A side trip to Scotland

The rains in the Southwest of Scotland, at the end of last week, had an unfortunate consequence relating to the use of a car, beyond Dumfries. With all respect to Alan, as one moves away from the population centers, up from London, past Newcastle and Carlisle and then up to Dumfries, one runs out of viable public transport, and thus a car becomes critical to go further, at least in this day and age. Time was when one could have relied on buses to penetrate into the Land of the Southern Upland Way but they no longer run with useful regularity. And so I shared my rented car (there not being enough to go around because of the rain) with a young lady now working just outside the village on the installation and operation of wind farms in these parts.

More under fold...

Having noted on an earlier trip the local opposition to wind farms, I was a bit surprised to find the number that have already been installed. And talking to my aunt, who attended the start of the local enquiry in the village, most of the objection seems to come from those Sassenachs who don’t otherwise belong. Relying just on the hydro (pdf) is not a viable option, and with the dreams of Scottish independence now swallowed in Prime Minister Brown’s nationalization of the once great Scottish banks, this part of the world must have something. Nuclear power is apparently not an option.

I suppose that wind is an inevitable step, solar not being a real option this far north, where the weather patterns that have brought the rains (and concurrent clouds) of the last few days are not that uncommon, and where power is still vital. (Digging peat, as I did in my youth to help provide for the winter has, one gathers, become infra dig ).

The fates of small communities such as this are going to become more tenuous. Even in the best of times the tourism trade was barely sufficient to keep the two hotels in the village viable, one is already defunct and the other changed hands again this summer. We were one of two tables at the restaurant down the Ken at New Galloway for lunch, repeating a pattern of diminished customers that I had seen as we drove up to Maine, earlier this summer. Communities have become dependant on a tourist trade that may, for a while, have faded away. One wonders where the jobs may be. The folks that sold the village hotel moved to Florida to try over there, but I suspect that the only thing that will improve in their lives is the weather. Thus the arrival of a business, however small, that is likely to be around is a welcome sign.

Train travel in the UK, despite the higher prices since my last visit, is still very popular, and for short trips (from Dumfries to Carlisle for example) provide an easy public service. On the main line over the weekend it was almost impossible to find a seat, so popular have the trains become as a way of getting around. So even though it took most of the day to make a trip that wouldn’t have taken much more than an hour (foregoing getting there early, checking in, sitting around, and then getting everything together at the far end and travelling back into the center of town) it was much more relaxing to just sit, sip my coffee, and watch the world glide by. And one of the advantages of a train is that I have more than enough room to sit and type this on my laptop.

The Sunday papers were talking about the quiet merging of the energy folks with the environmentalists to form the Department of Energy and Climate Change – pitting those who worry most about global warming against those that worry as much about keeping the nation warm and with sufficient power to work in the same department. With rumors of this winter being colder than in recent years and, as Euan has remarked in the past, with the energy shortage in the UK likely to become more evident every year, one wonders how public the disputes in the new Department will become?

Which, of course, brings us back to the original topic. I did not go and visit the site of the new wind farms up around Dalry , though the web have travelers reports from the hikers on the Upland Way that show the turbines up (though not necessarily turning) and the new ones are in the 2 MW range (the 5 MW machines are offshore) so they are hard to miss (though unless you are close they will become easy to ignore). But by themselves they will not be enough to provide for the shortfall. (Note this is not the Dalry in Ayrshire that has its own windfarm.)

And this brings me back to one of my themes of the last post. We are still in the stage of global considerations of economy, The way in which the European banks have apparently started working together, and along the same path, to help resolve the current financial debacle is evidence of that. The trickier problem of the distribution of scarce resources is less likely to find such a solution. Thus the nations on the end of the line (Ireland and Greece come to mind) won’t be as able to call up help from those further up the pipeline and the arguments about “proper share” may become more nationalistic, particularly with the arrival of harder winters. Thus places such as Dalry will need to find these alternate sources of supply, which may, in the process, also slow the loss of young folk from the villages.

But to end on a positive note, I took the train back south, reliving my schoolday travels by train to the Royal Grammar School at Lancaster sadly, but typically, hidden in the mist as the train rolled by. And so on to Nottingham (for a conference that is decidedly off-topic for this site) where I found that not all its investments had disappeared into the Icelandic fjords, but rather that some 4 years ago they had put in a light rail system that has already carried over 38 million passengers. To show the impact there are some before and after pictures here. I will probably take it back to the station when I start my journey back to the States on Friday. Until then I am off learning about how oil rig tools might be used in surgery and in fire fighting and other fascinating stuff……

There's gold up there, do a little prospecting.

Just at little west of where I went, the gold was mined at Wanlockhead, which is also on the Southern Upland Way. I don't think I've ever been there though - but may now that you brought it up.

Today, about half of Scotland's power is produced through nuclear power... Couldn't have the stations down south where all the "wealth producers" live.

Add to that the fact that the North Sea oil comes from just off the coast and there is vast amounts of wind power, you have to wonder a little why the province[1] is one of the poorest in the UK.

