Welcome to Scotland, fill up before you get here.

Have to stay close to base this weekend, so a quick spin through the Trossachs was perfect. It’s beautiful this time of year and Holly loves Callandar for some reason, but starts girning every time we go near Aberfoyle for another reason. Aberfoyle holds a current fascination for me as I’m reading Jules Verne’s 19thCentury novel set in the mines underneath it (?!), I’ll write that up once I’ve finished it, it’s magic.
We left Callander low on fuel, but I knew the garage in Aberfoyle would still be open, so we passed through the uplifting colour chart of autumn as the road wound past lochs and villages, under the thinning canopy of fragile leaves and over the sun splashed heights of the Dukes Pass.
Of course, the garage in Aberfoyle had closed three weeks ago and I’d missed the memo.
We pulled up at the visitor centre, the low fuel light had been on for a while now, a good while. The girls in there were absolute gems, they phoned all the garages close by, and then some a little farther out. No answer from any, they all looked closed. Buchlyvie rang out, Arnprior was shut, totally closed in fact, Balfron-no reply, Kippen-no reply. Callander was open and about 12 miles from where I stood to their pumps.
As I pulled away with gritted teeth, one of the lassies ran after us to say that she had some petrol in a can in her boot. I could have hugged her, and if it had been diesel in her can I would have kissed her.
We made Callander’s Esso oasis, after putting £71 in the tank I was greeted by a sign on the door saying that due to a change in ownership the garage would be having all sorts of closures from next week. Christ on a bike.

One point that comes up in arguments about putting something back into the communities around where we go outdoors is where you buy your supplies and fuel, stock up before you leave home or buy when you get there. I’ve always maintained a good balance I think, but I’m now thoroughly pissed off with repeatedly failing to get anything unless it’s peak hours in the summer.
It’s ridiculous, it’s like they’re trying sneak another round of Highland Clearances under the wire. As money stays in wallets longer in the immediate future, if this bloody country doesn’t pick its game up we’ll sink without a trace.
Stock up before you leave home, it’s a wasteland out there, with only brave souls like the Aberfoyle girls fighting for justice.

20 thoughts on “Welcome to Scotland, fill up before you get here.

  1. What is it with our Neighbours?

    France is always on strike (its either the farmers or the civil servants..) You can never get a beer in Wales on a Sunday and now Scotland (the home of North Sea Oil) doesn’t sell fuel….

    Sort yourselves out chaps!

  2. Always make sure we have a spare 5 litre can of fuel in the boot if we head up to the Highlands.

    I always want to make sure I buy my food and fuel in the local areas I visit but find it harder all the time. Especially food, I am sick of paying ridiculous amounts of money for sandwiches and bottles of drink. Parking is probably my biggest hate these days especially in the Lakes, I actually plan walks now to be from a starting position I know I don’t have to pay stupid prices to park.

  3. As garages only make about 1p a litre on fuel they need to sell an awful lot of fuel every week to make it worth their while staying open. Or have an M&S or similar concession where people spend a fortune on food…(Milton BP station ). And unfortunately most rural places have neither. Even Helensburgh with 30,000 people has only one petrol station now.

  4. Rural petrol stations close because of low volume of sales. Why? Because local folk fill up where fuel is cheapest like everywhere else (at the Dingwall Tesco, in the case of the NW Highlands), and local filling stations – with their high prices – are just for the occasional top up and the unwitting tourist.

    In my experience, folk from very remote areas will make remarkably long journeys to exercise the same consumer and retail choices as everyone else, so unless communities buy in and buy out (getting to grips with EU fuel tank legislation, etc as they do so ) to maintain a filling station – like in Applecross – then the trend is invbariably going one way.

  5. So, if it wasn’t for unwitting visitors Scotland would be running on empty. Thank God for visitors.
    It is quite scary when i go to the highlands. I constantly keep my eye on the gauge and when it gets to half full, i fill up at the next opportunity. Daft i know but it’s better than running out.
    And i also keep a 5L can full in the boot. probably illegal.
    I was talking to a local in Killin who told me he fills his car and a small extra tank in Stirling. I didn’t believe it but he says it pays him to do it as daft as it seems.
    You have surprised me the Station in Aberfoyle, in front of the outdoor shop is closed, that was one of the cheaper places and always busy.
    I suppose Pitlochry would be nearest going east.

  6. We’ve been talking about this the last couple of days and the owner-operated businesss versus the emplyee staffed business has been ahot topic.
    The wee man in the corner shop in Glasgow will sit there ’til midnight with 3 customers knowing he’s bulding a reputation and position as an invaluable resource.
    The business owner with a few sites sits in the office looking at wages versus profits and cuts back to keep the margins nice and shiny.

    Is it laziness, lack of support, lack of self belief (a big Scottisg thing) that helps us along here?

  7. Odyssee – The local in Killin probably fills up in Stirling because that is where they do the shopping. .

    PTC – In terms of rural filling stations, I’m not sure it matters who the owner is when sales volumes drop and prices rise. They can’t compete with Tesco and Asda, who probably sell fuel at cost (or a loss). A limited number of filling stations in remote locales will survive (as they ultimately benefit from the closure of others).

    Bucking this trend are the community owned and run stations (Applecross, Sleat the one proposed for Kinloch Rannoch, etc), but you need a committed bunch of dynamic and legislation-literate people who are prepared to pay higher prices to maintain their pumps for a few years (and prepared to put the work in during a free moment when they are not tied up taking repsonsibility for their own economic development, social housing, ferry, etc!).

    While there are a few communties who fit the bill in the Highlands, they are – probably – in the minority.

  8. I’m sure it was Bettyhill where retired incomers ended up running the shop/petrol station as no one else would take it on?

    Like you say, it’s not just economics, it’s people.

