Scottish Travellers Caught in London Air Dispute
A wildcat strike by baggage handlers working for British Airways at London's Heathrow airport left passengers stranded on Thursday at the height of the holiday season. Business travellers and holidaymakers were being put up at hotels or being offered refunds so that they could transfer, if they could, to other airlines. All BA services to and from Scotland were cancelled, leaving over 4,000 Scots seeking alternative travel arrangements - or sitting it out at the airports in the hope that it could be resolved. Some flights were resumed on Friday evening, but with aircraft and crews out of position, it will be many days before services return to normal. The baggage handlers came out "in sympathy" over 800 workers in a catering firm used by BA being sacked because they refused to sign new contracts.
Exam Results Improve
There was great excitement and anticipation this week amongst school pupils who sat their Higher and Standard grade exams earlier this year as the postman delivered the results. There were more pupils this year than last receiving good news as the overall pass rate was up - once again. The Higher pass rate over all subjects moved up to 71.2% (from 70.7%) and more A and B grades were awarded this year. The pass rate for Higher English, however, moved up by 2.1% to 66.1%. In total, 142,799 pupils sat exams this year - an increase of 2,000 on 2004. While many pupils intending to go on to University will stay on at secondary school for a another year to obtain further qualifications, the Higher results are the culmination of five years of hard work by pupils, teachers - and parents. But as the pass rate over the years keeps improving, there are always those in the media who suggest (despite exhaustive academic studies to the contrary) that it is because standards are falling and the exams are "easier".
Former Cabinet Minister Dies Climbing in the Highlands
Robin Cook, the Member of Parliament for Livingston in West Lothian, suffered a fatal heart attack while hillwalking on Ben Stack in Sutherland last weekend. Until he resigned from Tony Blair's cabinet because he disagreed with the Iraq War, he had been leader of the House of Commons and before that he had been Foreign Secretary in the UK Cabinet. He was highly regarded by politicians in all parties for his sharp mind, formidable debating skills and dedication to public service and social justice. He was often a prickly character but also had a highly developed sense of humour. At Robin Cook's funeral service at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, described him as "the best Parliamentarian of his generation."
Government Consultations Rocket
The new Scottish Parliament was established six years ago and since then the Scottish Executive has published nearly 1,000 consultation documents. That's equivalent to one every working day of the parliament in Edinburgh. While some papers are on significant items such as introducing a ban on smoking in public places, others are on abstruse subjects such as potato regulations or a welfare code for ducks. The Executive defends its record of wanting to consult with voters on a wide range of issues, but others argue that ministers are "consulting instead of governing." Some consultation just involves sending a draft regulation to interested bodies and receiving responses a few days later. On the other hand, the mammoth consultation on the smoking ban cost an estimated £400,000 and took many months. Before parliament was set up in 1999, the Scottish Office issued hardly any papers seeking views - they just went ahead and produced a fait accompli.
Air Transport Passengers Take Off Again
The British Airports Authority (BAA) which operate the three largest airports in Scotland, has reported that passenger numbers have soared to a new record level. 2,177,200 travellers used Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports last month - a rise of 5.8% on the same time last year. In the 12 months to July, Scotland's airports welcomed around 19.7 million passengers, a rise of 5.8%. Glasgow was Scotland's busiest airport, handling 1,055,900 people in July - the highest monthly figure ever for a Scottish airport. On Friday, 15 July, the airport dealt with 41,616 people incoming and outgoing passengers, the busiest day in the airport's 39-year history. Edinburgh's numbers are also well up, increasing by 6.2% to 845,200 passengers in July. Overall, international travel rose at an even faster rate - 8.2%. This was attributed to a combination of the G8 conference and the Live8 concert at Murrayfield.
Petrol Prices Hit New Record
Motorists in the USA who girn about a gallon of gas now costing a record $2.37, the highest ever recorded, should spare a thought for drivers in Scotland where prices have risen this week to an average of 90 pence a litre (and higher for diesel). At current rates of exchange, that is equivalent to $6 a US gallon. Of course, there are regional variations - there are (a few) locations in central Scotland where the price is as "low" as under 86 pence a litre, but in the remoter parts of Scotland, where filling stations have a lower turnover, higher transport costs and a lack of competition from nearby outlets, prices have already gone above £1 a litre. UK prices are at that level largely because of high taxation - around 70% of the pump price of unleaded petrol is due to fuel duty (compared with 46% in 1989). The increase in taxation is not just to increase revenue for the government but to encourage motorists to
reduce their car usage through successive increases in fuel prices - largely without success.
