The Angry Corrie 57: Apr-Jun 2003


Rocket science? - Dougie Lockhart on something odd in Kintail

I HAD AN ODD EXPERIENCE in Kintail a few years ago while walking with my partner. The date was Saturday 6/4/96, the time between noon and 2pm. We had climbed to the Bealach an Lapain: Landranger 33/010145, 725m above sea level, the usual start point for a traverse of the Five Sisters of Kintail. It was a clear, cloudless day with no wind. The peaks were well covered with snow and ice. We had stopped to rest when something moving extremely fast (I would guess between 60-100mph) shot past us emitting a steady whooshing or swishing sound like a large Guy Fawkes rocket.

Nothing was visible, but from the sound I had the impression of something about the size of a cricket ball. I would estimate that the object passed five to ten metres from us. It was below my head height (standing) and about head height to my partner (sitting). A group 100 metres away gave no indication of having seen or heard anything, although I'm afraid that at the time it did not occur to us to ask them. The line of flight of the object appeared to be horizontal or very slightly rising, again guessing from the sound only.

The ridge at the Bealach an Lapain runs east-west, so the object, intersecting at about a right-angle, would have been travelling due south to north. I was looking directly at the apparent source of the sound, but do not have good eyesight and a small object travelling quickly would perhaps be invisible to me, even close at hand. My partner has good distance vision, but initially had her back turned. She turned around on hearing the sound but, like me, could see nothing which could have caused it.

The prevailing impression was that something travelling very fast had just missed us, and the experience has puzzled us ever since. Both my partner and I have much experience of hillwalking in a variety of conditions without having encountered any remotely similar event. I can only think that we witnessed an unusual met-eorological phenomenon, a piece of falling satellite debris, or a meteorite. I sent a description to the magazine Astronomy Now, asking if horizontal, or apparently horizontal, meteorite paths were possible. Their view was that the object could have been a meteorite, but I remain unconvinced. I know there were falls of satellite debris to the north-east of this area within a few weeks, but could find no information on anything plausibly close to the date. We had the slightly disconcerting impression of the noise having been a sound of propulsion - is a military explanation possible?

The stalking season ends in October (although hind stalking may continue until the end of the year), so I have ruled out the idea of a bullet. The location - a popular walking area owned by the National Trust for Scotland - makes that improbable anyway.

I dismissed the matter after a while as it seemed unlikely that any explanation could be satisfactory when based on a single instance, but recently I have come across several similar accounts, including nearby in Kintail (25/5/89, on the summit of Saileag) and on the summit of Beinn Dronaig, 7/4/02.

I would be grateful if readers who might have had similar experiences could contact me (25 Barnhill Rd, Dumbarton G82 2SD, d.lockhart@blueyonder.co.uk), giving details of time and place as accurately as possible. I am accumulating reports at http://www.graupius.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/mystery.asp and would be very grateful if respondents could indicate that I have their permission to add their reports to these web pages.

Ed. - In addition to contacting Dougie Lockhart direct, it would be good if any correspondents could keep TAC in the loop, with a view to discussing this further in a future issue. As regards the Saileag and Beinn Dronaig incidents, these are described in detail on Dougie's website and it strikes me that, while similar to each other, they are somewhat different to the main event.

On Saileag, John Montgomery describes having heard, on "a pretty warm day", when there was "virtually no wind at all", a sound "like somebody tearing canvas or brown corrugated paper". The sound "quickly circled round us clockwise and stopped as abruptly as it had started after it had travelled through approximately 300 degrees".

On Beinn Dronaig (initially reported in a letter to the Scots Magazine), Charlie Stephen describes a day when "the weather was excellent with a high pressure area over Scotland". A breeze "was blowing from the west at about 5mph and it was hot in the sun". The noise "moved toward me and seemed to pass under my feet and continue past the trig point, then disappear. It took about five seconds to pass." Stephen, who was alone, records that "the sound was quite loud, like the extreme rustling of a plastic bag or ionisation of a high-voltage power line on a damp day". He left "a little apprehensive", convinced that it was "something underground".

These incidents remind me of something in Walking the Watershed (p142). On Sgurr na Ciche, 27 May 1987, I saw "a strange little whirlwind scud across the summit - sucking up gravel with a high-pitched whine...". This remains vivid, both in terms of the visual - an ankle-high pocket of dry soil scuffed up, rotated at speed and carried past me in an arc - and in the fizzing sound it made as it spun and travelled. The obvious difference from the Saileag/Dronaig events is that I saw what was causing the sound whereas the later observers did not. In terms of similarities, there are several: a sound low to the ground, the weather hot and near-windless, observations made at high (for Scotland) altitude, and the zipping, ripping noise of the thing. I'm no expert, but bonsai-sized whirlwinds could occur in windless heat if extremely localised pressure differences created vortexes violent enough to flip into obvious physical energy. What John Montgomery and Charlie Stephen heard could have been examples of this. But Dougie Lockhart's waist-high cricket ball in Kintail? I dunno.