    And, the official word from the head of Visit Scotland on the subject is “so what”.

  9. Nope, you’ve got it all wrong. You have become just another tourist.
    What is needed are people, for long term prosperity.
    When I go to up North, I see people, not providers of services. What is needed is re-population, turn the tide of centuries of depopulation, started to destroy the clan system and continued for reasons of personal greed.
    Get the people in, then you will get the services you are looking for.
    but that doesn’t sit well with the Brigadoon type expectations of the plodders, baggers, fishers, shooters, etc who don’t want their vision of the Highlands or Scotland changed.
    It’s bad enough when the incomers have brummy accents, but they are making a positive commitment, not like the merchant bankers who are only interested in their holiday homes and put nothing back, or tossers like you or me who flit in and out for our sporting hobbies.
    Aye, when we get back home and fill up at the 24 hour shopping centre and complain about the prices half an hour away from a massive refinery, we can rationalise it all away to our hearts content.
    Anyway, you could have been more honest and told us how angry you were with yourself that it was your own fault that you almost stranded your bairn in the middle of nowhere.
    That’s where I will always agree with you, hills are nice, but the family and the kids are more important.

  10. Just doing a few sums based on sweeping assumptions but if a small garage costs £50K a year to run (wages/rent/rates/heating/equipment/maintenance) assuming no profit from fuel then they have to sell 5 million litres a year which comes close to 14,000 litres a day, which is a lot of fuel for a small village.
    I believe the reason for so many closing is new safety legislation which means that they are required to upgrade/replace their tanks to higher standards which costs a fortune. And as they probably don’t make any money on the fuel why bother. Steady Eddie: I tend to agree though I’d probably be the first to selfishly complain about homes and industrialisation encroaching on the more scenic parts of the Highlands.

  11. Steady Eddie –

    Someone should write a PhD thesis on the difference between the cliched Highland idyll and the reality of life in the region, but safe to say that you image of the downtrodden, depopulating and anti-English-incomer Highlands is as cliched, semi-mythical and one dimentional as the Brigadoon idyll that you ridicule. Real life, as always, is more complex.

    Oh, and some of us come from ‘up North’, so you must forgive me for being a bit grumpy about having my views ‘dissed’.

  12. Oops – I forgot. I DID write a PhD thesis on the difference between the cliched Highland idyll and the reality of life in the region ;-)

    Fatwalker – safety legislation is indeed a barrier, but the Scottish Governments did have a grant scheme to support the upgrading of rural filling stations.

  13. DavidG, Downtrodden, me not say that. If you read it again, I talk about depopulation and the need to repopulate. I talked about people, not their circumstances. BTW David, I didn’t read your bit, my response was to PTC’s opening piece.
    I have no romantic notion of the Highlands, the reality is plain for all to see. Good friends of mine left Harris when they were young, so although I didn’t experience it myself, I have a reasonable idea of what it meant.
    My point on the incomers has two thrusts, one being the positive contribution of them, but this is taking place when there is continuing exodus, generally of the young.
    My idyllic Scotland, or any country in the world, would have the situation where there is choice. That’s not romanticism or a cliche, that is the reality of life that most folk don’t have these days. Doesn’t matter if you are in the Highlands, or the south of Italy, or the east of Germany or the north of France (we can go on forever) the (economic) opportunities are centralised no matter which country you are in and that’s where folk migrate to for “a better life”. Everybody has their own view on what that means.
    Now then, if the absence of PTC is down to him running out of fuel for the second time, as Bobinson has cheekily suggested, then he is a real numpty. More likely, he is stuck in an old boiler or off up the hill somewhere, which would be good, as the lad hasn’t been getting away much lately.

  14. Many areas of the Highlands do now have increasing populations. Partly due to incomers from England and further afield (Eastern Europe) but also because many areas have had close to full employment in recent years (though that may change soon).
    Unfortunately most of the employment is not well paid.
    And there is a shortage of affordable housing.

  15. I’m still around, I’ll be back properly shortly.

    Hydro and forestry, did they save the highlands from total depopulations at the expense of the land itself. Doesn’t any scheme which puts people in the land just do that anyway?

    I’d love to see a populated Highlands, the wilderness will still be there over the ridge away from the road.
    Cairngorm excepted.

    I’d also like to point out that if I do break down, the sleeping bag and food parcel which lives in my boot would see a family of four through a blizzard :o)

    Filled up in Aveimore the other day, the price wasn’t displayed on the pump, it just had a sign saying “Please bend over”.

  16. I once filled up in Durness. Had to sell my granny and a couple of internal organs to pay for it.

    The Inverness area is one of the fastest growing parts of the UK. The thing about the Highlands and Islands is that you can’t generalise. Circumstances and prospects can and do vary dramatically between neighbouring townships, and mostly it comes down to the particular group of people.

    And the decline of services is more to do with centralisation of those services, car dependence and – in particular – better roads. Ironically, the thing that has made the mountains more accessible (improved roads – in some places!) has helped kill off yer petrol stations and other local services.

  17. Aye, it’s an evolutionary thing isn’t it?

    Telling folk up north that they should live their lives one way is no different from telling the eskimo’s that they shouldn’t have motorised transport because they look cute on snowshoes. It’s all about what we want rather than what they need to make their lives easier.

    Still, it pisses me off and does not help this country as a tourist destination at all. You look at the Lakes, and it’s just a mountain slot machine with folk pumping pennies in every day of the year. Up here you’re as likely to see a “closed” sign or get surly service as you are to get the good stuff.

    Another thing came up after last winter and that was “over dramamtic” weather forecasting keeping folk at home. The Real Fod Cafe and the Ice Factor sat open and empty with clear roads outside while the BBC told as all to stay at home. Consequently, the RFC’s shutting this winter.

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