Cairndoon Steading and the transit of Mercury

Last week, following my Mum’s recent 80th birthday, the parents and I hot-footed it down to Galloway in the south-west of Scotland.

As a birthday gift to his dear spouse, my dad had booked a week’s self-catering holiday in a converted milking shed called Cairndoon Steading, near the village of Monreith.

Cairndoon Steading
Cairndoon Steading, near Monreith in Galloway, south-west Scotland.

Much to my delight, our arrival was greeted with a box of freshly baked fruit scones, kindly provided by the owners of the house.

fruit scones
Freshly baked fruit scones with butter and jam – the perfect welcome, from my point of view. Note: five scones in box. There were six but one of them disappeared as soon as I set eyes on it.

The house was nicely decorated inside, and the view from my bedroom window was extremely pleasant.

my bedroom at Cairndoon
My bedroom at Cairndoon Steading.
The view from my window across fields of sheep and cows.

Inside the house there were flyers advertising a forthcoming public viewing at the nearby Galloway Astronomy Centre. On 9 May, between 12:07 and 19:34, the planet Mercury was due to tootle across the face of the sun, the first time this had occurred since 2003. My dad was quite keen to take a shufti at it, so we made our way along the road that afternoon to see what was what.

Galloway Astronomy Centre
Galloway Astronomy Centre, advertising the big event.
Transit sign
Sign reassuring us we were heading in the right direction.
path to Mercury
Path leading to the transit viewing area, with lone telescope to the left beyond washing lines.
Lone telescope set up in the garden of the Galloway Astronomy Centre.

Beyond the first telescope, there was another one set up with a small group of hatted people sitting near it drinking tea in the sunshine.

As we made our way towards them, we were greeted warmly and invited to have a squiz through the telescope.

path to transit
My dad striding out towards the hatted astronomers. Telescope on concrete to his right.

I don’t have pictorial evidence of what we saw, but I will attempt to describe it. The lens was focussed on what looked like a round orange disc (the sun). Inside the orange disc, near the top right, was a tiny black dot (Mercury). What I thought was a dirty smudge on the lens a little further down inside the orange blob was apparently a sun spot.

If I hadn’t had it on good authority that I was looking at the sun, the planet Mercury and a sun spot, I might well have thought it was just a picture of a round orange shape with a couple of black dots on it.

Although looking at a couple of black dots on an orange disc wasn’t the most exciting experience I’ve ever had, the people were friendly and enthusiastic. I suppose, for an astronomer, it wasn’t too bad a way of spending the daylight hours: sitting outside on a warm day drinking tea, popping up now and then to check the progress of one heavenly body across another.

For me, there were more interesting shapes to be surveyed closer to home. One of the things I particularly appreciated about Cairndoon Steading was the daily viewing of local animal life. I do like to see a few nice cows when I’m on my holidays.

cows outside Cairndoon
Nice cows outside Cairndoon Steading.


  1. Your Dad is very good at booking accomodation! What a lovely place, and you obviously had lovely weather too 🙂 I was reading about this in the doctor’s waiting room a month ago, so I could understand your description exactly 🙂 We just had a break away, but we went from the cowlands to the city for a weekend 🙂


    1. I hope you enjoyed your break from the cows. The weather here was marvellous last week, the best weather so far this year in Scotland, which was most fortunate for us. Despite the lack of wow factor, it was quite impressive to know that the orange orb was the sun and the wee black dot another planet. A bit of knowledge can certainly change your perception.


  2. It looks lovely there. I smiled at your dad booking self-catering as a treat and then taking along the resident chauffeur (and cook I presume?). Perhaps I am doing him a great disservice and actually he did all the catering, or paid for all the delicious meals you went out for. 🙂


    1. It is a lovely area of the country, and not very well known as a tourist destination. My dad did indeed pay for lots of delicious meals and treats. If he’d been doing the cooking I suspect we’d have had a week of boiled eggs and things out of tins. 🙂


  3. What a lovely birthday treat! I would love to have seen the transit of Mercury. I’ve often wondered about the Galloway Astronomy Centre, so it’s nice to read about your experience. I’m guessing your Dad has seen many transits of Venus and Mercury in his career? You were so lucky to have good weather too! The cottage you stayed in looks lovely, and a perfect welcome box!


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