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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2002 > Jun > Jun 30

Scotland On Sunday: They're Out There

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose@privat.dk>
Date: Mon, 01 Jul 2002 04:04:53 +0200
Fwd Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2002 09:21:57 -0400
Subject: Scotland On Sunday: They're Out There


Source: Scotland On Sunday,

http://news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=3D706632002

Stig

***

Sun 30 Jun 2002

They're out there

Alex Massie

**

HURRAH! At last a sport at which Scotland -- yes, poor old peely-
wally Scotland -- can claim to be the world's best. Welcome,
people, to fantasy island. Or rather the crowded skies above,
er, Falkirk. Now, lesser nations might sniff at being the world
capital of UFO spotting -- for that is indeed the hitherto
unheralded and under-appreciated area in which we excel -- but
they are not the brave new Scotland where dreams are dreamt and
the unthinkable happens on a near-daily basis.

VisitScotland -- never knowingly under-gimmicked -- commissioned
one of those fun-but-essentially-trivial surveys that proved to
their and the media's delight that Scotland is the UFO capital
of the world. By any measure, be that unexplained phenomena
appearing per kilometre or head of population -- Scotland trumps
the rest of the planet in its appeal for visitors from outer
space. Whaur's yer fancy continental sunshine the noo? You can
keep it=85

Given the much-publicised troubles afflicting VisitScotland it
must be no minor consolation to think that, when it comes to
inter-galactic travel at least, the rest of the world can only
look on with slack-jawed awe at our success. More than 300
sightings of supposed UFOs are reported in Scottish skies each
year.

The trouble is of course, that aliens, as they say on Mars,
butter no parsnips. Or anything else for that matter.
Unaccountably they appear reluctant to dip into their doubtless
well-lined pockets and spend, spend, spend. Perhaps they have no
need for plastic tartan clad bagpiping dolls made in Taiwan in
outer space, nor for Nessie bubble bath.

Nonetheless, hopes are high that UFO spotting can become another
arrow in Scotland's quiver of tourist attractions. To that end,
Mercat Tours, who currently offer trips exploring Edinburgh's
gory (and glorious) past and the battlefields of the First and
Second World Wars are exploring the possibility of establishing
UFO-spotting tours around the Central Belt.

So, before you can say "watch out, freaks about", hordes of
bearded, sandal- wearing geography teachers from the English
Midlands will be scuttling up to Scotland to peer anxiously up
at our crowded skies. "Come to Scotland: where even misfits can
feel at home" as the slogan will doubtless put it. As John
McNeil of VisitScotland is quick -- perhaps too quick -- to point
out, this survey cost the agency next to no money and was very
much a "tongue in cheek look at what Scotland has to offer". In
publicity terms it appears to have paid off as TV crews and
radio stations from the United States to Japan, via,
inexplicably, Iceland have flocked to the story as keenly as
UFOs are rumoured to congregate in the Falkirk Triangle around
Bonnybridge.

"Scotland is already a magical, mysterious place, and anything
that gets Scotland up the destination ladder has to be a good
thing," says McNeil.

"People come here for different reasons to do different things
and lots of people are interested in the paranormal so we're
tapping into that extra market." Which is all very well and good
but it would test the patience and charity of a saint to
describe Bonnybridge and its surrounding area as one of God's
greater moments in the creation of all things bright and
beautiful.

VisitScotland are made of sterner stuff however and McNeil
gamely contends, "Bonnybridge is a nice wee town." This advocacy
becomes only marginally less convincing a moment later when he
adds "and it's only a few miles from Edinburgh".

Bonnybridge, in truth, is not a glamorous location for anything,
let alone UFO spotting. Despite local councillor Billy
Buchanan's game efforts to twin the town with Roswell in New
Mexico -- the spiritual home of UFO enthusiasts across the world
for the supposed capture and subsequent experimentation on alien
life forms in 1947 -- Bonnybridge lacks a certain glamour.
Buchanan, who has more than a dozen sightings to his credit,
likes to get round this by arguing, "the Muslims have Mecca;
UFOs have Bonnybridge". And he has grandiose plans for a multi-
million pound visitor centre that would be the last word in UFOs
and the paranormal. Well, people laughed at Walt Disney when he
proposed that Mickey Mouse could become a theme park.

But, easy though it is to sneer at the convictions of UFO
enthusiasts, there is an earnest doggedness about the
Bonnybridge believers that commands a certain respect. Too many
of them are too convinced by what they have seen to discount
their tales automatically. The alternative, which is of course
always possible, is that half the town has gone stark, raving
bonkers.

Like many forces for good the internet attracts its fair share
of the mentally bewildered. What, after all, is one to make of
the extraordinary tales of "Runcorn Flying Triangles", "Pennine
Way Floating Phalanxes" and, most mysteriously of all, "Wallasey
Rotating Clam Shells?" (OK, I made one of those up -- but only, I
promise, one). And this is merely the beginning of it all.
Before long you're reading about "Gateways" and "Parallel
Consciousnesses" and all manner of extra-terrestrial thought
processes: it's at this point that your mind begins to boggle.

Which makes it something of a relief to turn to the guid folk of
Bonnybridge. Many who claim to have seen unexplained phenomena
in the skies above the town are reluctant to let their names be
known for fear that they will be pilloried by their more
sceptical neighbours (especially those neighbours who reside in
Falkirk), but the manageress in Omar's General Store has few
doubts about what she saw. "It was about five years ago that I
saw a ball of different colours, greens and blues, just
flickering between the hills. It was there for about five
minutes before it just went away very fast. It was hovering
between the houses and was too low for an aeroplane. Someone in
Stenhousemuir saw something in the sky that night as well. There
are lots of good citizens who have seen things in the sky -- not
just nutters, you know?"

