Electrifying Plan to Link Edinburgh to Glasgow
Transport Scotland, the government agency responsible for the planning for the rail and road links across the country, is to study the electrification of the 46-mile rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Journey times between Scotland's two largest cities have not improved over the last 30 years - and punctuality is a constant problem. The new rail link to be built at Edinburgh airport is also expected to lengthen overall journey times between the two cities. Electrification was considered in the early 1990s, with costs estimated then at £100 million, but the idea was rejected. Now, with 19,000 people a day using the service, electrification is seen as the way to achieve a faster rail travel with less pollution. An electric train service could reduce travel times from nearly 50 minutes to 25 minutes - and is perhaps more achievable than some of the more fanciful ideas such as "bullet" trains and magnetic levitation. In Switzerland, 100% of the rail network is electrified; in Scotland that figure is 23%, largely on Glasgow suburban services plus the line between Edinburgh and England.
Bomb Hoaxes Forces Emergency Landings
A Ryanair flight from Paris to Dublin was forced to divert to Prestwick airport in Ayrshire with 160 passengers on board after a note, scrawled on a magazine, saying a bomb was on board was found and was passed to the captain. Passengers were initially told that the diversion was due to "technical problems" but then RAF Tornado jet fighters appeared off the wingtips to escort the aircraft to Scotland. The pilot said the note was probably a hoax (there were 71 schoolchildren on board) but the plane had to land at Prestwick. Instead of disembarking the passengers, they were left on board for over two hours. while officials searched the aircraft. Two days later, a note claiming a bomb was on board was found on an Aer Arann flight between Luton and Galway and again the aircraft was diverted to Prestwick. In addition to the delays to the passengers on the two aircraft, Prestwick airport was closed for several hours during the emergencies.
Bird Flu Carrier Was from Outside UK
The dead swan which was found washed up in the Fife harbour of Cellardyke and was found to be carrying the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, probably came from Germany, according to further tests. It has also emerged that it was a Whooper swan, rather than a mute swan from the Montrose basin in Angus, as first thought. As around 80 infected Whoopers have been found in Germany, it seems likely that it was migrating back to its summer breeding grounds in Iceland when it died. Over 1,100 birds have been tested in Scotland over the last few months and only the one bird at Cellardyke has been found to be positive. The discovery of the virus in the East Neuk of Fife and the media exposure to the area, seems to have had the effect of increasing the number of visitors there and has proved to be good for business. Cellardyke is a quiet fishing village, but tourists are taking the ten minute walk along the narrow coast road from Anstruther to see where the swan was discovered. Advance bookings have already been made for the ferry trips from Anstruther to the Isle of May, which provides a sanctuary for sea birds. Clearly the majority of folk are unfazed by the media hysteria less than two weeks ago.
Hospital Casualty Waiting Times Increase
An independent audit of waiting times in the accident and emergency departments of Scotland's hospitals has shown that in the worst case, at Wishaw General Hospital in North Lanarkshire, patients had to wait 20 hours to be treated. Typically, waiting times were 1 hour 45 minutes - 50% longer than six years ago. In Scotland's major teaching hospitals, median waiting times ranged from 103 minutes at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, to 154 minutes at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary had an average waiting time of nearly three hours. Hospitals in Lanarkshire had some of the longest waits last year, according to the data - in addition to the record wait at Wishaw, Airdrie came second in the league of shame. The local health board in North lanarkshire is planning to reduce the number of hospitals dealing with casualties from three to two, despite waves of protest. The performance is particularly embarrassing for the Scottish First Minister - he represents the local constituency in parliament.