Record Month for People's Palace
The People's Palace on Glasgow Green has seen an unprecedented increase in visitor numbers in July, following the restoration and relocation of the magnificent Doulton Fountain to a site in front of the museum. The terracotta fountain is the largest of its kind in the world and is embellished with intricate carvings. Standing 46ft high and 70ft across, it was originally unveiled in Kelvingrove Park in 1888 by Sir John Doulton (who had founded the Royal Doulton pottery company in London) as part of the Empire Exhibition held in the city that year. Queen Victoria (whose elegant and intricate statue tops the edifice) was most impressed by the fountain. The People's Palace focuses on the history of Glasgow and has recently made improvements to its exhibitions and the adjoining Winter Gardens (a glass-covered area of plants and a courtyard) which have also helped to boost visitor numbers.
Balmoral Says I Do
It was Prince Philip who first described the royal family as a "business" and although the taxpayer through the government allocates an annual amount of £7.9 million to the Queen (unchanged since 1991 and remaining at that amount until 2011) these days the royal household is always looking at ways of increasing its income from other sources. Parts of Buckingham Palace in London are now open to paying visitors, as is the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh. Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire is also a tourist attraction, but now the castle is also being advertised as a venue for corporate functions, charity dinners, training courses and for weddings. This summer, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are staying at a hunting lodge on the 50,000-acre Balmoral estate to leave the castle available to tourists who flock in to see the royal summer residence. 80,000 tourists have already descended on the castle between April and July this year. Last year, the commercial activities covered half of the running costs of the estate, the rest being paid by the Queen from the amount allocated by parliament. Functions at Balmoral (built originally by Queen Victoria) will be held in the Queen's Building, a 120-seat cafeteria and visitor centre within sight of the main castle.
Latest "Scottish Widow"
Over the years, the Edinburgh-based Scottish Widows insurance and pensions company has used a series of models to be the face of its advertising campaigns. The adverts show a beautiful "widow" in a flowing black cape and hood and the latest model to don the cloak is Hayley Hunt, from Virginia Water in Surrey. She will feature as the iconic widow from September and in television advertisements in the new year. Her predecessors include Debbie Moore, the daughter of former James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore. Scottish Widow is a brand icon which is instantly recognisable - and has been seen even more in recent years since the company became part of the Lloyds TSB financial conglomerate.
Banks Forecast Demise of Cheques
The number of cheques processed by UK banks last year was 2.1 billion items, but that was down from a peak of 3.7 billion in 1990. Banks are now predicting that as debit cards and online payments continue to rise, cheques could become extinct by 2025. Cheques originated in the 17th century and evolved over the intervening years. The advent of automated reader/sorters which used the magnetic ink characters at the foot of cheques allowed banks to cope with ever increasing numbers of items. Increasing competition for customers led to "free" banking, cheque guarantee cards and cash machines. Even if cheques are in decline, cash is still king, with more banknotes in circulation than ever before.
Nardini's Ice-Cream Melting Away Due to Historic Scotland
Nardini's ice-cream parlour in the Ayrshire seaside town of Largs is probably its most famous attraction (followed closely by the "Pencil" - the monument to the defeat of the Vikings at the Battle of Largs in 1263). It has been a haven for visitors for 70 years and in its heyday, it sold 1,000 gallons of ice-cream over summer weekends. But as more and more people went off to the Mediterranean sunshine resorts, Largs went into a decline, like many other Scottish holiday destinations. The art-deco cafe on the seafront closed last October, the family-run business being taken over by a consortium of Largs businessmen and an ice-cream entrepreneur. They had plans to revive the iconic building (graded 'C' by Historic Scotland) but the project depended on demolishing an apartment block behind Nardini's and selling the land to a builder. The local community and the planning authority gave their full support to the plans but as the building to be demolished was a category 'C', approval by Historic Scotland was required. Ten months later, they have still to make a decision. As a result, the refurbishment is in limbo and there is a danger that the project could fold. That would mean that Historic Scotland had saved a C class building but at the price of the B class Nardini's becoming derelict.
Glorious Twelfth Becoming Twelfth of Never
Despite all the efforts of gamekeepers, a number of estates in Scotland (and south of the Border too) are having to cancel shoots for the start of the grouse season on 12 August because of the lack of birds. There are 450 grouse moors in Scotland and while some have fared better, there are many in dire straights. The Scottish Borders, Perthshire and Angus have been particularly badly affected although there are better prospects in Deeside and Speyside. The lack of income from grouse moors will have a devastating impact on the rural economy - with fewer guns on the moors, there will not be the usual employment for beaters and stalkers and hotels will see their rooms lying empty. There has been a decline in the number of grouse over the last ten years, due to a combination of disease, warmer winters and wetter springs.
