IF you are going to be stuck in a snowstorm without heat, light, hot water, telly, internet, newspapers, bread or milk for three days where better than in Port William where the community spirit is legendary.
On Friday morning, having watched the ominous weather forecast the night before I set off for work in Newton Stewart just after the power went off. At the time I was thinking it would be better to be where there is electricity but after driving at a snail’s pace out of the village I realised, after about two miles, going on would be dangerous.
The snow was drifting across my route, turning the familiar landscape into an alien, arctic world. The fierce easterly winds had turned the road beyond Airyhassen Farm into a hazy mirage that you could occasionally glimpse threw a veil of white swirling powdery snow.
When I saw the vans from construction company 3B turning for home I decided to do the same. Later that day I heard a snow plough had got stuck at Longcastle just over the brow of the hill from where I stopped.
Back in the safety of the village I noticed that within hours community groups had galvanised themselves and swung into action to help out where needed. The Monreith Arms Hotel became the hub for this activity. A generator was set up outside while inside the gas cookers were going full pelt as vast pots of soup were made and then taken round the snow bound streets by members of PIRSAC, the voluntary village lifeboat boat crew, to all the pensioners in the village. This routine happened on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Members of the community association and the first responders used their cars to ferry the elderly to the hotel on Sunday to allow them to get warmed up and enjoy a hot meal. Many more residents were there to enjoy lunch and a gossip about how this was the “worst snow since ‘63”, if you could remember that far back of course...
Among then were regulars John and Marion from Kilmaurs who make the journey to Port William for their lunch in the hotel every Sunday in life. A little inconvenience like a ten-foot show drift en route was not going to deter them.
But there were other individual acts of kindness that made the lack of home comforts more tolerable. Local builder Frank Gilmour harnesses up Spud, his trustly Clydesdale, to pull two fish boxes instead of a plough as makeshift sledges. The boxes were then used to transport and distrubute coal and logs around the village. Many people who had perfectly good four-wheel drive vehicles could not get access to them as their garage doors would not open without electricity!
Davie the bread van man was another star. He was stuck fast in the village from Friday morning after all routes out were closed off so he gave away the 15 pallets of bread left in the van for distribution round the residents after the normal bread supplies had run out.
Personally, I was more than comfortable having a good coal fire to keep me warn and a small camping gas stove to heat water and soup on. Getting through the day certainly meant taking on an Everest base camp mentality. You lived on anything can could be reconstituted with hot water or came out of a tin. Cuisine like Pot Noodles were suddenly stripped off the shelves. I even introduced a 89-year-old Port worthy to the delights of the chicken curry flavoured one. Her comment was “No bad”. After the fridge defrosted I jammed the sherry, beer and milk into the showdrift on the garden table outside.
Desperate to hear what was going on in the outside world I was really looking forward to my daily paper of Saturday morning but no papers could be added to no post, no telly and no internet. On the plus side I did get to reacquaint myself with the game of Monopoly with the eight-year-old grandson of friends. He beat us all by the way!
In the aftermath, thanks go not only to those in the community who always turn up and buckle down to help out but especially to the Scottish Power engineers who worked non-stop night and day for three days to get all the remote communities of the Machars back to some sort of normality. On Sunday night huge arctic lorries rolled into the village bringing banks of generators to provide electricity and you could hear the cheer go up all over the village when the lights finally sprung back into life. All the village was back in power by Monday afternoon.
The big snow had struck hard and it had definitely battered us but it hadn’t beaten us.
But it wasn’t just Port William that came up trumps with community spirit. The pharmacy in Whithorn was opened for business thanks to kind-hearted farmer Jock McMaster who handed over the keys of his tractor to the pharmacist and his daughter Fiona McElrea so she could get to work! Jock also gave free bed and breakfast to his powerless neighbours as his farmhouse at Blairbuy near Monreith was powered by a genertor during the crisis.