Scottish Airports Caught Up in Terror Delays
Airports across the UK were plunged into chaos this week as a result of Heathrow airport in London being closed on Thursday after the security services arrested around 20 people in London. They are alleged to have been plotting to blow up as many as ten aircraft heading for North America. The police said the plot was designed to cause untold death and destruction and "mass murder on an unimaginable scale." Because the terrorists were plotting to use new forms of explosives, using separate liquids which, when combined, would create an explosive, there was initially a ban on all hand luggage, apart from passports, travel documents and wallets - which had to be carried on board in a clear plastic bag. Prescription medicines were allowed, but not solution for contact lenses. With Heathrow closed to incoming aircraft on Thursday, passengers heading there from Scotland were either unable to fly or managed to switch to a flight to another airport near London. The rail companies laid on extra trains between Scotland and England. Although airports had additional staff on duty, the additional security checks and confusion created long delays. However, the airport authorities in Scotland claimed that they were not expecting any "major" delays to flights and that the biggest problems were at check-in desks and security checks. Around 100,000 passengers a day pass through Scotland's four main airports each day. Only those with tickets were allowed inside the terminal buildings. By Saturday, security levels were slightly reduced - paperback books were being allowed on aircraft, so long as they were displayed in the clear plastic bag, which will no doubt become a major feature of air travel.
Higher Grade Exam Results Published
The results of Standard Grade and Higher examinations, which 16/17 year-old school pupils sat earlier this year, reached the candidates by post on Tuesday this week. There were just over 150,000 candidates sitting over 750,000 papers, of which 158,000 were at "Higher" grade - the "gold standard" of the Scottish education system. In previous years, there has been an increasing percentage of pupils gaining a pass - amid accusations that the exam was being made "easier". This year, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) figures showed that 70.8% of Highers were passed in 2006, compared with 71.2% last year - described by the SQA as a "statistical blip". Pass rates for Higher English, the exam level's most popular subject, dropped 2% to 64.1% this year. However, mathematics, the second most popular subject, was up 1% to a pass rate of 68.6%. The "baby boom" around 1990 meant that there were more candidates than ever before. A group of 400 pupils in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles received their results a day early. They were part of a trial in which they were able to access their results on-line. They used a unique password to log onto a secure SQA site where they could view their own results. The experiment was deemed a success and is likely to be extended next year.
Royal Bank Invests in Zoom
The Royal Bank of Scotland has invested 12 million Canadian dollars in the Ontario-based low-cost airline Zoom to allow them to establish a UK subsidiary. This would operate services from London to non-Canadian destinations. The new company is headed by Zoom chairman Hugh Boyle, who has dual Canadian and UK citizenship and so has avoids any foreign ownership restrictions. Boyle was born in Hamilton, Scotland and has been a senior travel industry executive for more than 25 years. The Royal Bank will have a 7.5% stake in the new subsidiary which plans to start operating two leased Boeing 767s from next May. Zoom currently offers full service, scheduled flights direct from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax to Glasgow as well as services to London, Paris, Manchester, Cardiff and Belfast.
Arthur's Seat "Charred"
A huge fire burned for almost 24 hours on Arthur's Seat, the volcanic plug which overlooks Edinburgh and forms a major part of Holyrood Park, overlooking the Scottish Parliament building. The fire started on Monday and firefighters had to pump thousands of gallons of water from St Margaret's Loch, which is a considerable distance from the fire on the north side of the hill. Plumes of smoke could be seen from as far away as Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth. The fire left 3,000 square metres of blackened gorse and dry grass.
New Confusing Postal Charges
Cynics might believe that the new postal charges, being introduced later this month, are designed to ensure that the Post Office will increase their income from penalty charges on letters which have the wrong value of stamp. For the last hundred years charges have been based on weight. The new charges are based on the size of the envelope as well. Letters up to about the size of a birthday card (240mm long, 165mm wide, 5mm deep) and weighing up to 100 grammes will go at the cheapest rate (32p first class). "Large letters" will be about the size of a magazine (maximum size - 353mm long, 250mm wide, 25mm deep) and weighing up to 750 grammes will cost 44p. The cost of larger items depends on weight. The Post Office is sending a guidance leaflet to every address in the country - 2,506,521 in Scotland, according to the Post Office - and they should know. People will no doubt fold items to save money and many companies sending marketing mail are already amending the size of their material to avoid the extra cost of larger envelopes.
