DRINKERS sat huddled in the pub in candlelight as snow blew past the windows. Some homeowners raided their cupboards for oil lamps, while others queued at the post office to charge their mobile phones.
This was Arran yesterday after it became the island that lost nearly all its electricity following 24 hours of savage spring weather that brought down power lines.
Despite the climatic onslaught, neighbourly spirit flourished as villagers went round checking on elderly people by torchlight, offering food and blankets.
Undeterred by blizzards which had taken out electricity supplies and disrupted the ferry services from the mainland, many of the 6,000 residents rolled up their sleeves and remembered how things used to be done.
A wedding planned for a remote and powerless spot in the south of the island went ahead with a simple change of venue, to the Auchrannie Spa and Country House Hotel in Brodick, losing little of its romance even as guests sought out snow boots and wellies.
The forecasters had warned of the worst March weekend in 50 years, and it closed in with a vengeance at around 7am on Friday, right on cue.
The electricity failure came without warning and islanders had been unable to stock up on food or buy batteries and candles.
Having lost all power at their Brodick restaurant, Chris Attkins, 61, who also runs The Belvedere guest house with his wife Jan, 62, began cooking all their food and delivering it to fellow residents.
Attkins said: “Instead of letting the food go to waste we’ve been cooking everything and either have people come and collect it or we have delivered it ourselves.
“We were particularly worried about the elderly people who live on their own, so we’ve brought them here, warmed them up, filled them with soup and taken them home again. On an island there’s a real community spirit and it seemed like the right thing to do.
“We’ve been huddled around the fire, exchanging stories and keeping warm. We have guests staying here with us and they’re treating it as a great weekend away.”
Engineers descended on the island yesterday, unloading generators from the ferry to restore power to services such as the main care home, Montrose House. Food supplies were also shipped across on the afternoon ferry.
While temporary power was returned to parts of east Arran last night, the west of the island was feet-deep in snow and still hit by snow flurries.
Scottish and Southern Energy, which described the snowfall as “extreme unseasonal weather”, was not able to say exactly when the network would be up and running. Even steel pylons, the main transmission lines, have had some damage, SSE said.
Richard Small, general manager at Auchrannie Spa and Country House, said the hotel had become a hive of activity. “Being the only place on the island with power has been quite eventful,” he said. “It’s been going like a fair all day with all the locals, and we’re full of guests as we are fully booked.”
Howard Driver, 64, a reporter on the Arran Banner newspaper, said roads were treacherous after heavy snow, making it difficult for even tractors to get through.
“I left my home in Whiting Bay and there was not a flake of snow,” he said. “Then I got stuck in a drift and I got completely stranded. A farmer was passing and picked me up. I left my car behind and we had to navigate our way through four-foot snowdrifts to get to Brodick.
“The frozen food in people’s homes and businesses is going to be going off and will have to be thrown away. It’s at times like this you realise how reliant we are on electricity.”
Despite the blackout, islanders turned out for the 70th anniversary of the sinking in the Kilbrannan Sound of the U-Class submarine HMS Vandal with all 37 crew on board.
The vessel was handed over to the Royal Navy on 20 February, 1943, and holds the record for the shortest career of any navy submarine – less than four days.
John Bruce, an Arran councillor, who was running services from Corrie Village Hall last night, said the community had rallied together.
“We dusted off our wood burning stoves and oil lamps for the first time in many years,” he said.
“In the past we would have just been left to get on with it, so we weren’t too ill-prepared.
“Although much of the east of the island is expected to have power back soon, the western side has had it bad, having lost a communications mast and roads have been badly blocked by snow.
“This has slowed down the distribution of generators but we hope to see them up and running soon.
“We’re all pulling together and looking out for the most vulnerable.
“You find with a rural or island community, people are very resilient.”
Case study: ‘We fear for the older people who live alone’
As I walked with the dogs through Lamlash last night it was quite eerie, like 28 Days Later. There were no lights anywhere and barely a soul around.
There was a pub, the Lamlash Bay Hotel, and inside the customers were drinking by candlelight, as they would on any other Friday. It was quite heartening.
Earlier, the power went off around 7am, and most of the businesses have been closed since then.
There was no warning at all, and people will be struggling. Folk here haven’t had the chance to stock up on goods. There’s a generator in our building, and the local bakers were trading by candlelight on Saturday morning.
The news we have is that there was an outage in Argyll yesterday and the power company couldn’t get to fix it because of the snow. When I came into work I passed a convoy of generators parked at the side if the road and countless engineers, who had managed to get across on the first ferry.
We have electric heating in our home, so it’s pretty cold in the house, but we’re young and fit and we are more worried for older people who live alone.
The main road that connects east to west is closed due to snow and the road north is blocked as well.
My colleague has parents, both Royal Mail postal workers, who took mail over the other side of island and couldn’t get back at all due to the snow.
It is times like these when people pull together, and there is evidence of that all around. The Belvedere guesthouse has been delivering hot food to anyone who needs it, and the Auchrannie Hotel has turned into a community hub, as it is one of the few places with a generator.
We’ve been offering people the opportunity to charge their devices. Let’s face it, nobody wants stamps in a power cut.
Cams Campbell, 41, from Lamlash, has run Brodick Post Office for five years, and is married with two children.