Smoking Ban Wafts In
There had been dire predictions from the owners of bars and restaurants that the implementation of the strict ban on smoking in public buildings across Scotland would lead to a loss of trade and closures in some cases. In the Republic of Ireland, it is suggested that 600 bars have been forced to close since a similar ban was introduced there two years a go. So far, however, reports in Scotland have been either that it has largely had no effect on total sales or else there has been a slight increase. It seems that smokers are going outside when they have to, but are buying more food and drink while they are in the premises. And some bars think that there are some non-smokers drifting in, as they are no longer having to face a smoke-filled atmosphere. There has been an accumulation of cigarette butts outside some bars - despite ashtrays being fixed to walls. These have had to be swept up, but most traders can live with that, if their profits are still being maintained. One other area which has seen sales booming, has been nicotine replacement products. Sales have doubled in Scotland in the last two weeks. In England, where the ban has not yet been implemented, sales only rose by 15%. Perhaps the biggest negative comment has come from the heritage lobby in Edinburgh. They are upset at the proliferation of smoking shelters and awnings to protect from the rain those who nip outside for a smoke.
Wireless Internet Plan for Glasgow
Officials in Glasgow City Council are examining proposals to create a blanket "Wi-Fi" (wireless fidelity ) coverage of the centre of the city. This would allow anyone to use laptop computers with wi-fi capability to surf the Web at high speed. But it would also allow council staff to access information and file reports and high-quality CCTV cameras could be installed within 24 hours, anywhere in the area, without having to be connected to the conventional telephone network. These developments would save millions of pounds each year. There are wi-fi hot spots at various locations in the city at libraries, coffee shops and hotels, but there is as yet no seamless network.
Rain Fails to Dampen Spirits at New York Tartan Day Parade
Torrential rain in New York last Saturday didn't drown out the 2,000 pipers and drummers who took part in the Tartan Day Parade down 6th Avenue. Bands from Scotland (who are well used to playing in the rain back home) and those from across North America, were watched by a crowd of visiting Scots as well as Americans with Scottish roots - and no doubt by tourists who just happened to be in the Big Apple that day. Organisers of the parade said that 29 Scottish clans were represented in the march. The Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, ducked out of the rain - apparently he was having a conference call with his ministerial colleagues back in Scotland about the H5N1 virus found on a swan in Fife. Other highlights of Tartan Week included the Scotland Village in Grand Central Station where a range of Scottish cultural exhibits and live music were designed to encourage Americans to visit Scotland and see the country at first hand.
Police Plan Recruitment in Eastern Europe
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) is looking at ways to plug a shortfall in the number of police officers in Scotland, caused by a combination of a surge in retirements and poor recruitment. Due to a drive for more police in the late 1970s, there are more officers than usual approaching retirement over the next few years. The Lothian and Borders force, which looks after the capital and a large geographic covering the south-east of the country, will have to recruit twice their normal number in 2009, due to numbers retiring that year. One option is to recruit existing trained police officers from eastern European countries such as Poland and Latvia, which are now part of the European Union. Polish police would find the wages here attractive - starting salaries here are just under £20,000 a year compared to under £4,500 in Poland. But the Polish police all carry a 9mm pistol as a standard-issue firearm while Scottish police are not routinely armed.
Businessman Keeps Museums Open
Proposals by Glasgow City Council to close most of the city's museums and galleries on a Monday in order to save money, always smacked of a gimmick to put on a public show of financial prudence, when the cash could have been saved by cutting some of the fat from other parts of the budget. It would have applied to all the city's museums except Kelvingrove and the Gallery of Modern Art. You can imagine visitors to the city turning up at the other museums and galleries (including, for example, the popular Burrell Collection in Pollok Country Park, illustrated here) and finding it closed - because it was a Monday. Fortunately, there is at least one Glasgow citizens who thought this was unacceptable - and had the finance to do something about it. Adrian Pocock, managing director of property development company Scotia Land, has donated £270,000 to keep these tourist attractions open for the next two years. It will allow the Burrell, St Mungo's Museum of Religious Art, People's Palace, Museum of Transport, Provand's Lordship, Martyrs' School and Scotland Street School museums to remain open all week. Mr Pocock came to live in the city 20 years ago felt that providing the finance offered him a chance to repay Glasgow for the wonderful times he has enjoyed in his adopted city.
