By SARAH ROEHILLS and sea flank the picturesque and sleepy village of West Kilbride in Ayrshire. A typical Scottish sky, a changing pattern of light and cloud hangs over the town. The days when a thriving weaving industry supported local employment are long gone. Today the area is more concerned with crafts; that's home crafts and small businesses, and spacecrafts and little green men.
Yes, according to recent statistics, that big old sky is continually being punctuated by strange lights, odd-shaped crafts and generally all manner of unidentified flying objects.
Last year reports released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed that West Kilbride had the highest number of recorded sightings of flying saucers in Britain during 2004. A total of 12 sightings were made in the village, which makes it Britain's closest rival to the UFO capital of Roswell, New Mexico. Reported sightings were consistent: yellow spheres, sometimes alone, sometimes flying in groups of up to 25, all hovering over the hills of West Kilbride.
In the Kilbride Tavern, locals are well aware of the village's growing fame in paranormal circles. While no-one on my visit admitted to reporting any sightings themselves, there were nods of agreement that there is something strange going on. When I ask who I should talk to I am pointed in the direction of Dougie McKinnie with cries of: "Dougie's an alien, speak to him!"
"I saw one," admits McKinnie. "I was camping out on the beach when I was 17. It was the middle of the night. I woke up locked out of the tent and I saw a round light hovering above the water between here and Arran."
A local shopworker, who preferred to remain anonymous, agreed that she too once saw an unexplained light over the water in the westerly direction of Arran, while in the vet's surgery a former colleague was believed to have reported yet another sighting.
Others remain unconvinced. "I didn't see any although maybe I might see some later on in here," chuckles Mattie Anderson, as she gestures round the pub's jovial customers and tops up own her glass. "I think you've got to see something before you can believe it."
Gerry McGrath is more certain: "I know there are people who said they've seen stuff but it's absolute tripe! Very often you see something in the sky round here and you think: 'What's that?' Sometimes they don't move for ages and ages, but they're helicopters. I've seen them with my children and it does look quite funny but they're just helicopters."
The MoD does follow up reports of UFOs to check whether Britain's airspace is compromised, but unless there appears to be a threat they don't attempt to analyse the sightings. Staff agree that many reports do remain a mystery.
"We take everything seriously and look into all reported sightings and remain totally open-minded on this issue," says a spokesman. "But to date there is no evidence that UFOs exist, there are not shed-loads of broken UFOs around!"
The MoD says that although there are no Air Force bases near West Kilbride - which might explain the high rate of sightings there – a number of landowners are thought to use their own private aircraft, while helicopters are also used by police and oil rig workers. In most cases, it seems likely that an earthly explanation for the unexplained yellow saucers in West Kilbride's dramatic skies can be found.
Despite this there remains a thriving interest in UFOs in Scotland. Ron Halliday, chair of Scottish Earth Mysteries and author of UFO Scotland and UFOs: The Scottish Dimension insists that there is something strange in them there West Kilbride hills:
"Scotland has more sightings of UFOs proportionate to its population than anywhere else in the world. It's true that many times people mistake natural phenomena for strange things and usually there is an explanation. But some reports are harder to explain, especially the close up ones and increasingly people are capturing things on video or camera. There is no doubt in my mind that some things can’t be explained away."
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See Also:MoD 'Open-Minded' On Alien Encounters