Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Archeolink vistor attraction set to close in 2011

I have to confess to passing the Archaeolink Prehistory Park, an Aberdeenshire family attraction where visitors were invited to Travel 10,000 years in one day from the Mesolithic to a Roman Marching Camp. Apart from not being mad keen – but still interested – in such far back history, time was the real problem, as I was always en route to places further north.

Iron age round house at Archeolink by London looks, on Flickr

Iron age round house at Archeolink by London looks, on Flickr

The centre is now closed, and looks likely to stay that way unless financial backers are found to subsidise the attraction:

BBC News – Aberdeenshire tourist attraction Archaeolink to close

Archaeolink trustees in last-ditch attempt to reopen prehistory park – Press & Journal

Last-ditch bid to save Archaeolink – Evening Express

Sadly, I always find myself stuck between the proverbial Rock and a Hard Place when I read these stories. On the one hand, I believe we need to have such facilities in order to make the subjects they cover interesting, and to provide employment and education. On the other, I can’t see how they can justify their existence if they are not viable, and pay for themselves by bringing sufficient numbers through their doors.

Archeolink opened in 1997 (in a ceremony with Time Team’s Tony Robinson centre stage), and has been receiving a subsidy of £135,000 per annum from Aberdeenshire Council (for the past five years), and according to the media reports posted a loss of £130,000 for the period 2009-10, accompanied by falling visitor numbers, with 10,500 being reported for the same period – no indication was given of earlier numbers. However, it did state that each visitor was subsidised to the extent of £13 by the council, and a single adult ticket cost £6.10.

It seems it did not go down too well with the locals though, who branded it a “white elephant” from the start, and it failed to attract the expected numbers of visitors.

I’m not surprised, reading on, we learn that Audit Scotland once warned the local authority that it would have to repay a £2 million grant which had been received from the European Regional Development Fund if the trust which then ran the place was disbanded before June 2007. At the time, Press and Journal was told that the council “couldn’t afford to close it down”.

I suspect the problem is that it was built too far away from a suitable pool of visitors, and once everyone who could visit it had seen it a few times, they got bored, and people from further away would only make the trip once, so that stream of repeat business was never a reality. In all likelihood, potential visitor numbers were ‘massaged’ at an early stage, in order to endure the grant referred to earlier was won. Fine if the feet fall through the door, but in the harsh reality of daylight, no amount of visitor number projections will materialise if the distances are too far, and entrance charges too high – even if fair and subsidised. It’s all very well talking something up, but if it fails to deliver, it will ultimately fail as no-one will pour money into a bottomless hole forever. According to the local authority, it has assets worth £1.7 million as of 2010.

A petition was raised to appeal for support to keep the attraction open:

Save Archaeolink Petition, Aberdeenshire Scotland

Save Archaeolink Petition

Update

On April 1, 2011, there was news that the feature could be saved, as the trust which runs it said it would find the money to pay staff from its own funds, and that there was an as yet unnamed party interested in the park.

BBC News – Archaeolink Prehistory Park could be saved

Update

No joy for this park, as it is to finally be wound up.

Archaeolink Prehistory Park in Oyne opened in 1997 but was closed in March.

Negotiations to keep it open have failed to secure its future, and the trust which runs the project said this means the property will be officially handed back to Aberdeenshire Council

BBC News – Oyne’s Archaeolink Prehistory Park to be wound up

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24/02/2011 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Rothesay buildings to benefit from £500,000

One of the best sights I’ve enjoyed over the years has been the approach to Rothesay aboard the ‘Big’ ferry, as it passes the various mansions and villas along Mount Stuart road on its final approach to the pier, and the town’s unmistakable waterfront.

Rothesay front and esplanade

Rothesay front and esplanade © Zak

You can find many more views of this area of Rothesay in Zak’s Reflections Photo Gallery.

I can’t say exactly when, perhaps a decade or two (maybe even longer as my perception of anything further back than about five years is vague to say the least), the buildings along Argyle Street and behind the esplanade benefited from something of a tidy up, and a splash of paint, and looked all the better for it.

