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Bridge of Allan

Snowy Scottish roadFor any motorist in central Scotland, whether long haul or short hop, Monday was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The Caledonian Mercury asked three drivers for their experiences – one in the west of Scotland, one in the middle chunk (which appears to have been the worst-hit area of all), and one in the east.

Doug Small works at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, and always either cycles or – as on Monday – drives the 13 miles from his home in Langbank. He managed to beat the worst of the morning weather, leaving home at 7:30am and reaching work half an hour later. This was in turn around half an hour before the heavy snowfall began. (It had already been snowing heavily to the east of Glasgow for some hours by this point.)

The return journey was always going to be the tricky one, and Small left his office early, at 3:30pm, fortunate in being able to do some of his work at home. “There was a brief moment (well, 30 minutes) of panic when I was stationary,” he said, “but the minute I was on the motorway it was plain sailing. It was just getting to the motorway among all the blocked other roads.”

He adapted his route home to try and miss the worst of the trouble. “Normally I go up to Cardonald station on Berryknowes Road and do a U-turn to get back on to the M8 at junction 25 as quickly as possible. I feared Berryknowes might be blocked, because I overheard a porter at work. So I was for heading along the A8 to the Braehead roundabout system, but realised that was all backed up, so went up Fifty Pitches Road to the Daily Record roundabout. This section is about 400 metres and took 30 minutes. But then I was off and running, because everyone east of me was stuck.

“I made it home in about an hour,” Small said. “I feel a bit lucky compared with what I know awaited some of my colleagues. I have taken Tuesday off as annual leave.”

Sandra Hayashibara is a self-employed bookkeeper based in Bridge of Allan. “I more or less did the sensible thing and stayed indoors most of the day,” she said. “The lady I am currently working for, who runs a catering business, informed me that the roads were a nightmare and that I shouldn’t be going anywhere. She had a four-wheel drive vehicle and very kindly offered to bring the paperwork to me, rather than have me venture out.

“The children set off by foot to school at Wallace High. Several rumours began to fly that the school was closed. I tried to no avail to discover what was actually happening – there was no information on the local radio, nor on the council website.”

Other members of Hayashibara’s family were less lucky in terms of travelling. “It took my brother Dougie ten hours to travel by car from Motherwell back to Cumbernauld,” she said, “arriving home at 9pm. He had left for work before the snow started in Cumbernauld. As the weather deteriorated, his employer advised employees to return home – that was at 11am.

“Dougie and his workmate came to the aid of a van driver who had become stuck in the snow. Once the van driver was freed, my brother and friend were rewarded – as, much to their delight, it was a sandwich-delivery van they had gone to the rescue of!

“Dougie arrived home at 9pm, absolutely shattered, with my distraught seven-year-old niece so glad to see her daddy home safely.

“My brother-in-law was stuck on the A9 whilst attempting to get to Dundee. He eventually made it back towards Cumbernauld, but had to abandon his van at Haggs and walk back into Cumbernauld via Castlecary.”

Hayashibara is able to see the positives amid all the chaos. “I enjoy the community spirit at times like this,” she said, “and that’s what life should be all about – helping each other. I took a trip up to the local supermarket and knocked on my elderly neighbours’ door to ask if they needed any shopping. I was embarrassed to see that my neighbour from across the road was clearing my path when I had two perfectly able-bodied children at home, off school. Come tomorrow, if school is closed again, I shall be putting my children to work in ‘community service’ – they can clear the streets or go shopping for my elderly neighbours!

“On my way back from the shops, I met the elderly gentleman who lives at the end of my street. This was a gentleman that didn’t really know me, but I walked back with him. In just one day I had conversations with two of my neighbours that I had never really spoken to before. You get a sense of appreciation from others at times like these. It’s a pity that the country cannot pull together under normal circumstances like we do in times of inclement weather.”

Richard Webb – a teacher who lives in Cockenzie – had a similar experience to Doug Small at the opposite end of the M8. He needed to get round Edinburgh to school in Blackburn, never the easiest of commutes even in ideal weather.

“I got in to Blackburn at 8am on an easy M8 just as the snow was starting. Conditions were good, no dire warnings on the radio except that it was snowing in Stirling and Fife and difficult there. It snowed all morning and into the afternoon. Lots of info was coming in from crafty keeks at mobiles etc. The school remained open, but the kids were worried. We were told that it would be all over by noon, but simply watching the radar said that was unlikely, and the school closed as soon as transport was arranged.

“I decided to go for it, on the grounds that the A71 was described as ‘slow’. I can do slow, it is stationary that worries me. I left Blackburn at 2:35pm and made it home in an hour and 45 minutes. Got through Livingston OK – lucky, as a BMW got stuck behind me at one point. The A71 was fine, then there was a 25-minute wait to get on to the Edinburgh bypass. The radio (which until 3:30pm was giving little information) said it was gridlocked, but it was clear and easier than an ordinary day. Snow depths lessened as I travelled eastward. All cameras were off-line. I suspect social engineering, scare folk into staying in and hide the evidence.