Countdown to Kelvingrove Reopening
The £27.9 million project to upgrade the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is nearing completion and a firm opening date of Tuesday, 11 July, has been announced. Unlike many such projects, it is coming in on time and on budget. The aim has been to create modern, expanded facilities, service and displays while at the same time restoring the fabric of the building itself, so that it continues to be seen to best effect. There will be an extra 35% of floorspace and 8,000 items will be on display instead of the previous 5,000. Not all the museum items are in the display cabinets - the Supermarine Spitfire, which once belonged to 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, is hanging from the roof of the West Court. And the famous Dali painting Christ of St John of The Cross will be returning to Kelvingrove, after many years at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Arts.
Rebirth of UK's "Most Dismal Town Centre"
Building work on the new £40million Antonine Centre in Cumbernauld is under way, in an attempt to rid the town of its reputation of having the most dismal town centre in the UK. Cumbernauld regularly wins the unwelcome title, thanks largely to its existing multi-story shopping mall which has been compared to an aircraft carrier that has been through a war zone. It has also been compared to the war-ravaged Afghan capital Kabul and last year it won the TV Channel 4 "award" as the building most people want to see demolished. Will the new 250,000 sq ft development change attitudes when it opens in 2007? Unfortunately, the architects drawings give the impression of a shoe box - and the old centre is not being demolished, so it seems unlikely.
Four Storey Glass Extension for 19th Century Post Office?
The impressive Victorian building on the south side of George Square, which used to be main post office in the city, has lain vacant for over ten years, as developers tried to come up with proposals that would make financial sense. Plans for hotels and retail centres have come and gone - as the stonework on the building on the city's main square begins to look derelict. At one stage, exasperated city council officials banned the advertising hoarding which covered the entire building, believing that they were making more money for the owner than from developing the site. Last year, developer Stefan King sold the A-listed building to property firms AWG and HF Development in a £11 million deal. Now a planning application has been lodged for an "iconic, radical and eye-catching" office building with an extension of glass which will rise four storeys on top of the impressive 127-year-old building. The rooftop terraces would offer views across the city and would also incorporate shops and possibly a cafe or bar at ground level. Some experts believe that this glass box on top of a Victorian building could work....
Pocket Money Increases in Scotland
The annual Bank of Scotland survey into the saving and spending habits of children aged from seven to sixteen, has revealed that Scottish children have seen the biggest increase in pocket money in the UK over the last year. On average, Scottish kids have seen their pocket money increase by 25%, from £8.05 a week in 2005 to £10.75 in 2006. The only other part of the UK where parents are even more generous is in London, where the average was £11.71 per week. The UK average for pocket money was £8.20 in 2006.
Hovercraft on the Clyde?
A group of Glasgow businessmen have formed a consortium which is nearly at the end of a feasibility study into the re-introduction of a hovercraft service on the river Clyde, linking the city centre with the Braehead shopping centre (now with the XScape entertainment complex), Helensburgh and Dunoon. A 90-seater hovercraft, travelling at 50mph, could reach Helensburgh in 40 minutes and Dunoon in 50 minutes. The announcement follows in the wake of news that travel company Stagecoach is considering a similar service linking Kirkcaldy in Fife and Leith, the port area for Edinburgh. Hovercraft operated on the river Clyde in the 1960s, painted in the orange, white and green of Glasgow corporation transport at that time.
Where's Our "Legacy"?
The residents of the Perthshire town of Auchterarder had their lives disrupted last July during the week of the G8 summit, when heads of state gathered at the nearby Gleneagles Hotel. At the time, the Scottish First Minister had pledged a sum of £500,000 as a "lasting legacy" to the small town, which was under seige as demonstrators invaded the area. Locals had hoped the money would be spent on upgrading their community hall. But ten months later, nothing has materialised and there is a rumour that the cash is dependent on locals raising "matched funding". There has apparently been no contact between the Scottish Executive and Auchterarder's local community council. Following the issue being raised by the local Member of the Scottish Parliament, assurances were given by the Scottish Executive that "options were still being explored" to refurbish Aytoun Hall in the town.
