Scotland Enjoys Sunshine and Record Temperatures
On Monday of this week, temperatures in Aberdeen reached an all-time record 29.8C (85.6F), surpassing the previous one of 29.6C. As the warm weather continued, forecasters were predicting even more records might be broken. However, although Prestwick in Ayrshire reached over 31.3C (88.3F) the overall Scottish record temperature for July was not broken. Even so, there was plenty of sunshine and Scots, who are not used to such high temperatures began to wilt a bit. Those of you who regularly have daily maxima of over 100F, please don't laugh.... The highest recorded temperature in Scotland was 32.9C (89.6F) at Greycrook (Scottish Borders) on 9 August, 2003. South of the border, the all-time record British temperature for the month was smashed when the mercury hit 36.5C (97.7F) at Wisley in Surrey.
The good weather and above average temperatures has lasted since last Friday and is set to continue for a few more days yet. Of course, this being Scotland, there were some variations. On Wednesday, haze and high cloud at St Andrews in Fife kept the temperature down to 17C/63F (said with gritted teeth - I was there that day). The north-west and the Western Isles were also affected by frontal systems that kept the temperature down lower than the rest of the country. In the Shetlands, thick fog kept the maximum temperature down to 13C/55F on Wednesday and flights were cancelled due to the intensity of the fog. But mostly it has been perfect summer weather this week.
An accident on Monday in the middle of roadworks on the M8 motorway leaving Glasgow brought traffic to a complete standstill, with cars tailing back for four miles in rising temperatures. Many drivers and passengers left their cars and sat on crash barriers, enjoying (if that's the right word) the sunshine. Some vehicles were stationary for nearly two hours while rescue crews cleared the road which was down to two lanes due to the ongoing resurfacing work.
Development Plan for Edinburgh Airport
An outline of the development plan for Edinburgh Airport over the next 30 years was published last year by the owners, British Airports Authority (BAA). This week, it has produced a more detailed "master plan" which confirms the growth projections - from 8.5 million currently, to nearly 14 million by 2013 and 26 million by 2030. International flights are expected to be the main driver of growth, leading to 13 times as many long-haul passengers as at present. Despite the addition of a tramway line to the city centre in 2013 and a new mainline rail station to be built beside the airport, the demand for car parking spaces is expected to rise from 3,300 to 15,700 by 2030. That, plus a second runway, will need more space than at present and BAA has repeated its need to take over the area currently occupied by the Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston. That has caused an outcry, not just from the agricultural community, but the city council, concerned that this could lead to the loss of a major economic benefit to Edinburgh. The showground hosts 1.2 million visitors to shows and events each year, worth £250 million. And environmental groups don't want to see the expansion of air travel at all, arguing that it will "simply fuel climate change with the taxpayer picking up the bill as the industry continues to enjoy virtually tax-free fuel." However, although the details may change as the years and the planning processes go by, the government will want to see the growth of the airport (and the one beside Glasgow) to continue.The airport master plan will be updated every five years.
Edinburgh Says Thanks a Million
For the first time since the mid-1990s, Edinburgh welcomed over a million foreign tourists last year. New figures compiled by the Office of National Statistics have revealed 1,134,000 foreign tourists visited the city in 2005 - a rise of 194,000 since 2004. Edinburgh remains the most popular tourist destination in the UK outside London. Understandably, the national tourism agency VisitScotland was delighted. The organisation has come under pressure from business leaders in the Capital, who believe that not enough is being done to promote tourism there and have been campaigning for Edinburgh to have its own independent tourist organisation. Last year, there was a £1 million marketing campaign, the biggest the city has ever seen, to attract visitors from Western Europe on short city breaks. Industry experts say foreign tourists are worth more to the economy than their domestic counterparts, since they stay longer and spend more money.