Scotland's First Fairtrade County
Over the last few years there has been a growth in the UK in the sale of "Fairtrade" labelled products, which guarantee a better deal for Third World producers. The producers must ensure decent wages are paid to workers, a fair price for the produce, good environmental standards, no child or forced labour and allow trade union activities. Many individual consumers are prepared to pay a little extra for Fairtrade goods and some large retail chains have adopted Fairtrade coffee and tea, for example. They believe that they are not only helping Third World countries, but that it is good for their own image. Last year, Kinross county was given special recognition by the Fairtrade organisation for its involvement of local shops and bed and breakfast establishments in the use of these products. The local organisation is so proud of being the first county to be awarded this achievement that they are now erecting road signs on the approaches to Kinross proclaiming its status as a Fairtrade county.
Sterling Exchange Rate Heads for US$2
The recent increase in UK base rates last week (to 4.75%) and signs of a spurt in economic growth here, has sent the value of the pound soaring against other currencies. The rise against the US dollar has been particularly marked - it reached a 15-month high of $1.91 last Friday and could go higher, according to analysts. Sterling last reached that level in September 1992. While that is good for Scots going abroad to Europe and the US, it also makes it more expensive for overseas tourists here. It also makes foreign imports cheaper - but makes life more difficult for UK exporters.
Scots Fly Far
In the last year, over a million passengers jetted off from Scotland's three largest airports to long-haul destinations such as America, Canada, the Middle and Far East, Australia and New Zealand. Numbers grew by 15% from the previous year, with Florida the most popular long distance destination. In the year to the end of July, a total of 20.4 million passengers flew from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports to the rest of the UK, Europe and long-haul destinations. Glasgow is still the busiest airport, but only just - Edinburgh passenger numbers are growing at a faster rate. Over the course of the last 12 months, Edinburgh Airport saw numbers climb 3.5% to 8.56 million, while Glasgow managed a rise of just 0.9% to 8.8 million. It will not be long before Edinburgh airport surpasses its western rival. But Aberdeen is growing at the fastest rate of the three - numbers in July were 6.6% up on the previous year.
The illustration above is of an Emirates Airways Airbus A330 at Glasgow airport.
Space Airport for Scotland?
Entrepreneur Richard Branson is considering the RAF base at Lossiemouth as a base for his plan to send passengers 87 miles above the earth using US-built spaceships, launched from aircraft. Customers, who would pay over 100,000 pounds for a ticket, would be able to experience weightlessness for about five minutes during the trip. This week, representatives of the company toured the air force base (which is home to RAF Tornado GR4 bombers) and said that discussions, which have been going on for the last three months, had been very positive. The firm says that it already has 200 bookings for its space flights.
500% Increase in Visitor Numbers
Those responsible for the refurbishment of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum deserve to congratulate themselves with the success of the project. Not only was it completed in time and on budget, they ingathered millions of additional funding form Glasgow citizens who were keen to support "their" museum. Then, in the first month after re-opening, 575,864 visitors passed through the doors - five times the number who paid a visit in July 2002. Of course, many of the visitors will be by people who had already called in and found that one visit was not enough.
Rock Concert Crumbles
Billed as Edinburgh's biggest-ever music festival, "Let's Rock!" has had to be cancelled after selling less than 10% of its 22,000 tickets and the withdrawal of a major financial backer. The event was scheduled for 30 September at Ingliston show ground near Edinburgh Airport.The indoor music event was scheduled to feature 33 bands rocking the day away on 3 indoor stages from noon until 3am. The organisers have promised to refund the cost of all tickets.