Since then, without criticism, it’s probably fair to say that the pot must have run dry after that, as there was little maintenance carried out afterwards, and the salty sea air took it toll over the years. A number of shops, and some dwellings, were given up, becoming abandoned and derelict, with some having been demolished in recent years due to their dangerous condition, and the start of 2011 being marked by reports of pieces falling into the street, and just missing pedestrians.

Thankfully, there is now news of both funds and help to assist with local efforts to restore the town’s waterfront view, following an announcement by Scotland’s Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop.

Historic Scotland’s Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme will be contributing towards the Townscape Heritage Initiative, and a sum of £499,933 will be available to help with Argyll and Bute Council’s plans for what has been described as ‘Scotland’s largest conservation area’.

Together with the straight funding, the council and building owners gain access to expertise and guidance, and residents within the conservation area regeneration scheme will be able to apply for grants in the summer.

Perhaps I’ll manage to make the trip this year. Ever since I made the mistake of tempting fate by making arrangements to meet some friends on the island a few years ago, I have singularly failed to make what had been something of an annual ‘away day’ ever since, as various mishaps have conspired to thwart ‘best laid plans. White Van Man even managed to ruin my car one year – and he was going backwards when he did it! And that was just after I managed to fix the damage one of Argyll’s deer had done the year before.

23/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian, council | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

British Sillier Time

Crazy clockI find myself in agreement with those opposing the current plans to adopt recommendations that British Summer Time (BST) be maintained during the winter months, and that double summertime be applied to the current BST period, putting the UK one hour ahead of GMT during winter, and two hours ahead during summer. This proposal is referred to as Single/Double Summer Time (SDST), and would effectively mean the UK adopting the same time zone as central European countries,  Central European Time and Central European Summer Time.

BBC News – Plan to bring UK clocks forward

When I wrote about the silliness of clock-shifting before, Crazy time comes but twice a year it was not with SDST in mind.

While I have never been a fan of the current system, whereby we are on GMT during winter, and then put the clocks forward by one hour for summer to have BST, I can see why there are many who are not keen on the SDST proposal, which would follow that with the addition of a second hour during winter.

Adding that further hour on to the hour already added on for the present BST arrangement does indeed seem excessive at out latitude, even if it does bring us into line with European time.

Currently, my problem comes at the end of summer, when we have to put our clocks back by one hour for the winter. When we do this, I find that one day I am happily working away outside until early evening, and it is light. The next day, I have to give up an hour earlier because it is too dark.

I don’t find any advantage in the shift from BST, and find I am still travelling to and from an 8 am to 5 pm job in the dark, morning or evening, so neither gain nor lose in the supposed safety stakes, and 8 to 5 must cover a lot of common working hours.

Keeping BST seems so simple, and brings the best of both worlds – no step change in morning or evening light, and no need to go and play with all the clocks and watches. Even many radio-controlled clocks fail to have sophisticated code or ship-sets that takes account of this change automatically, and I find I still have to run around and change a number of these manually, despite their supposed control.

There just seem so little point in SDST – other than to create ill-feeling and opposition to the plan – let’s just make things simple, keep the current BST year round, and forget about the current twice yearly clock-shifting fiasco (and SDST).

21/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Utterly useless rat and mouse killer

While I suspect some might not be too keen to admit they have a mouse problem, I suspect they are more likely to be in denial – I doubt I have the only house in the street that these little unwanted visitors decide to call home if they find the door open, and smell of food issuing forth.

To be accurate, I only come across this on an occasional basis, with years between cases, and find that inviting the local cats – now that I no longer have one of my own – helps ensure their scent is around to act as a deterrent. I’m sure our gardens are infested with these rodents, as I have seen the local cats ‘playing’ with their little friend around the neighbourhood.