Chancellor Becomes a Father Again
Gordon Brown, the Scots-born Chancellor of the Exchequer, became a dad again this week, when his wife Sarah gave birth to a baby boy weighing 8 pounds (3.6 kilos in this metric age). The couple's first child, Jennifer Jane, who Mr Brown has said was an "inspiration", died aged 10 days after being born prematurely in 2002. Their second child, John, will turn three in October this year and the new baby is to be named James Fraser Brown. Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his congratulations to the couple when he spoke to reporters at the G8 Summit in St Petersburg. Gordon Brown is widely expected to succeed Tony Blair when the Prime Minister decides to step down - at a date of his choosing. Brown has headed HM Treasury since May 1997, making him the longest continuously serving Chancellor since the early 19th century.
Hospital Food Lottery
What would you rather have if you were in hospital? Meals costing £42 a week or £280? Patients in Scotland don't have any choice, of course - they just have to accept the lottery of whatever is on offer in the hospital they find themselves in. Figures published this week by the government agency Audit Scotland, highlighted the wide discrepancy in the cost - and quality and satisfaction levels - across the National Health Service (NHS). That £280 a week at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank (a former private hospital taken over by the NHS) may be a shade too expensive. But then, 99% of patients said they were delighted with the catering there, while patients in many other establishments try to get well quickly, so that they can escape from the meals they are being served. A sample menu from an Edinburgh hospital had scrambled egg available at every meal, while other choices included such delicacies as puréed macaroni and cheese or egg mayonnaise sandwich for lunch, and pasta and ham salad in the early evening.
Scottish Universities Have Highest Drop-Out Rates in UK
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Scotland has the highest proportion of first-time degree entrants dropping out of their courses in the first year of study. During 2004-05, 11.6% (3,645) of students in higher education left after their first year of study, compared with a UK average of 9.5%. The UHI Millennium Institute in Inverness had the highest drop-out rate with 31.8%, though UHI management said its figure was distorted by large numbers of students taking one-year degree courses from HNC and HND courses, automatically leaving after 12 months. At Bell College in Hamilton, the drop-out rate was 30.2%, with. Napier University (pictured here) in Edinburgh seeing withdrawals of 20.2% while 19.4% dropped out of Paisley University. Scotland has the highest proportion of students in the UK from deprived backgrounds, where there is not the same tradition of further education and economic factors and lack of support can be a problem for students.
ScotRail on the Right Track
For a number of years, the punctuality of train services in Scotland has been appalling. The franchise to operate ScotRail, which runs most of the internal rail services in the country, was even moved to another company, in the hope of seeing an improvement. Initially, that didn't seem to be happening. But in recent months, punctuality of the trains has risen above 90%. Not wonderful, but a 22% improvement since First Scotrail took over in October 2004. Now the company's hard work has been rewarded with being named as "public transport operator of the year" at the UK's National Transport Awards in London this week. Here's hoping they continue to improve the service and win that award again.
Mighty Hunter Secures Morayshire Air Base
After a long period of delays and difficulties, during which there has been concern that the Royal Air Force base at Kinloss in Morayshire might close, the Ministry of Defence announced this week a £3.2 billion contract for 12 new Nimrod MRA4 maritime reconnaissance aircraft, to be based beside the existing MR2 Nimrods (illustrated here). Nimrod was a Mesopotamian monarch and "a mighty hunter" who is mentioned in the Bible. The new aircraft will be will be fitted with highly advanced technology and will be able to operate a wider surveillance role over land and sea as well as continuing to fulfil the vital search and rescue role of the present airframes. They will be capable of flying missions of 6,000 nautical miles without refuelling and at altitudes of up to 42,000ft. Despite their modern technology, the design is a development of the De Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet aircraft to enter service.
Three Year Wage Freeze for 5,000 Staff
As Glasgow City Council tries to balance the books and fund a £40 million shortfall, arising from back pay in an equal pay deal, as well as a long-term re-structuring of salaries for its 38,000 workers, it looks as though there will be winners and losers. Home care staff could see their salaries rising by 25% and it is believed that around 52% of staff will get pay rises of more than £500 a year. Nevertheless, about 32% will see little or no change and around 5,000 council workers face a three-year wage freeze. Some highly paid senior staff could be sacked as the gap in the budget is bridged. Despite equal pay being a legal requirement in the UK for many years, the issue has been simmering for a long time in local councils, where thousands of female workers were paid less than men for doing jobs now deemed to be of roughly the same value. Other local councils across Scotland are facing similar issues.