Casino Plans Scrapped
Plans to convert the art-deco B-listed Odeon cinema in Glasgow into a casino have had to be scrapped because of the uncertainty now surrounding the government's future legislation on gambling. Property developers had expected to convert the 1930s building into a major casino with gambling on four floors. However, it likely that the UK-wide legislation will only permit one mega-style venue in the UK, probably in London or Blackpool, forcing a change of direction. Plans have now been lodged with Glasgow City Council for shops, restaurants, bars and a nightclub instead. The building is the only one in Scotland designed by Odeon in-house architects Frank Verity and Samuel Beverley. When revamped it will retain its famous art-deco frontage. It was scheduled to close as a cinema in 2003 but was reprieved at the last minute when the developers decided to keep it open until the building work commences. Until then, it is Glasgow's oldest surviving cinema.
Girvan to Emulate North Berwick?
The fortunes of the east coast town of North Berwick took a turn for the better a few years ago when the Scottish Seabird Centre opened on the site of a former open-air swimming pool. Visitor numbers to the attraction and the town have soared, helped greatly by video-cams on the Bass Rock, a few miles off-shore. In the summer, 120,000 gannets come to breed on the volcanic rock, making it the largest single-rock gannetry in the world. On the other side of Scotland, the town of Girvan has suffered from a decline in holiday-makers over the last few decades as Scots have taken package flights to warmer climates for their annual vacation. Girvan also has a volcanic plug offshore - Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde (illustrated here). This is an important source of the best stones for the sport of curling but it is also an important breeding ground for birds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has managed the island since last year and has been working with Girvan Community Developments on a project to build a £10 million Ailsa Craig Centre at Girvan harbour which would have facilities similar to those at North Berwick. Boat trips would also take visitors around the island - which is also known as "paddy's Milestone" as it is on the sea route to Ireland.
Last Orders for Scotland's Remotest Bar
112 miles west of the Scottish mainland, the Puff Inn on the island of St Kilda is the remotest public bar in Britain. It is not exactly overflowing with customers, but it is a welcome watering hole for summer visitors to the archipelago which is home to thousands of seabirds. Although St Kilda is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, the Puff Inn was built by the Ministry of Defence as a staff canteen and is within the boundaries of an MoD site. Like all such locations around the world, security is being tightened up and as a result only authorised personnel can now enter. While it seems unlikely that the World Heritage site would be a target for terrorists, this means that the facilities are no longer available to the public.
Drivers Rate Scotland's Roads Most Scenic
A survey of 1,700 UK motorists by the Direct Line insurance company shows that nearly 25% of all drivers rated Scotland as the most picturesque part of Britain for driving holidays, ahead of other scenic areas such as the Lake District which got 16% of the vote and Wales with 11%. Of course, the quieter roads in Scotland may have contributed to the views of those surveyed. The A817 from Loch Lomond to Garelochead was voted the most leisurely drive in Scotland in the survey, while the road from Invergary to Skye was also highly rated. The A817, which rolls through Glen Fruin in Argyll (seen here), was built only 15 years ago to provide a good road to the Faslane naval base.
Edinburgh Gets a Postcode
Over the years, letters intended for Edinburgh, the capital of the remote South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, have inevitably ended up in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. But those errors should be reduced now that Tristan da Cunha has at last been allocated a UK postcode, allowing letters to be automatically sorted and routed to the correct destination. As far as the residents of Tristan da Cunha are concerned, an even more important benefit will be that they will be able to shop online - most computerised shopping sites make a postcode mandatory and will not accept orders without one.
Tornado Makes Glaswegians Duck
An RAF Tornado fighter jet, which was on a reconnaissance mission over Glasgow in preparation for a fly-past to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VJ-Day on Sunday, had pedestrians in the centre of Glasgow ducking as it made a fast, low-level sweep over the city. When a Tornado flies fast and low over open countryside on training missions it can be an alarming experience for those on the ground. So flying over Scotland's largest city created a great deal of alarm. The jet was not travelling at maximum speed, but the unexpected, loud roar resulted in a spate of phone calls to Glasgow airport.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although the weather forecasters kept predicting otherwise, Scotland experienced another dry week with lots of sunshine - Glasgow and the west of Scotland recorded over ten hours of sun on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Temperatures were also very pleasant, ranging from 20/23C (68/73F) for much of the week. A weather front which came in from the Atlantic on Friday lowered the temperature to 18/19C (64/66F) in Edinburgh and Glasgow and Aberdeen dipped to 16C (61F). Although it was largely dull and overcast on Friday it took until Friday night before any appreciable rain fell. By Saturday, broken cloud and sunshine had returned.
The pictures shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland are both of a Small Copper butterfly. This is one of the smaller butterflies found in Scotland (its wing-span is around 2.4cm - under one inch). For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be used to seeing more photographs illustrating the current flora and fauna in Scotland. This week, there were again so many photos to choose from a Colour Supplement has been created so as not to overload the main Newsletter. Click on the link and you will open up a new page with a half-dozen more illustrations.