Rainbow Sightings: the best places to find this symbol of hope

A symbol of hope, happiness and fortune, rainbows have been in the collective consciousness over the past few months with families across the UK creating rainbow pictures to show thanks to essential workers.

Not only have Brits been creating their own rainbows, but there have also been over 200 news articles sharing spectacular sightings of them during lockdown. With people taking photos from their homes and gardens, they serve as a reminder that good things are on the horizon.

Where do rainbows come from?

To form, rainbows require two essential elements: rain or mist in the air, and low sunlight unobscured by cloud or mountains. The light from the sun is refracted through the water in the rain or mist and creates a colourful rainbow in the sky.

NHS rainbow for Help for Heroes

A symbol of hope

The rainbow as a symbol has many meanings, but most of them are related to hope, new beginnings and the promise of better things to come.

In the Bible, in the story of Noah and the Great Flood, Noah and his animals had survived 40 days and nights afloat the ark. When the earth was dry and they could finally emerge, they were greeted with a miraculous rainbow and the promise that God would never flood the earth again.

Perhaps the best-known story of rainbows is the Irish folklore tale of the pot of gold and a leprechaun that’s tucked away at the end of a rainbow, if only you could find it!

In Norse mythology, a rainbow bridge connects earth to the world of the Nordic gods.

The rainbow flag has been a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride since the late 70s too, and with the advent of coronavirus and the inevitable lockdown that followed, it has filled windows across the country in a bid to bring joy to families.

As graphology expert Tracy Trussel explains, “a rainbow is a universal signal of hope. It is a promise of better times to come.”

“At a time when society is being divided, this symbol innocently screams courage, solidarity and silent unity.”

Rainbow-spotting by Mother Shipton's on Twitter.

So where are the best places to spot them in the UK?

To answer this question, we researched the locations of reported rainbow sightings over the last few months, and combined sunshine hours, rainfall amount and landscape height, to determine rainbow hotspots. As well as this, we analysed social media activity, tracking rainbow hashtags on over 1,000 posts.

The UK gets on average 80 millimetres of rainfall a month and 197 hours of sunshine, but some areas exceed this and are situated in places with heightened land, which makes the perfect combination for rainbows.

For the lucky residents of Leeds, rainbows are a common occurrence with over a quarter (28%) of UK reported rainbow sightings from here – making it the best place to spot them. The city can have up to 90 millimetres of rainfall in a month, and 190 hours of sunshine. Pair this with the surrounding Yorkshire Dales and it becomes the perfect spot for rainbows to form. 

Top UK cities to find rainbows:

  1. Leeds
  2. Liverpool
  3. The Lake District
  4. Manchester
  5. Scottish Islands
  6. Edinburgh
  7. London
  8. Blackpool
  9. Exeter
  10. York

Close to the sea and experiencing up to 190 millimetres of rainfall a month, Liverpool is in second place where just shy of one in ten rainbows are spotted (9%). Many Liverpudlians had the lucky experience of seeing a double rainbow at the beginning of March this year. This phenomenon occurs when sunlight is refracted twice within a raindrop.

Reaching as high as 3,000 foot in some places, the Lake District in the north-west of England has been the location for many beautiful rainbow sightings and is the third best place in the country to spot them. One hiker witnessed a rainbow in its full circle earlier this year when walking in Swirl How near Coniston.  

Rainbow-spotting by Gotts Park Golf Club on Twitter.

West of the Peak District and close to the seaside towns of Litherland and Bootle, Manchester is the fourth best place to spot a rainbow in the UK with 9% of sightings here. The peaks of the nearby National Park combined with up to 190 millimetres of rainfall make it a great spot for rainbow formation. A double rainbow was spotted here at the beginning of May during a Clap for Carers tribute, a timely phenomenon which is designed to give thanks to key workers.

Experiencing up to 200 hours of sunshine and 200 millimetres of rainfall a month, the Islands around Scotland, in particular the Isle of Skye, are the fifth best place to spot rainbows in the UK. A full circle rainbow was posted at Macleod’s Maidens, an isolated spot on the Isle of Skye at the beginning of May. With just 3% of the country’s recorded rainbow sightings from here, it is thought that due to its low population and rocky terrain, there are many more rainbows occurring here that haven’t been reported.

With so many rainbows bringing joy across the country, it’s no wonder we’re feeling brighter already. Now we know where to look, we’re off to spot some rainbows!

When was the last time you went rainbow-spotting?