Western Isles Cruise for Queen
When the royal yacht Britannia was in service, the Queen regularly spent a few weeks each summer cruising around the Western Isles - per head of the population, they probably got more royal visits than many large towns as a result. A mixture of holiday and "work", the Queen obviously enjoyed her cruises off the west coast of Scotland (who wouldn't?). So as an extra 80th birthday present for herself, she has hired a small ship from a cruise company to recreate those family trips on Britannia. The Hebridean Princess is not quite the same standard as Britannia - it used to be a Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry. But the vessel, which normally sails from Oban for tours of the Scottish islands and to Norway, has 30 "spacious, elegant and well-equipped" cabins and another 11 for single travellers. It is reported that the Royal Family have paid about £125,000 to charter the ship. There is an illustrated article on the Hebridean Princess at Great Places to Stay - Hebridean Princess.
Cows Increase Visitors to Edinburgh Attractions
CowParade is a madcap exhibition which gives artists a chance to work on life-sized fibreglass cow sculptures. Their colourful work is displayed and then sold off to make money for local charities. CowParade is not meant to be high art and is first and foremost a public art exhibit that is accessible to everyone. Edinburgh's CowParade has been on display since early June and is being credited with milking a big rise in visitor numbers at the Royal Botanic Garden and the National Galleries on The Mound in the early part of the summer, compared to last year. Both attractions had their own bovine statues and compared to the same period last year, the National Galleries has seen visitor numbers go up by 26%, while the Botanic Garden has experienced an 11.9% increase on last year. The National Galleries pointed out that they had the same number and style of exhibitions on this year as last year, so the increase of more than 22,000 on last year's 122,157 is almost certainly due to the eye-catching exhibits outside. The Galleries had a string of the painted fibreglass animals hung between its Grecian columns - nobody passing along Princes Street could fail to notice!. In the Botanic Gardens, where visitor numbers can be affected by a number of factors, including the weather, staff were certainly aware of large numbers of people enquiring about the location of the exhibits.
Lochaber Hotel Voted Best in Europe
Inverlochy Castle Hotel, near Fort William, has beaten competition from top hotels in Budapest, Reims in France and Asolo in Italy, to take first place in Travel and Leisure magazine's list of the top 50 hotels in Europe. The top travel magazine surveyed 500,000 readers who rated hotels on room, location, restaurants and value for money. Inverlochy Castle is the first UK establishment to reach the top place. Queen Victoria visited Inverlochy Castle for a week`s holiday and wrote "I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot". It became a country house hotel in 1969. Charlie Chaplin was the castle's first celebrity guest and, since then, the hotel has played host to a list of well-known people including Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Elton John, Barbara Cartland, Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. Royalty from around the world have also stayed at Inverlochy Castle, including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. For the history and a review of what it's like to stay there, see Great Places to Stay - Inverlochy Castle Hotel.
New European Air Services
Budget airline Ryanair has announced the first regular air service between Scotland (Prestwick Airport) and Riga, the capital of Latvia. A new service will also fly five times a week from the Ayrshire airport to Eindhoven in Holland. That will bring the number of destinations served from Prestwick by Ryanair to 23.
Budget Canadian airline Zoom has transformed air travel between Scotland and Canada, but last weekend hundreds of passengers were hit by "significant" delays when more than one aircraft suffered "technical problems". 270 passengers for Halifax and Ottawa eventually got away at the third attempt, after 44 hours of misery, which began on Saturday. Another 150 passengers, heading to Vancouver, turned up at Glasgow Airport on Sunday only to be told their flight was not likely to leave until Monday. And other passengers for the flight to Toronto on Monday at 1.45pm were told it would not take off until 10.05am on the next day. Zoom later chartered another aircraft to clear the backlog and get back to normal. A spokesman for the airline said that this was the first time this had happened since they started flying and was due to a unique combination of circumstances. The airline now carries 250,000 passengers a year.