[1] Scotland and England are just provinces, not countries.

No, Wales, England and Scotland are seperate countries. Northern Ireland is the Province. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a political state. Just because an Act of the English parliament says they are unified does not mean it is accepted by everyone, might just explain why we have seperate flags and international teams for footie, rugby and other sports. Nothing is sweeter than when Wales or any other country beats England.

And if you ever wondered where the great in Great Britain comes from, it is a geographic term as the lesser Britain is now Brittany in France. The Bretons (Britons) Cornish and Welsh were originally one group of people sharing the same tongue, early Welsh or Brythonic. The English had a seperate germanic language. That is why apart about 20% of the population in Wales speaks Welsh, you will also find Scottish Gaelic spoken in NW Scotland although Southern Scotland also spoke Early Welsh or Brythonic.

But I agree with you that the energy producering areas in the UK are all the poorer areas.

An article on the bbc today predicts a gloomy future for Scotland.


But fear not our politicians will spend like there is no tomorrow, especially since our prime minister gordon clown's seat is in Scotland:-)
Two Scottish headquartered banks have been failedout, RBS and HBOS.

"Couldn't have the stations down south where all the "wealth producers" live." Come on, you're giving the impression that all the nukes were put in Scotland to keep them away from the south. From memory there are two; Torness & Hunterston - the remainder are further south and outside Scotland. I suppose if none had been built you'd argue that Scotland had been deprived of nuclear energy:-)

Edinburgh also has (had??) a fine financial centre and until recently Royal Bank of Scotland was tenth largest in the world. Of course having gone belly-up was also the fault of the southerners:-)

Nice to hear people from the Oil Drum coming to Dumfries and Galloway. The one thing we do have a lot of is forests and there are plans for a 44MW Biomass Power Station running on waste wood from the timber industry, forest residue, and short rotation coppice.
See http://www.macharsoft.co.uk/rmp/stevenscroft.html

Interesting... It doesn't look like a CHP plant. => 60% energy wasted. I guess the oil and gas supplies are simply not going to peak in the UK. Just a vicious rumour.

I agree that not doing CHP was a missed opportunity.
We urgently need the government to get away from their current peak oil denial although the current price decreases will keep it off the public's minds for a while.

In my now distant youth I surveyed the lines for some of the roads through those forests, and the roads have since been used for harvesting.

Also just back from a trip to the UK, it is interesting to reflect on differences between the UK and the US, especially my haunt in Silicon Valley.

The first thing is the size and style of the cars - I rented a Ford Focus at Heathrow and, for the first time, found I had been given a diesel. I haven't done an exact mileage computation yet but even with diesel at 1.20 a litre versus 1.00 for petrol, it seemed a win. Apart from the the occasional Range Rover and a very few mid-size SUVs, e.g. Honda CRV, the vast majority of cars fall into two categories, the BMW, Audi set and the smaller Ford Focus, Fiesta (which are very popular in the UK), Peugeot 20x range. Most of the BMWs etc are diesel it seems. In my 2007 visit at the same time of year it seemed to me that cars were going slower, probably due to the ubiquitous speed cameras, but this year I was surprised to see people hammering in the fast lane at 90. Plus for the first time I saw metering lights at on some motorway on ramps. Which I can believe are necessary as congestion was everywhere, which suggests that gas can get a lot more expensive in the US before real demand destruction happens. Driving back to Heathrow outside the rush hours was a nightmare, quite as bad a the Bay Area. In general, the UK is a very expensive place still, not just petrol. I was OK while I mentally converted pounds to dollars at 1-1, but if I applied the real exchange rate it was frightening.

Trains are indeed wonderful, but expensive as Heading Out noted. For three of us to go 70 miles into London on an off-peak ticket cost $175. However, the train was fast, comfortable and quiet. Plus it took just an hour on the way in and 45 minutes on the way back. Way faster than you could do it in a car ans way more civilized, but a lot more expensive.

The final difference is, still, the quality of the media, especially the newspapers. It was fascinating tracking the evolving financial crash with the in-depth reporting of papers like the Guardian, Time and Independent. Plus I recall one article on the front-page of the Guardian about how the UK would need to cut its fossil fuel consumption by 80% to meet the CO2 emission targets, and wondered what chance there would be of that on the front page of a US newspaper.

Keep in mind that European cities are more densely populated & have less space allocated for roads..meaning more congestion even with lower per capita car ownership. People also tend to travel shorter distances in that congestion versus the American 100KM commute to work. I have a UK passport & citizenship & my family were blown away by the fact that people would 50 to 100 kms to work everyday.


Scotland could well become an energy superpower in the future, given the ocean/wind potential of the country. We need to start seeing beyond our narrow view of resources. We see oil as a resource, but we need to grasp that wind/tidal power IS a resource...as is those waves that lap the shore of Scotland (and have for thousands of years). That's energy..and when we move to a more local and renewable energy scheme you're going to see economic growth in these areas. I believe Boone Pickens talked about something like this in a run down small town in the USA which went into a boom when a wind farm was put in nearby.