I’ve tried various methods of dealing with them, and while having a cat is probably one of the best, it does come with a degree of responsibility, so I now have to try alternatives. While I’m not particularly squeamish, that doesn’t mean I like having ‘jellied mice’ to collect, so traditional traps were out. I tried some humane live traps, but these come with the problem of checking very regularly, and keeping fresh bait on hand – not to mention the rehousing of any catches.

I finally settled on poison. While not ideal, it does suit the problem of occasional visitors, and has the twin advantages of requiring little maintenance, and provides an alert that the little rats have arrived – the bait can lie out of sight for months, or even years, then when it is taken you know they are around.

When the bait is eventually taken, I generally find that one refill of the bait stations, or two at  most, is enough to end the episode, and it then remains untouched – until the next time.

The only downside I can think of is that I have never found a nest, or a dead mouse, inside the house – and that’s not for lack of extensive cleaning or searching.

Rat and mouse killer not

Rat and mouse killer - not

And that brings me to the pic seen above.

It’s taken me over ten years to use up most of the first bottle of mouse bait/killer I bought, and I decided to lay in some stock while things were quiet, and you can see the wonderful claims made on the box that caught my eye last year. I had expected great things from this, as I recently had to deal with some mice that had decided the garden shed was home, having eaten a hole in the corner of one of the wooden walls.

I duly laid a number of bait trays – open in this case, as nothing bigger than a  mouse would get in, meaning any pets were protected – and waited to see what happened. As this was just before the big freeze of December 2010, I expected the little visitors would not be long in seeking food and shelter.

By the beginning of January 2011, not one piece of the new bait had been touched.

I didn’t believe there were no hungry mice around, so placed some of the old bait in the trays to see if this would attract them to the new stuff.

It certainly did – and was polished off each time I placed it in the trays, while the new bait was left completely untouched. It was easy to tell the difference as the effective bait is dyed blue. By the end of January there is not a spot of blue bait to be seen in any of the trays, despite being refilled a couple of times, while they are still full of the new stuff – still untouched.

I’ve since made a few trips to my nearest ‘big shed’ (B&Q deserve a mention at least, since their stuff works) and bought their own mouse killer, and some rather handy solid bait as well, which comes in cubes and can be left indoors or outdoors. Both have been taken from around the new stuff in the shed, so the mice are still active, and I am looking forward to the better weather when I can replace all the wood they have chewed through in order to get in. At the moment, I’ve had to empty all the tools’n’stuff as I know they are incontinent little so-and-sos, spreading dirt and contamination behind them wherever they go.

Roll on the nice weather – when the cats go back on patrol.

17/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

One third of roads in Scotland deemed ‘unacceptable’

Not too long ago, I highlighted the condition of the footpaths around the east end of Glasgow, in particular, along the trenches where cables had been laid for cable TV: Will cable companies be held responsible for winter footpath damage?

At the time, (and without claiming any great insight, foresight, or imagination), I predicted there would soon be a great wailing and moaning about the condition of the road, and not a word would be heard about the footpaths.

Footpath winter damage 06

While I am certainly not spearheading any sort of campaign or crusade regarding the issue of the forgotten footpath, I do note that we now have a report on the roads, and that report claims that more than one-third of Scotland’s road are not in acceptable condition, and that a huge maintenance backlog now exists.

Worse still is the finding of Audit Scotland to the effect that this worsening condition is actually accompanied by an increase in spending on maintenance. Only 63% of roads were deemed to be in acceptable condition. Since 2004, the maintenance backlog has increased from £1.25 billion to £2.25 billion. In 2009/10, £654m was spent on maintaining trunk and local roads, which represents an increase of £32m on spending in 2004/05.

Transport Scotland, which has responsibility for trunk roads such as motorways, said it would fully consider the report’s findings, and added that the Scottish Government was providing local government in Scotland with significant levels of funding, and that local authorities had the freedom and flexibility to allocate the total resources available to them based on local needs and priorities, including road improvements.