Across the road at the Caf=E9 du Bonnie (yes, really) Betty Stirrat
agrees. "I've never seen anything myself but my niece has and so
many people have seen things that there must be something,
although I don't know what it could be."

Others, however, are more sceptical. The waitress at the du
Bonnie remarks pithily that "I think it's all a load of crap.
That's all I have to say," while along the road at the Jet
petrol station Jacqueline Stewart remarks, "Until I see
something myself I'm not going to believe it. The only UFOs I've
seen have been a few coming out of the club on a Saturday
night."

The Bonnybridge phenomenon began in 1991 at the Forge restaurant
near Camelon. Neil Malcolm recalls seeing a great white light
the size of a jumbo jet, that began to follow him as he drove.
Since then the family have seen numerous other unexplained and
unidentifiable flying objects. Neil's younger brother Craig has
amassed 13 hours of video footage that he claims support his
sense that something strange is happening in the Stirlingshire
skies. "I sent the videos off to America to have them analysed
to check that I wasn't going crazy. They came back saying that
it was 95% unexplained."

"The strangest thing that I've seen was in 1996 when me, my
mother, father and fianc=E9e were driving along and suddenly saw
this thing hovering just above the ground. It was about the size
of a jumbo jet without wings. We stopped the car and got out and
the next thing we knew these two balls of light came out of it
and began to come towards us. We jumped into the car and then it
just vanished." So far, so normal. The X-Files bit of this eerie
experience however, kicks in now.

"We didn't have a camcorder, but noticed a red BMW with private
registration plates had stopped. The guys inside it looked like
government agents -- they had black leather jackets, that sort of
thing -- and said they hadn't seen it. The next day the police
came to my work and started asking questions." By the end of the
week Malcolm had lost his job. Coincidence or conspiracy? The
choice is yours but there's no gainsaying him or his family or
persuading them that they have not experienced the strangest of
close encounters.

Since then however he tries never to be without his camcorder,
just in case he has another sighting. "Believe what you want to
believe but if I'm crazy there must be a hell of a lot of crazy
people out there."

Malcolm's father, James, points out that you can't see
electricity but that doesn't stop it from existing. "People talk
about spaceships, but we've never claimed that. It's just
strange things in the sky. We've seen enough now to satisfy
ourselves and I don't care now what anyone else thinks. Anyway,
if we knew everything it wouldn't be worth being here."

This is perhaps the enthusiasts' strongest argument. Ninety-five
per cent of supposed UFO sightings might be easily explained but
there's no way of proving that UFOs don't exist, nor doubting
that there is an element of comfortable arrogance in the notion
there cannot be life outwith earth's atmosphere.

Mankind has made enough mistakes and conventional wisdom has
been proved to be profoundly ignorant often enough in the past
for it to be less than inconceivable that the sceptics, the
realists among us who view all this UFO talk as so much hokum,
are completely, utterly and splendidly wrong.

Bonnybridge may be a comparative newcomer at the UFO races but
other areas of Scotland have proved fertile ground for sightings
in the past. In the 1950s Dumfriesshire proved popular but by
the 1970s the centre of UFO activity had appeared to shift to
the Edinburgh area. Today Bonnybridge and, of all places, East
Kilbride, report the greatest number of sightings. "It's
difficult to be sure why this activity seems to be focused in
certain areas," says Ron Halliday, author of The A-Z of
Paranormal Scotland, "but that's often the case with paranormal
experiences. It could be that these places become some kind of
gateway into other dimensions and that these images are
therefore from the future or other worlds." The normal
explanations for the Bonnybridge sightings are the proximity of
Edinburgh airport and the gasworks at nearby Grangemouth.

"I think it's all credible in the sense that people genuinely
believe they have had these experiences, even if the vast
majority do have clear and obvious explanations. But while there
is understandable scepticism -- aliens don't land in Princes
Street Gardens or places like that every day -- people do have
close-up sightings of what are clearly non-human objects. You
can't dismiss the whole subject just because of that scepticism
people have," says Halliday.

And, after all, UFOs today may simply be the successors to the
fairies and goblins that have long featured prominently in
Scottish folk culture. Of course being a poet or novelist does
not preclude credulity when confronted by evidence of the
supernatural -- Arthur Conan Doyle after all was a staunch
believer in spiritualism and the ability to contact the dead.
Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg, John Buchan and Robert Louis
Stevenson were all fascinated by the paranormal and the
supernatural, while the ancient Border ballads are steeped in
the stuff. The Queen of Elfland abounds and fairies (evil
spirits rather than pretty little things with wings) dance to
her tune on a regular basis.

And, indeed, true believers in life in outer space beyond our
ken could point to the ease with which the word's major
religions have convinced millions around the globe to believe in
wholly -- or, if you must, largely unsubstantiated theories. If
Christ can rise from the dead why can't there be UFOs in
Bonnybridge? The latter is not necessarily a more outrageous
assertion.

Nonetheless, for all the protestations of the convinced
minority, only a certain kind of mind can make the leap of faith
to truly, madly, deeply believe in UFOs. The rest of us may
continue to mock and to smirk but that seems unlikely to trouble
Bonnybridge's stouthearted citizens. They know, deep down, that
their plain wee town is something rather special. Who, after
all, needs coaches laden with pensioners when your tourists hail
from outer space?

**

=A92002 scotsman.com




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