Hurricane Bawbag: A Photo Story

On 8 December 2011, Scotland was hit by an intense wind storm that lasted for much of the day. It peaked around early afternoon, and remained fierce until early evening when it began to die off. The official name for the storm system was (according to Wikipedia) Friedhelm, however it is better known to Scotland’s 6 million-strong population as Hurricane Bawbag.

On the same day, I had to drive from Avoch – on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness – to Oban for work. This entailed me driving down the Great Glen, right into the teeth of the storm. In an attempt to prevent me from being scared out of my skin, I decided to catalogue the journey with a series of photos, taken at key points en route. Oh, and did I mention that I had to do the journey not in a Land Rover or Mercedes G-Wagen or similar, but in a Kia Venga hire car?

Leaving Avoch at first light, with the aim of arriving at the destination before the worst of the storm had hit. This turned out to be a pointless endeavour, but more on that later. Note the snow on the pavements, the remnants of heavy snowfall several days previous – because in Scotland, only one type of severe weather at a time just isn’t enough.

Comfort break at Invermoriston. Don’t be fooled by the scenic hills in the background, despite only being around 10am the wind was already picking up and I was spirited all the way back from the public conveniences to the car by a strong tailwind. Had this photo had sound, over the squeals of Bawbag you would have heard The Fred MacAulay show belting out from the Kia’s stereo – I needed it for the traffic updates. Shortly after doing this, I made a right arse of myself by forgetting I’d started the (surprisingly quiet) engine before sorting out my things in the passenger seat. I turned the key and was met with the horrid sound that only turning metal parts on turning metal parts can produce.

Fort William. Observe the angle of the tree behind the car. I didn’t know it at the time, but virtually all the roads behind me were closing due to blown-down trees, floods, rocks and other pieces of apocalyptic carnage – some of them barely 20 minutes after I’d passed through. Just as well I declined that second cup of coffee at breakfast.

No photos followed as I made my way down the west of Scotland, because the weather could only be described as freaking mental. I proceeded from Fort William to North Connel (just north of Oban) at an average speed of 30mph, which gave me ample time to swerve to avoid all the branches that littered the road. In fact, a bigger danger were the local drivers, who seemed unperturbed by the historically high winds and proceeded along their region’s roads with the usual vim and vigour. Whilst driving, I had time to reflect on how my short and largely unsuccessful spell driving in road rallying had, if nothing else, at least taught me to read the road, watch out for hazards and, above all, drive to the conditions…

Bawbag blasting sea water under the Connel Bridge with great force. Sadly, I wasn’t able to film the 6 foot square road sign that was blown along this very road like a sheet of A3 paper just minutes later. Nor was I able to capture (in any sense of the word) the three yachts I saw zipping up the sea loch after breaking free from their moorings.

Refuge at the B&B – ironically the Chinese/Japanese characters on the wall hanging in my room read ‘peace’. With my work engagement for the evening cancelled, I headed out in search of food. This began as a farcical venture involving me fighting my way through a headwind that knocked me breathless, wielding a torch and banging on the door of a nearby pub. The landlord – also brandishing a torch which he shone right in my eyes – opened the door half an inch and yelled over the wind that his pub had lost power. I then turned around and ran (involuntarily on account of the wind) 2km in the other direction until I reached the Falls of Lora Hotel, which had a fine combination of electricity, heat, food and beer. The next morning the landlady at the B&B produced me a fine breakfast. The name of the B&B was Strumhor, and I would highly recommend it should you ever find yourself on the west coast of Scotland.

The weather had calmed down significantly by the next morning, leaving me with a four-hour drive back to Edinburgh in reasonably pleasant conditions. Whilst I was still taking it easy on account of the storm damage that remained on the highways and byeways, I did get a chance to enjoy some of my country’s fine scenery – and also the Kia’s danged good heaters. Why is there no such thing as a bad car any more?

Back in Edinburgh. And I didn’t once need to use the spade I’d borrowed from my hardcore physical geography* colleagues. 500 miles in 4 days through wind, snow, ice and sunshine, and the car didn’t miss a beat once – as, in fairness, one would expect a new car to. Just don’t ask me to drive in high winds again any time soon, though.

* – actually, the spade was from the UK Biochar Research Centre. Thanks guys!

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