Search for Best UK Chip Shop
Selling fried fish and chips (French fries in some parts of the world) is a £1.2 billion fast food industry in the UK. A "fish supper" is the nation's favourite take-away, accompanied by sales of deep fried sausages, pizzas and, in Scotland, deep fried haggis and Mars bars. In the UK, more than 10,500 shops sell more than 255 million meals each year, of varying quality. Every year, the best outlets compete for the title of "National Fish & Chip Shop of the Year" and Scottish competitors often come out on top. Even being named the best in Scotland can do wonders for turnover. The hunt is now on for the 2006 winner, with 19 shops in Scotland shortlisted. They include the Anstruther Fish Bar & Restaurant (a Scottish winner twice as well as being Scottish Cafe of the Year 2005 which regularly has queues down the street in summer), The Silvery Tay, Newport-On-Tay and La Dolce Vita in Lochwinnoch (which should win the prize just because of its name). Each shop will receive a visit from a mystery judge who will mark the quality of their fish and chips, customer service, hygiene and staff training. The winners will be announced in London next January. Regional winners will be announced in September.
Birds of Prayer Clear Aberdeen Skies
A family of peregrine falcons has set up home in the spire of St Mary's Cathedral in the city of Aberdeen - and is helping to keep the local pigeon population in check, much to the delight of local residents. The graceful birds, more usually seen in the countryside, can be seen soaring above the rooftops - and feasting on the unfortunate local pigeons, who are not used to such depredations. Peregrine falcons are the fastest hunters in the world - they can free fall towards their prey at speeds of around 260mph. After years of persecution from gamekeepers and landowners, better legal protection and control of pesticides have helped the population to recover considerably from a low in the 1960s. It is unusual, though not unheard of, for peregrines to move into towns and cities. Someone has jokingly suggested that those at St Mary's Cathedral must be "birds of prayer".
The Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, may be on friendly terms with American billionaire Donald Trump and has welcomed George Bush to Scotland at the G8 conference in Gleneagles. But documents from the US Consulate in Regent Terrace, Edinburgh (pictured here), made public under the Freedom of Information Act, seem to suggest that the staff there aren't sure about who he is or his policies. After the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary elections, when McConnell's Labour Party gained 50 seats (a reduction of 5), a memo from the US consulate staff reported "Jack Connell and his party are licking their wounds this morning" after a "pyrrhic victory" and that there was "a gradual shift to the left, in line with Scotland's image as a generally more socialist society". The memo also suggested that the First Minister "will find his party more often at odds with the more centrist policies of PM Blair." The US Consulate in Edinburgh opened for the first time in 1798.
Holy Wheelie Bins, Binman - We Won an Award!
West Dunbartonshire's Waste and Transport Services has won an award for its promotional film to increase awareness among youngsters of the problem of litter. Their cartoon character has a flowing red cape and glowing green credentials. Cartoon recycling hero BinMan, aided by sidekicks BinBoy and LitterBug, are featured on a DVD to teach school kids about waste minimisation, the problems with landfill and how to reuse refuse. The film was entered into the Chartered Institution of Waste Management annual competition and scooped a coveted award. Judging by the amount of litter in the streets and parks of most areas of Scotland, (subject of a media campaign at the moment), it needs an army of green caped crusaders to make an impact.
Weather in Scotland This Week
As noted in the first item above, much of Scotland has enjoyed a prolonged spell of warm, sunny weather. But that record-breaking temperature of 29.8C (85.6F) in Aberdeen was achieved despite some cloud that day and the north-east has sometimes not been as fortunate as the rest of the country. There has been very little rain this week, most of it falling as short spells of light drizzle, as in parts of the west of Scotland on Thursday. On Saturday, there has been high, thin cloud over central Scotland but temperatures still managed to reach 24C (75F). In Stornoway, in the WEstern Isles, there was more sunshine but the maximum temperature only reached 17C (63F). The forecasters are suggesting that the good weather will continue, with temperatures reaching 25/26C (77/79F) next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The illustration shows the fountain at Culzean Castle.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Birds-foot Trefoil, Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly (see small picture here), a Bee on a Scabious Flower, a green cow, the tranquil river Forth on a sunny afternoon, a Tufted Duck chick and Glasgow's famous Sauchiehall Street. See Colour Supplement - 22 July.