological dig north of Inverness one year and I had an experience much like one in the movie Local Hero. I was in one of those iconic red phone booths talking to a friend in Tacoma, a little drunk, and surrounded by the Aurora Borealis. Wonderful.

If you come to visit Great Britain in the summer you’ll find out why many British TV shows have outdoor scenes in sunlight at 8pm in the evening. And if you’re in northern Scotland then you may have an experience similar to Al Pacino’s character in the movie Insomnia. It can take a few days to become acclimated. If you come visit in the winter then make sure you know where some good pubs are. And, at all times of year, bring your rain gear!!