A right pea-souper

Winter usually throws us a few curveballs as she goes; black ice, flooding, burst pipes and even thunder-snow is to be expected in Scotland at this time of year. Danger lurks on every corner and on every (un-gritted) path as we slip and slide our way around. There’s always something you can rely on – the local buses.

Say what you will, but they do a great job of ferrying us around, despite the conditions and are very rarely cancelled. Terrible snow or treacherous, untreated ice is one thing to grind a bus to a halt…but what about a fog so thick that buses full of passengers became lost? That’s exactly what happened to some of the buses in Dundee on the evening of Friday 14th December 1951, as reported by The Courier and Advertiser at the time.

A thick fog had formed over the central belt of Scotland following a fairly cold spell; we’re talking a right pea-souper, here, said to be so thick it was actually impossible to see more than a metre ahead at all times. The river Clyde was closed to shipping and no aircraft flew from Renfrew. Closer to home, Forfar and Kirriemuir were grinding to a halt…but not Dundee! We had the Rail Bridge open and rail services running as normal – at least until it hit the tea-time rush hour.

In the darkness of the December night, the fog thickened, if that was even possible. Buses full of passengers heading from the city centre out towards areas such as Fintry, Mid-Craigie, Linlathen and Douglas didn’t get very far before they started running into problems. The roads were becoming icier and the fog was so thick that it became a wall of vapour, now making it impossible to see anything at all. By the time the first buses had reached Dura Street, the drivers made the decision to stop the vehicles for the safety of the passengers on board.

Drivers with decades of experience under their belts said they had never seen anything like this before in their lives. Soon enough, the police intervened to help direct traffic, but with visibility at zero, the only thing they could do was begin to close off some roads. By this time, some of the buses had been led on a merry dance by the fog, slipping and sliding their way into unknown streets, sometimes several streets away from where they were intending to be.

One brave soul made the decision to try and continue driving so that some folk could get home, and actually made the 15 minute trip in an hour and a half (safely, we hasten to add). For many passengers, however, this was the end of the road quite literally. After a hard day at work, they had to trek from Dura Street or Mains Loan all the way home.  Queues formed at bus stations for both local and regional buses, all of which were running hours late. When it comes to bad days, this one must have really put the icing on the cake for a lot of locals!

With some areas such as Stobswell and, a little further afield, the Carse of Gowrie declared as ‘no-go’ areas, it would seem that everyone was gripped in traffic chaos…but that wasn’t entirely the case. Coastal lines such as those running to Carnoustie, Arbroath and Monifieth were only a couple of minutes behind schedule. Passengers on board the Tay Ferries experienced no delays either, with one official going so far as to declare that they “never even broke an egg”.

Looks like radar beats headlights when it comes to freezing fog in winter. Thankfully nobody was injured in any incidents to do with public transport that evening, but there were certainly a lot of accidents on the roads involving private vehicles. Dr Graham was taken to Dundee Infirmary after skidding on ice with one of his patients in the car as they were on their way to the Chest Hospital at Ashludie. The pair, and the other driver were later released with no major injuries. Two taxi drivers were involved in a head-on collision at a junction where neither could see in front of them and were admitted to Dundee Infirmary with concussion and various cuts and scratches. With that in mind, please drive carefully and responsibly this winter. You should be driving carefully and responsibly at ALL times, but please take extra care on the ice.

– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.


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