There’s no real point in considering what any of the various political party’s spokespersons have said in response to this, because the simple fact is that this is all they will do now, and for years  to come, as the aftermath of the recession and forthcoming spending cuts means that the old expression “Talk is cheap” will come into play.

While there will no doubt much debate about how this abysmal situation can be resolved the simple fact is that since VED (vehicles excise duty), once knows as the ‘Road Fund’ or similar, became a huge earner and was no longer earmarked or ring-fenced for road, it has become nothing more than a Treasury cash-cow, and the roads can go to pot (holes).

This is not a politically motivated thought – whoever is in power would make no material difference – it’s a simple matter of practicality. It has taken decades to create the road network, and to consider rebuilding one-third of it, which in effect is the state we are at now, would take decades.

Add to that the fact that while the remaining two-thirds are perhaps deemed acceptable today, in the decades it will take to repair the currently unacceptable third, that fraction is the same age as broken, bit, and will shortly follow it into unacceptability.

Perhaps they should have a word with the folk that managed the painting of the Forth Bridge – they might learn something.

Auditor General for Scotland appears at Holyrood

Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black, presented his report to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, and opened by revealing that his own car was off the road after hitting a pothole.

Scotland’s roads watchdog reveals car damaged after hitting pothole | Scotland | STV News

16/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian, council | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Canal ice-breaker Scot II to be restored

Originally featured back in December, when we ran a small story on Henry Robb’s Shipyard, the restoration of the Scot II has since received wider publicity.

It seems we were slow off the mark, as the BBC had already mentioned the move some weeks earlier, Ice-breaking tug Scot II being towed home. (Must type faster 🙂 )

Built at Robb’s Leith shipyard in 1931, Scot II operated on the Caledonian Canal from its home berth at Fort Augustus, and later served as a pleasure cruiser, and a floating bar and restaurant for some thirty years, before being abandoned near a boatyard on the Isle of Bute.

 

Scott II 2005-2010

Scott II 2005-2010

The BBC has now featured the project in a video report, where the father and son team at the heart of the project are interviewed. Former skipper of the Scott II, Jimmy Clark, sat his boatman’s license on the craft, while his son Dan is now working on the restoration.

They have started an appeal to raise some £375,000 towards the cost of the work, a sum which has been slashed from an original value of £750,000 thanks to the assistance of Babcock at Rosyth, and Carnegie College, who have offered to provide labour for project, with apprentices ready to get started on the work.

There is now a dedicated web site for the project:

Save the Scott II

And the restorers can be contacted as follows:

Broadmeadows
Fort William road
Fort Augustus
Inverness-shire
PH32 4DW

Telephone: 07801 372 006

email: savethescot2@hotmail.co.uk

16/02/2011 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian, Maritime, Transport | , , , | 1 Comment

World-class startup lab at Dundee University closes

Medicine drugsHaving been in the position to go ‘cap in hand’ to bodies such as Scottish Enterprise in an effort to raise fairly modest sum of money to start or maintain small businesses, I’ve always looked in amazement at the way some startups can conjure up multi-million pound finance packages for what look – to me at least – some fairly speculative and risky ventures, often with promised of future returns that would probably have the Dragons falling off their chairs with laughter.

While I’ve never been involved in developing things such as drugs or treatments,  I do appreciate the costs involved, so it’s no surprise to learn that the Translational Medicine Research Collaboration (TMRC) needed an £11.6 million research facility, or that it was founded in 2006 with a Scottish Enterprise grant of £17.5 million.

Opened less than two years ago, by Scotland’s First Minister, the multi-million pound medical laboratory will be shut down my March 31, 2011, after which the building will be used by the university’s school of medicine.

The collaboration was a partnership between the universities of Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, their corresponding health boards, Scottish Enterprise and global pharmaceutical company Wyeth. In a statement, TMRC said, ‘The TMRC partners are currently reviewing and evaluating the structure of this collaboration to develop a more sustainable model of operation.’

