West Kilbride is Tops for Close Encounters of the UK Kind
By Ian Bruce & Allan Laing
THE truth, as Mulder and Scully will tell you, is out there. If you live in North Ayrshire, it may be hovering closer than you think.
Files released by the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act show that the village of West Kilbride was the UK's unlikely leading hot spot last year for sightings of unidentified flying objects.
There were 12 separate reports of "yellow spheres" flying either alone or in formation above the village in Ayrshire. All were referred to the air directorate of the RAF for possible investigation. The identities of the person or persons who reported them are withheld under the Data Protection Act.
The number of incidents is the highest for any part of the UK in 2004. It displaces Bonnybridge, near Falkirk, as Scotland's "flying saucer capital" and closest rival to the UFO mecca of Roswell in New Mexico, the site of an alleged alien spacecraft crash and government cover-up in 1947.
The MoD abandoned inquiries into the UFO phenomenon in 1951, but still logs accounts of sightings in case "the airspace of the UK might have been compromised by hostile or unauthorised air activity". The US air force gave up its secret "Blue Book" project on the subject in 1969.
The logs released report more than 90 sightings from Cornwall to Hamilton between January last year until mid-January this year.
All of the West Kilbride sightings revolved around "bright spheres" and eight of the 12 were concentrated in last April and May.
But if the village is a hot spot for flying saucers and wee green men it came as news yesterday to the locals.
"Mind you, you do get some awful nice sunsets here," said Sandra Perratt, of Castle Drive. "But I've never heard anyone talking about seeing a UFO. Maybe they're getting mixed up with the scarecrows."
West Kilbride is big on scarecrows. Last year, it had a festival for them. For a few days in the summer you couldn't move for scarecrows, apparently. The place was awash with 'em. Maybe this year they'll do the same for UFOs.
Aliens? Martians? They talked of little else in the Kilbride Tavern yesterday. Not.
"To be honest, I'm serving aliens all the time in here," said John Gardner, the proprietor. "If it wasnae for aliens, I'd be out of business."
For some reason, his eyes settled on regular patron Bobby McCallum, a bit of an alien himself since he comes from Kilbirnie.
"I must be drinking the wrong stuff," he said, "because I've never seen them."
Pointing his finger towards the rival King's Arms pub a few hundred yards along the road, he added: "The best place to see aliens is up there. They get aliens every night of the week in there. They come from Glasgow, or from Simpson Avenue."
Simpson Avenue, it turns out, is at the upmarket end of West Kilbride, a town which is popular with the retired middle class. One middle-aged man, fresh from a walk round the park with his golden retriever, had his own theory about the sudden increase in UFO sightings.
Wishing to remain nameless, for fear perhaps that he would be identified by extra-terrestrial creatures and spirited away in a spacecraft, he said: "I have lived here since I was zero and I've never seen or even heard of any sightings. But, while we know how many sightings have been reported, we don't know how many people reported them.
"My suspicion is that it was just one nutter on his own. It would be interesting to find out if anyone has moved to West Kilbride from Bonnybridge, that other so-called hot spot for UFOs, over the past year or so."
It was hard to find anyone yesterday who would admit to having seen a strange object in the sky, but not impossible.
Louise Riley, 29, a student from nearby Portencross, said: "It was a few years ago, late at night and the sky was clear. I was walking home and I saw this strange light up in the sky. It was moving ever so slightly from side to side." An aeroplane, perhaps, heading for Prestwick?
"I know what aeroplanes look like and it was not an aeroplane," she replied firmly. Three years ago, Scotland logged a higher concentration of UFOs per head of population than any other country. The 300 sightings then represented one per 17,000 inhabitants, compared with one per 61,200 for Canada and one per 136,000 for the US. Then, VisitScotland described the country as "the nearest thing to the Costa del Sol for aliens".
Graham Birdsall, editor of UFO magazine, said: "UFOs tend to be attracted to regions that are fairly remote. If you have a remote area, look out for air bases. Scotland is littered with them. However, in 90% of UFO reports, a bit of diligent research will produce a simple explanation, like runaway weather balloons or strange but natural atmospheric effects."
For anyone in West Kilbride who spots "little green men" this summer, the official advice is that it's more likely to be the Celtic squad training at nearby Seamill.
Spotters' log, star date 2004
The MoD's log records the West Kilbride incidents in 2004 as follows
April 2 12.30pm One sphere.
April 15 22.20 Yellow sphere, very bright.
April 16 22.40 Yellow sphere.
April 16 22.55 Yellow sphere.
May 10 22.47 Two yellow spheres, going at a tremendous speed.
May 15 (no time) Two spheres.
May 17 (no time) One sphere.
May 19 23.20 Large bright sphere.
May 25 (no time) One sphere.
May 30 12.15 Five bright spheres flying beside each other.
August 16 23.35 Five spheres spotted, flying together.
November 26 21.00 Witnessed at least 25 spheres, flying in groups of five, flying north over West Kilbride.
The list of UFO sightings 2004-2005 is:
1 West Kilbride, Ayrshire - 12
2 Wellingborough, Northamptonshire - 4
3 Leeds, West Yorkshire - 2
4 Peterborough, Cambridgeshire - 2
5 Skipton, North Yorkshire - 2
6 Hamilton, Lanarkshire - 2
7 Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway - 2