Waverley Runs Aground
Not for the first time, the Waverley paddle steamer ran aground this week during a summer excursion. The world's last sea-going paddle steamer, with 715 passengers on board, ran into a sandbar as it was leaving Girvan Harbour in Ayrshire. The ship had apparently just left it too late to catch the tide. It was able to turn back and reach its berth at Girvan again and allow passengers to disembark - they had to reach their destinations (mainly returning to Glasgow) by coach. Meanwhile, the paddle steamer headed for Ayr, where the hull was inspected by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as required by the regulations. No damage was found and the following day it sailed, as scheduled, to Tarbert, Loch Fyne. Two years ago the Waverley had to be towed back to Campbeltown after hitting part of a submerged reef off the Mull of Kintyre.
Lack of Stonemasons Puts Buildings at Risk
The many fine stone buildings in Scotland were created in the past by stonemasons who spent years learning their craft. These days, steel and concrete construction has produced a major decline in the number of people working in stone - last year only 41 people throughout Scotland began the training course to become stonemasons. In Glasgow, there are only 65 qualified stonemasons and that is causing concern as many of the older buildings will need conservation - and there will not be the skilled tradesmen to do the work. A study by a Scottish Stone Liaison Group recently checked on the condition of the stone facades of 230 landmark buildings and houses in Glasgow and found that 97% needed some form of repair, otherwise their condition would deteriorate in the future. The Group has recommended bringing together training providers, the enterprise network, local authorities and industry to address the issues of education, training - and the supply of stone itself.
Piping in Harmony
A new system of unified standards for piping and drumming was launched in Glasgow this week, after piping's five governing associations agreed on a single structured qualification. The new system, with six grades for piping and four grades for drumming, is modelled on a structure used in learning many other musical instruments. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 pipers world-wide. The Royal Pipe Band Association ( RSPBA ) has 640 registered pipe bands, 185 of whom are from outside the UK. The new grades merge five separate qualifications offered previously by the main piping and drumming organisations.
The illustration above is of part of Grampian Police Pipe Band performing at the World Pipe Band Championship in Glasgow.
Win a Luxury Short Break at Piperdam Golf & Leisure Resort
For one lucky winner and five of their friends, Piperdam Golf & Leisure Resort is offering the chance to win a luxury 3-night stay at the resort, enjoying unlimited use of the leisure facilities and unlimited golf on the 18-hole Osprey Course. The Competition runs from 7th August 2006 to midnight on 31 October 2006. The winner will be notified by 10th November 2006. So whether entrants fancy just getting away for a few days to relax or take the family on a true Scottish Getaway or plan to golf till they drop, this fantastic prize has something for everyone. Set in the idyllic surroundings of Scotland’s beautiful heartland, Piperdam offers the total Scottish experience including Golf, Loch Fishing, Leisure facilities, Luxury Lodges, a fine Restaurant and bars, a Function and Conference suite that accommodates up to 300 people and their very own nesting Ospreys. For more information please visit www.piperdam.com or e-mail email@example.com.
Aberdeen and Glasgow Top the Happy League
Although Aberdeen's granite buildings can often sparkle in the sunshine, it is frequently portrayed as a grey city with a population that can appear "dour" (bleak and gloomy). So there was delight in the north-east when 2,000 people responded to a poll which showed that Aberdonians thought their city was the happiest place to live in the UK - just edging out Glasgow from the top spot. Londoners, on the other hand, were the most unhappy in the country, according to the survey. The survey found that those who lived near friends or family and in places with plenty of greenery were the most contented. Although Glasgow has less access to green spaces than Aberdeen, it gains on community spirit, at least in the city itself, if not in the suburban sprawl beyond its boundaries.
Revamp for Renfrew Town Centre
An investment plan to regenerate Renfrew town centre, costing four million pounds, is to get underway later this month. The aim is to make the town a "more pleasant" place to visit. The major changes aim to allow ease of travel for pedestrians and motorists and link the town centre to developments at Renfrew riverside. Renfrew town hall is to host a display from mid-August illustrating the key proposals.