Mull and Tiree Homecomings
Scotland's Year of Homecoming in 2009 aims to encourage those who have Scottish ancestry, but now live in other parts of the world, to return to their roots. The date of 2009 was selected as it marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard. Of course, local communities and clan societies across Scotland have had a long tradition of such gatherings, bringing together the Scottish diaspora to the land of their forefathers. The islands of Mull and Tiree, for example, are organising their own events in May this year. The Isle of Mull Genealogical Gathering (MUGG) is on May 14-19, 2006 and the following week, May 22-26, 2006, the Tiree Homecoming takes place on the neighbouring isle. Both events will draw descendants from around the world who want to walk the land of their ancestors, perhaps for the first time. The programs being arranged include a variety of speakers, historical and wildlife tours, and access to research facilities where family history can be pursued. On Tiree, visitors will get the opportunity to visit a selection of working crofts and farms. Throughout the week there will be concerts and dances. For more details, see Mull Genealogy and Tiree Homecoming.
Celebrating Peter Rabbit in Perthshire
The Perthshire town of Dunkeld is celebrating its role in the creation of the popular children's stories about animals by Beatrix Potter, beginning with "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" in 1902. She went on to write another 22 tales about Peter and his friends, which are loved by children all over the world. The basis of her many biology projects and stories were the small animals that she smuggled into the house or observed during family holidays in Scotland at Dunkeld. She was encouraged in her interest by a rural postman, Charles McIntosh, who shared her fascination with mycology - the study of fungi. The story of the naughty Peter Rabbit started life as a picture letter written by Potter while at Dunkeld in 1893. A special exhibition opens this month at Beatrix Potter’s Garden at Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Dunkeld. It is showcasing many of her watercolour paintings. 2006 marks the centenaries of the publications of The Tale Of Mr Jeremy Fisher, The Tale Of Miss Moppet and The Tale Of The Fierce Bad Rabbit and all these centenaries are being celebrated in a selection of associated artwork.
Air Passenger Numbers Continue to Soar
Passenger numbers at Edinburgh airport are continuing to grow at a faster rate than in Glasgow, although the number of travellers using the airports continues to take off. Glasgow remains Scotland's busiest airport, however, ending the year with 8.8 million passengers, equivalent to a rise of 2.4%. But Edinburgh Airport handled 8.5 million passengers, up 5.6% on the previous year. Aberdeen showed the biggest increase of Scotland's three largest airports, with a rise of 9.5% to 2.95 million travellers. Over the last year, 27 new services have been introduced at the three airports, including flights to Pakistan, Egypt and Switzerland.
Whisky and Chocolate Nessies for Air Travelers
Passengers arriving on the first scheduled direct flight between Inverness and Dublin were offered free drams of whisky, model Loch Ness Monsters made of chocolate and Highland 2007 promotional gifts and tourist information packs from VisitScotland. When the first passenger arrived to check in for the new Aer Arann service at Dublin airport, he was also given tickets for two further return flights to Inverness - and a bottle of 10-year-old Macallan whisky. THe new route is being supported by the Scottish Executive's Air Route Development Fund and will operate four times a week. Aer Arann already operates its 66-seat ATR-72 aircraft between Edinburgh and Glasgow Prestwick and Cork and Donegal.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Once again, there has been little in the way of Spring about the weather this week. Temperatures did rise from around 6/8C (43/46F) on Sunday and Monday to 11/12C (52/54F) by Thursday and Friday. But the outlook for the next week is predicting little improvement on that until next weekend. There was a mixture of sunshine and showers - rapidly alternating at times, due to high winds (which made even the recorded temperatures feel even chillier). Edinburgh and Glasgow had around 14 hours of sunshine over last Sunday and Monday and the sun returned, particularly in the east, at the end of the week. Edinburgh recorded 9.9 hours of sun that day, with Aberdeen not far behind with 8.4 hours.
The picture here is of the delicate Corylopsis flowers in the Natioanl Trust for Scotland at geilston.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Aubretia (seen in the picture here) and Anemone Nemerosa after a shower of rain, Geilston Garden, young goats, Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton), pink Magnolia, Rhododendron. See This Week's Colour Supplement.