When all is said and done...renewable energy & the changes it makes to our society may be the best thing to ever happen to us. We'll be closer to our land..and our planet..and less reliant on cities to drive the economy.


As for the train network that doesn't reach smaller places. I suspect in time you'll see a revival of trains to these regions and in cases where it's not possible, a more robust bus system.

If you want to talk a proverbial train "train wreck" look at the US rail system. It's nearly non existent. I lived in Ontario, Canada for some time in a city about 100 kms from Toronto. We had..2 trains a day that took us into the city. None of them were useful as a commuting tool. We had bus service every 15 minutes in the morning and every hour in the day. Service on those buses was good...and that was before the run up in fuel costs.

MickJordan said
"It was fascinating tracking the evolving financial crash with the in-depth reporting of papers like the Guardian, Time and Independent."

That's "The Times". "Time" is an American comic.

No need to give up reading them.
They are all available on-line, together with 'The Pink 'un' - 'The Financial Times'

I know but there is just something about sitting down for an hour or so with that big wad of paper. It takes me about 15 minutes to read the San Jose Mercury (which has deteriorated markedly in the last year). Mind you part of that is the sports pages. As a soccer fan, the UK papers are heaven!

I know but there is just something about sitting down for an hour or so with that big wad of paper. It takes me about 15 minutes to read the San Jose Mercury (which has deteriorated markedly in the last year). Mind you part of that is the sports pages. As a soccer fan, the UK papers are heaven!

Thanks, I forgot to mention that I also was given a diesel when I rented the car. I came back yesterday, traveling back to London on the train again on Friday, but this time through the rush hour. If I had thought the trains full before, this time it was almost as bad as the Tube. (the London Underground), and packed.

Why are the trains so expensive?

Was the $175 one way?

That was about what I paid for a single ticket from London to Dumfries, one way. I gather that the subsidies are not as high, and since the end of British Rail which was sold off some years ago, the need for the various component companies to make a profit has had an additional impact. But I am not really very informed on that part of the equation.

"as one moves away from the population centers, up from London..."

A bit of a mischaracterization, especially for those who haven't had the pleasure of visiting Scotland.

The majority of Scots live in a very dense urban belt connecting Glasgow and Edinburgh. Most people are surprised to learn that Glasgow is the second largest city in the UK (after London). Plenty of buses and trains in the urban belt. The rest of Scotland has very few people.

Edinburgh is building a new tram as we speak.

A visit is strongly recommended. Edinburgh is one of the most striking cities in Europe. Glasgow is an overlooked gem. (Trying not to tip my hand in this ancient rivalry.)

Bring rain gear.

Glasgow is

The most dangerous place in the developed world, according to the United Nations.


What I find interesting is the correlation between oil and poverty, not wealth. Not just in Scotland. If you have a look at other countries where oil has been discovered, the beneficiaries are remarkably few.

The loss of oil for Scotland? I'm not actually convinced it will be a loss at all.

That article is harsh..in fact nasty. Glasgow is a tough city & yes, people imbibe more than elsewhere, but it's not all rubbish.

Well I could have gone down from Glasgow, through Ayr, which I have done in the past, and it would still hold.

I did ride thr tram back to the station in Nottingham, and the trams were frequent and easy to ride (at roughly $3). Took my raincoat and never wore it.

Glasgow is bad, but not that bad !

Sounds strange,But for some reason,I still would like to visit these areas before it becomes impossible.There is a sense of history one can get that is impossible to feel where I am from. Everything here...and I mean everything man-created is less than 150 years old.My travels to the east showed me homes 300 years old [I stayed in one]and the thought of visiting things like a pub that has been in continuous operation for 1000 years....!

Some of the toilets have been in operation for several thousand years, or so it seems!

Well the school that I mentioned, the Royal Grammar at Lancaster, dates back to at least 1240 and when I first went there the beds seemed as though they had been around since that time. It has, however, been considerably modernized in the decades since.

I checked and the population of Nottingham proper is 288,700 and the metropolitan areas has a population of 667,000. And a single 14 km tram line.

Birmingham Alabama I thought was comparable, but they have a population of 229,424 and metropolitan population of 1,108,210. Some discussion of a small scale streetcar line.

Grenoble France has 157,900 people and a metropolitan population of 560,222, a bit smaller than Nottingham.

They have 4 tram lines of 32 km and more under planning and construction.

Line B will be extended from Cité International to the Polygone Scientifique early in 2009. A new line, Line E, will replace bus line number 3, and is projected to be complete by 2012. In 2013, Line A will be extended both from Fontaine to Sassenage, and from Échirolles to Pont-de-Claix. Extensions to line D, probably from Saint-Martin-d'Hères to Alpexpo or towards Meylan are also planned.

Just for contrast and compare.

Best Hopes for more Trams,


It should be noted that subsidies for public transport in the UK are often, surprisingly, lower than in the US, with a much greater proportion of the cost paid by the traveller, let alone than France.

That's the reason that the train trip for 3 people was expensive.
In financial terms if you have more than one person in the car you are usually better off driving.