Earl of Cawdor and His Stepmother Bury the Hatchet
The disagreements between Lady Angelika, the Dowager Countess of Cawdor and her stepson, the 7th Earl of Cawdor, have been splashed across the newspapers on many occasions. When the 6th Earl of Cawdor died in 1993 he left the imposing castle near Nairn to his wife Lady Angelika and the earl was left the 49,000-acre estate. She now runs the castle as a popular visitor attraction. Four years ago the earl occupied the castle with his wife and children, while the countess was on holiday. That led to a legal action in the Court of Session which decided the earl could stay - but not his family. So when the earl announced plans for 1,000 acres of the estate at Carse of Delnies to promote new housing, a golf course and a bypass road, it was expected that the sparks would fly. His aim is to allow Nairn to regain its title of "Brighton of the North" - and double the population of the former Victorian spa from its present 9,000, over the next 10 to 15 years. However, although the Dowager Countess sniffily pointed out that the land in question was part of Cawdor Maintenance Trust, of which she is one of three trustees, she voiced her support for the development. Various ideas are being considered by Highland Council, who are now seeking the views of the local residents.
Loch Ness Vision - Or Monster?
Plans for a "high-quality visitor attraction" on the shores of Loch Ness have been revealed in an ambitious plan by a local entrepreneur who is already involved in the "Jacobite Cruises" on the loch. The proposal is for the preservation of the historic Bona Lighthouse (once the smallest manned lighthouse in Britain) with the addition of a "landmark" building which would aim to become as much a symbol of Loch Ness as Urquhart Castle. There would be shops and a restaurant and access to the loch shore. Some local residents immediately branded the proposals as the "Loch Ness Monstrosity" and others will not want to see rampant commercialisation of the tranquil loch. But there is also no doubt that much more could be done to provide better access to Loch Ness. But in the usual way of these things, these new proposals will have to go through a long and tortuous planning approval process before they are accepted - if ever.
Free Sun Cream for Council Staff
It may have been the recent heat wave in Scotland - or publicity about the dangers of skin cancer - but staff working in the open air for Argyll and Bute Council will now have access to dispensers of factor 30 sun cream at depots and tubs of sun lotion in every vehicle. So if residents see the refuse collection workers, road sweepers and traffic wardens pausing on the pavement to apply cream to their faces and arms, they will know that it was paid for by their local taxes. Skin cancer cases have tripled in Scotland since the 1970s, with 200 deaths from malignant melanomas.
Capercaillie Tartan Takes Wing
Usually the Scottish Tartan Authority receives applications to register new designs for tartans, but recently the organisation suggested to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) that a new tartan should be created to help raise funds which would help to support efforts to save the capercaillie. This is the largest member of the grouse family and it can grow to around three feet in length. There used to be 20,000 of these magnificent birds in Highland forests. But a reduction in their natural habitat, the construction of deer fences (which they fly into) and natural predators have resulted in a drop in their numbers to below 2,000. Strenuous conservation efforts seem to have reversed the downward spiral, but a lot of work still needs to be done. So people interested in helping the conservation effort now have the opportunity to buy neckties, scarves, travel rugs and flat caps in a tartan that incorporates the stunning colours of the woodland grouse. For more details, see the RSPB Web Site.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although there have been a number of sunny spells at various locations across Scotland this week, there has also been a fair amount of cloud and rain - mainly frequent light showers. The north of the country has had more than its fair share of rain and that has kept temperatures down in Aberdeen and the north-west. Aberdeen only reached 15C (59F) on Thursday and Friday and Stornoway in the Western Isles had a maximum temperature of 14/15C (57/59F) from Tuesday to Friday. Edinburgh, on the other hand, reached a pleasant 20/21C (70/71F) on a few days this week.
The illustration here is of a Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Balvaird Castle in Perthshire (see small picture), Peacock Butterfly, Kinross House and Garden with Loch Leven Castle, a field of wheat and the flower of Cosmos "Sea Shells".
See This Week's Colour Supplement.