“The M8 has been blocked by lorries on many days this time,” Webb said. “Perhaps they should be stopped from travelling until a suitable period of gritting has expired and light vehicles have ground in the salt. I am also fed up with the years of ‘do not drive unless necessary’ during that run of mild winters – usually in good conditions. Trouble is, sometimes there is a wolf. I never believe a word the police say now, and I suspect others are the same – so the genuine recent pleas may have not had a correct response.

“Meanwhile, north of the Central Belt, far worse conditions are ignored by the media – a mirror of the distorted prominence given to southern England.”

Our interviews with election candidates who have an interest in the outdoors continue with Mark Ruskell, the Green Party candidate for Stirling and a keen mountain biker.

When did you first get interested in mountain biking?

Mark Ruskell with son James

Mark Ruskell with son James

I’ve been mucking around on bikes since I was a kid, but got more into mountain biking when I went to Stirling University. I needed to get around and to get into the hills, so got my first mountain bike in 1990. A lot has changed since then, the scene is so much bigger and we are spoilt with great trail centres, amazing bikes and events like the mountain bike world cup.

Do you mainly go out cycling with friends or alone?

I’m thinking about joining a club to force me out more. Most of my mountain biking tends to be alone on local hidden trails, although I enjoy a few epic adventures with friends. My wee boy is nearly four and is getting very good, so “daddy adventures” are happening more.

What’s the scariest slope you’ve ever cycled up or down?

I’ve tried a few black runs at trail centres, but they scare the life out of me. There are some great bomb-holes and drop-offs in the Mine Woods at the back of Bridge of Allan.

Favourite places?

My favourite loop has to be up into the Ochils from Sheriffmuir, swinging through the woods around Stirling University and back to Dunblane. I love the natural trails in the Trossachs, and the trails at Drumlanrig heading down towards Dumfries are beautifully crafted and very natural.

Last year we went to the Ardennes, which has some great woodland trails. I went out for a ride in the twilight and kept stumbling across wild boar sprinting through the woods. I’d love to ride real mountain territory such as the Alps.

Do you wear a helmet?

I always wear a helmet out of habit more than anything else, although I’m not under any illusions that it guarantees safety on a bike. The proven way to increase cycle safety is to have far more cyclists on the road, thereby increasing driver awareness and making the road environment safer.

Do you have a bell on your bike?

Yes, it’s too quiet though. I used to have an air horn when I commuted across Edinburgh, much more fun.

Do you cycle much on the roads?

Commuting is my mainstay, as I work in Glasgow and cycle five or ten miles to a rail station every day. I did a few timed sportive road rides last year, including the infamous carpet tack-sabotaged Etape Caledonia, so was packing in quite a few training miles. Someone suggested I should cycle the 37 miles to my Glasgow office from my home in Doune for training, so for a while I was doing this a couple of times a week – just the one way! I was amazed how much energy it gives you for the rest of the day.

I love doing camping tours with my wife, too, and we have crossed Denmark, ridden the Dutch coast and parts of the Norwegian coast as well as northern France, although it’s harder with a young family now.

Ever gone through a red light or cycled on a pavement?

Don’t skip red lights, but do cycle pavements with my wee boy who is too young to mix it with the juggernauts of the A84.

Ever grabbed hold of the back of a bus and been towed along?

No, but I like the wind suction you get off the back of a tractor or slow lorry.

What bike(s) do you own?

A Specialized Tricross is the everyday commute bike. It’s an off-road cyclocross bike really, but has racks and mudguards and stuff. I have two mountain bike oddities. A Salsa Dos Niner 29″ that rolls over anything with its oversized wheels (if you keep the momentum up), and a classic 1994 chromoly Salsa Ala Carte built up as a single speed. I also have an Ottadini chromoly road frame, which is about 20 years old but has a brand new Campagnolo groupset and wheels. Apart from the Tricross, I have built them all up myself – it’s great fun and you get a personalised custom bike at the end of it.

Ever had a bike stolen?

No, but I have had a few bits and bobs nicked over the years, and a bit of vandalism. I don’t leave bikes out in the open near pubs on a Friday night.

Who’s the most famous cyclist you’ve met?

I haven’t met many famous cyclists face-to-face, although events like the World Cup at Fort William bring you up close with the best. I was gutted to have missed out on Lance Armstrong’s ride from Paisley last year that he anarchically organised on Twitter. Graeme Obree pitched up too, and by all accounts it was an amazing day.

Three cycling-inspired bands: BMX Bandits, The Delgados, Kraftwerk. Which is best?

They are all great, but for me Kraftwerk’s Tour de France Soundtracks is the ultimate bit of electronica for the turbo trainer.

If the Greens were to gain power, what cycling-related legislation would you introduce?

I think it’s less about legislation and much more about redirecting government spending away from daft road building schemes that fuel traffic growth like the Forth road bridge and the M74 extension, and towards real investment in walking and cycling. It’s pathetic that spending on cycling is a fraction of 1 per cent of the total transport budget in Scotland. Visiting countries like Denmark and the Netherlands was a real eye-opener – they have mainstream cycle cultures involving all types and ages of people, but they have made that happen partly through sustained investment and political will.