However, given the hoops I (or rather we) were forced to turn somersaults through for what amounted to only a few thousand pounds, I’m more than a little dismayed to see that this supposedly ‘world-class’ facility, which Scottish Enterprise said at the time would create 50 jobs at the ‘state-of-the-art’ lab, “rising to as many as 120 over five years”.

I can’t help but feel that someone should have seen that this was not really going to go anywhere realistic way back at the start, when the open hands were being held out.

A University of Dundee spokesman said 28 university employees were currently working at the research lab, 11 had been redeployed to other areas of the university, eleven have moved on to alternative employment, another had retired, and that nine staff were left, with the university trying to redeploy them and avoid compulsory redundancies.

BBC NEWS | Scotland | Tayside and Central | Disease research gets £8m funding January 2007

BBC NEWS | Scotland | Tayside and Central | £11.6m drug research lab opened April 2009

16/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dumfries and Galloway has 5-year tourism boost plan

50% tourism increase by 2015I know it may look as if I am mocking the Scottish Government’s decree that Scotland should increase its returns from tourism by ‘50% by 2015’, but the truth is that I really want to keep the pot boiling on this one, in any little way I can, in the hope that it will not be forgotten. I’ll be the first to clap and cheer if this target is met or exceeded.

Scotland has always been a wonderful place to be a tourist, even if you happen to have been born and bred there (or should that be here? ), and it has never ceased to amaze me how people from countries that I would consider to offer more impressive attractions – and weather! – say that they are stunned by what they have seen, and will be coming back.

I know from my own family’s photographs that they were off into the Highlands whenever they could, as soon as they managed to get a car, and that was somewhere back in the 1920s.

Although a number of tourism related sectors have started the year with tales of woe, and warning of a tough year ahead – recession, cuts, strikes, inflation etc – it looks as if Dumfries & Galloway is seeking to avoid talking itself into an early grave, and has started the year by announcing the formation of a 5-year plan intended to grow the value of tourism in the area by some £70 million, from a current value estimated to total around £270 million, up to £340 million.

The strategy has been produced by the efforts of a number of agencies in the area, such as Destination Dumfries & Galloway, and is being chaired by Wilma Finlay, who runs the Cream O’ Galloway ice cream company.

15/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Giant sculpture felled in Tullibody hit and run

Pictured below is a giant sculpture created by Glasgow artist Andy Scott, and known as Air Spirit (also Man in Motion, and Muirside Man).

Erected in 2008, it seems not all the locals were impressed by this, or four other sculptures the artist has installed around the area.

The 4 metre (13 foot) creation was installed at Muirside roundabout, Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, but no longer looks as shown, as it is understood that a car crashed into the statue, which sits outside the village police station, at about 21:10 GMT on Saturday night, and that Central Scotland Police are investigating the incident, which seems to be a massive case of hit and run.

Despite the sculpture being something in the order of 5 or 6 tonnes, whatever type of vehicle was installed, it was not stopped by the collision, although the sculpture appears to have collapsed completely, possibly because it only went through one of the legs.

Air spirit sculpture Andy Scott

Air spirit sculpture by Andy Scott © Paradasos

14/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

More heating oil thefts

Oil drum barrelUnfortunately, it looks as if what appeared to be a seasonal aberration – the theft of heating oil in the Highlands – is set to become more prevalent, with stories of travelling criminals coming in from Northumbria and through Dumfries and Galloway. The quiet, rural areas of the Scottish Borders would seem to be ideal for such gangs to operate without being noticed.

Not only are homes being targeted, but haulage businesses and forestry construction sites – one losing almost 2,000 litres of red diesel.

Many places are relatively isolated, making things easier for the thieves, especially if the storage is remote from occupied places.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, for the police to be present everywhere, and the best they have been able to do is advise owners to increase security around their tanks, fence them off to restrict access, and fit security lighting.

Not surprisingly, steadily rising fuel prices are said to be the reason for the rise in these thefts.