Parkwatch

Val Hamilton and Paul Prescott both live near the eastern edge of the new Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and here offer some early thoughts on how things have changed or stayed the same. Readers are invited to submit their own observations of how, for better or for worse, the park authorities have been managing this much-loved chunk of land. Comments are also welcome on the Cairngorms National Park, as this strangely-defined area moves ever nearer to being established.

Geese a break

If you are trying to keep up to date with the LLaTNP's activities, its website is the obvious place to start. Be warned: bookmark the post-intro page, http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/html/home.htm, not the actual intro page, unless you have a super-fast connection. I have seen worse than the bandwidth-eating flying geese, but one viewing is enough. To find out what's going on, don't bother with the news section - this is just sparse good news press releases. You need to click on Meetings and look at the agendas and minutes of the various committees, notably the planning committee of course.

Ballochistan

First stooshie for the LLaTNP related to planning permission for the children's hospice on the outskirts of Balloch. The level of debate over this was depressingly low. It is hard to imagine anyone opposing the principle of increasing hospice facilities for children, but this was the attitude attributed to the park authorities by such luminaries as Ewan McGregor. The site - on the Vale of Leven side of a low hill - is a nondescript farmer's field with a view of neither Loch nor Ben Lomond.

A nondescript farmer

The strongest opponents (according to the summary on the park's website) were the Friends of Loch Lomond. I wonder how many people who bought their Christmas cards were aware of this? Public opinion and common sense did win on this occasion, but a precedent of non-conforming development has been set.

Some would say that the approval of a chalet scheme in the grounds of the Balmaha garden centre is also non-conforming. Locals objected on the grounds that Balmaha is a "quiet village", which just shows that one man's very large car park is another man's rural idyll. Then there is the plan for 50 wind turbines on the Braes of Doune above Callander. This is just outside the park, but the LLaTNP board has been consulted and intends to object. How much weight will this carry?

Luss talk

The New Year edition of the Helensburgh Advertiser featured a beautiful photograph of a seaplane in Luss Bay. The pilot talked of approaching the park authorities about developing a service. Every few years seaplanes rear their noisy heads in Scotland. They held a fascination for me until one day walking above Loch Earn I actually saw and more importantly heard one making a series of whin- ing bump landings below me. For passengers, the allure of seaplane trips to Cameron House is obvious. Worth keeping an eye on.

Stardust memories

One LLaTNP development which has not attracted so much attention is the strange, so-bad-it-surely-must-be-a-joke memorial on Conic Hill. Graham Benny was the first to report its existence, via a posting to the Relative Hills mailing list in early December. He described it as a white, painted concrete cube of about 40cm side with a brass plaque screwed on to the top face. The inscription (with the original spelling, capitalisation and grammar retained) is as follows:

TO THE GREEN EYED PRINCESS
FROM THE SKY'S ABOVE
TO THE SMALLEST STARDUST
FOR SOON THEM WILL BE US
ALWAYS

JOE BLACK

It was still there in late December (and on 9/3/03 - it's at 56/430922, on the second bump south-west of the highest summit - Ed.), but surely this high-level litter will not be allowed to remain much longer. It is a shame that it was ever constructed given that just a few miles up the road the Cashel Forest for a Thousand Years is purpose-planted for those who would like a tree as a memorial.

Val Hamilton


Ledi warrior

At the end of last year, the road builders were out on the flanks of Ben Ledi. There has long been a stub of forest road rising from the A821 Trossachs road south of the old railway at Kilmahog, and "the Forestry" (as they are known hereabouts) were linking it through to the road that skirts Ben Ledi's north-east side along the 225m contour. This track will be familiar to almost anyone who has climbed Ben Ledi, as the two popular routes from the Stank Bridge car park both intersect it. The new link gives a useful extra way up Ben Ledi from Kilmahog, which makes a pleasant change from the traditional routes. So far so good.

However, the rumour locally is that "they" intend this to become the "official" route up the Ben, and that the Stank Bridge routes are to be "closed". Quite how this is to be achieved is unclear, but weight is added to it by the construction at the beginning of March of a large but well-camouflaged car park in the woods at the bottom of the new track in Kilmahog.

Although it would be difficult to close the Stank Bridge routes - impossible, in fact, under new access legislation - it would be very easy to close the Stank Bridge car park, which would have much the same effect. The parking spaces at the bottom of the main track disappeared a few years ago, and parking is now a reduced to couple of dozen spaces along the old railway line. It would be a simple matter to prevent vehicle access. When these spaces are full, walkers use the layby on the A84 along the Anie straight, but there have been fatalities to pedestrians on this fast stretch, and calls for the layby to be closed on safety grounds.

Paul Prescott


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