Take a Nighttime Walk

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Years ago, when my dog Payton was still with me, the two of us walked frequently at night. Payton, who was a rott/chow/lab mix looked like a Rottweiler. And she was the size of one. No one ever bothered us as we walked the neighborhood after dark. In fact, people tended to cross to the other side of the street if they saw us coming.

Today, I don’t walk much at night, even when I travel. Most evenings you’ll find me back at my accommodations by the time the sun sets.

However, when I visited Edinburgh during the month of December, I quickly discovered that darkness enveloped the city by late afternoon. Every day there, whether I was still out exploring, attending an event or grabbing groceries to take back to my apartment for dinner, I experienced Walk #46 in my 52 Ways to Walk book…Take a Nighttime Walk.

Take a Nighttime Walk title

Take a Nighttime Walk

According to Annabel Streets, author of 52 Ways to Walk, 99% of Americans and Europeans live under skies that are so light polluted that the Milky Way is barely visible.

Which is why, in 1999 when an earthquake cut power to Los Angeles, panicked citizens called emergency centers, reporting alien activity in the skies. People reported a “giant, silvery cloud” hovering over the city. Turns out, these citizens of LA were just seeing the Milky Way for the first time!

We need night vision. Darkness is a fundamental human need. Scientists suggests the lack of true dark skies contributes to depression, insomnia, obesity, weakened immunity and heart disease. Exposure to light at night interrupts circadian and neuroendocrine physiology, which potentially speeds up tumor growth.

Take a Nighttime Walk Princes Street
Take a Nighttime Walk – The sun is setting on Princes Street…at 3:10 PM

Turn Off that Nightlight

According to Dr. Eva Selhub, even low levels of light at night affect the plasticity of the brain and interfere with normal brain cell structures. Plus researchers believe that even a nightlight inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

Night walking helps us sleep by acting on the homeostatic sleep drive. In spite of the almost universal fear that humans have of the dark, it is apparent that we need darkness to survive and thrive.

Nocturnal walks reacquaint us with starlight and moon beams, and introduce us to landscapes that feel both familiar and strange. Night walks recalibrate our bodies’ clocks according to light/dark cycles that have existed for millennia.

Organizations like International Dark Sky Association are designating areas of darkness with night skies protected from light pollution.

Go to DarkSky International to find the area of darkness closest to you.

Take a Nighttime Walk Anchors Close
Anchors Close, off of the Royal Mile, where I could take a nighttime walk with very little light.

Tips for Walking at Night

You don’t have to drive for hours to find a dark place to walk. However, the less light, the more authentic the experience.

For a first time night walk, pick a familiar area. Walking at night involves some risks which can be minimized by choosing an area that is level and free from trip hazards.

Start your walk at dusk so the eyes adjust to the failing light. Walk slowly. Listen to sounds such as owls hooting or frogs singing.

Carry a flashlight with a red light setting to protect your night vision and yet provide some light if you need it.

Wear sturdy shoes or boots and layers of clothing as temps cool after sunset. Use a walking stick for greater stability.

Bring along a fully charged cell phone, in case you need to call for help, a water container and snack, if desired.

Take a Nighttime Walk Wheel
Take a Nighttime Walk = The Wheel

Taking a Nighttime Walk in Edinburgh

While I did walk with some light, many of my nighttime walks in Edinburgh were in very low light. Fortunately, I’m very familiar with the city and didn’t experience any problems walking in the dark.

The golden hour in Edinburgh during winter begins about 2:30 in the afternoon. The sun sets about 3:30 and it is full dark between 4:00 and 4:30. I confess that while I researched many other aspects of being in Edinburgh during the winter, such as temperatures, I failed to check sunrise and sunset times. My first afternoon in the city I checked the time on my phone in surprise when I noticed twilight approaching. It was 3:10 pm.

However, I came to love Edinburgh after dark. That magical old city becomes even more magical in the dark. Lanterns cast soft lights in closes and even busy streets such as the Royal Mile are not brightly lit.

And perhaps most enchanting of all was walking through Edinburgh Botanic Garden after dark. The familiar completely disappeared, replaced by fairy tale landscapes lit by candles and lanterns and tiny twinkling lights.

Take a Nighttime Walk Cindy
At Edinburgh Botanic Garden after dark.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

Because my other trips to Edinburgh were during summer and fall, I’ve never experienced the city after dark. During those seasons, the sun doesn’t set until 10:00 pm or after.

I’m so grateful for the experiences of walking Edinburgh in the dark and seeing it with fresh eyes. And I slept well at night, in total darkness, in my little Rose Street apartment.

If walking provides an important form of exercise for you, then the book 52 Ways to Walk is for you!

The activities in the book are so varied and the information in each chapter is well presented and motivational.

I appreciate that the book contains a full year of weekly walks. You can read about my first walk from the book HERE. And Walk with a Map at this LINK.

Do you take nighttime walks? Where is your favorite place to walk in the dark?

Take a Nighttime Walk Grocery shopping
It was twilight when I went shopping for groceries for my first dinner in Edinburgh…and full dark when I left the store.


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8 thoughts on “Take a Nighttime Walk”

  1. Love your night walk in Edinburgh. So many benefits. I love walking at night also but rarely do so when traveling solo. Interesting fact that even a nightlight can affect our sleep. Sleep is ever-elusive so always looking for tips.

  2. Walks at night are the best. My husband and I often chase the darkness. Light pollution sucks (like all pollution). We could never live in the city because once you’ve seen the stars from a dark pasture in the middle of nowhere… you’ll never want to go back!

  3. Nighttime walking sounds like a grand adventure!! I live in the country, and I couldn’t imagine not being able to have a beautiful view of the night sky any time I walk outside.

    Did the city of Edinburgh as a whole just roll with the early sunset? I confess, I never would have thought to check sunrise/sunset time either!!

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