13/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Scottish Government tourism decree looks increasingly fragile

50% tourism increase by 2015One of the things that has always amused me was the Scottish Government’s decree, made back in 2008, that there would be a target of increasing tourism revenues by 50% by 2015. I wasn’t alone, and more enlightened authorities than me questioned whether or not such a call was realistic, and I referred to this in my post: One million tourists missing from Scotland

Since then, we’ve had supposedly rubbish summer weather, volcanic eruptions, airline strikes, and even American campaigns to isolate Scotland after Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi was released from prison by the Scottish Government.

I can’t find a corresponding list of positive contributions to the 50% decree.

Now that we have the various cuts and economies being made in the light of ‘The Recession’, it seems that there are further tales of woe to be added, and so far, I have not tripped over any stories relating to any revision of the ‘50% by 2015’ decree.

VisitScotland is Scotland’s national tourism agency, and is a public body with offices in Edinburgh, Inverness, and London (and some others locations), and operates alongside VisitBritain. Whether or not it is justified, and VisitScotland might just be handy scapegoat, the organisation is not universally loved, and has come in for some criticism for its spending – but that may just be mischief-making by some who have not been able to get money out of the agency for their pet project.

However, what is more certain is that the ‘50% by 2015’ decree cannot be aided by continually cutting its funding. The agency has seen a number of significant cuts in recent years, and more cuts were announced today.

Two years ago, Edinburgh City Council cut its funding by more than £500,000 – claiming it was not getting good value for money.

Scottish Borders Council, which gave £212,000 to VisitScotland for the financial year 2008-09, cut its contribution by £27,000 a year for the next three years.

Last year, the Scottish Government cut VisitScotland’s funding by 6.3% to £41 million.

Now, Glasgow will cut £400,000 in order to focus on its own city marketing bureau.

Scottish councils were contributing some about £4 million per annum to the agency, with the rest of its funding coming from commercial partners.

In a separate development this week, VisitScotland expressed disappointment to the news that VisitBritain was shed nearly 70 jobs to cut costs.

I thought the ‘50% by 2015’ was ambitious and unwise when I first saw it back in 2008, but, on the other hand, had one eye on Scotland’s industrial decline, and thought that there was at least some imagination and perception in the minds of those who sought to promote tourism, and that they might just pull it off with a following wind, and support from all those involved.

As it is, there is already evidence of dissent in the ranks, and one does not have to look far to find global matters acting to the detriment of Scottish tourism.

We have four years to go until we reach 2015, there may be a change of Government and staff in that time, and it will be interesting to see if anyone remembers the ‘50% by 2015’ decree, and if there is any report on its outcome published in that year.

Hotel hint

There may be an indication of how well the decree is coming along, as the hotel sector reports a fall in occupancy for 2010.

The reporter suggested the figures indicate just how negatively the adverse weather conditions affected the Scottish hotel sector, especially in Edinburgh.

Scotland had the highest occupancy figures for the UK during 2010 at an average of 71.6% compared with 69.4% for the UK.

Overall, year-on-year occupancy levels fell by 8.5%, while the UK as a whole saw a fall of 2.5%.

Revenue in Scotland was down 9.1%, in the UK it increased by 0.1% for the same time period.

The downturn in Scottish figures was not uniform – occupancy levels in Aberdeen increased by 10.2% and saw a 10.6% rise in revenue.

However, occupancy in Edinburgh fell by 12.5% and revenue by 11%. Edinburgh recorded a large fall in December, although the capital was in the top three performing cities for last year with an average occupancy of 77.0% and an average room yield of £67.65.

Glasgow was more stable with an occupancy fall of 2.6% and a fall in revenue of 5.1%.

All interesting stuff, but it would be interesting to see something that reported on what was happening in smaller places around the country, such as the more interesting former resorts around the coast, and those places that are more interesting than the big cities.

After all, there’s not much point coming to Scotland for ‘the scenery’, and then staying in the shopping cathedrals of Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Aberdeen. The visitors might as well have stayed at home, in their own giant malls.

12/02/2011 Posted by | Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

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