For 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.”