Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Thursday, 24 December 2009

The crews at the sharp end who keep Scotland moving

John Bryson and Tony Davidson with their gritter lorry
Tony Davidson and John Bryson with a gritter truck in east Ayrshire

By Huw Williams
Reporter, BBC Radio Scotland

As Tony Davidson stopped his gritter truck near Sorn Castle, in East Ayrshire, the radio was playing the Christmas carol "In the bleak midwinter".

Frankly, it has never been an accurate description of meteorological conditions in first century Bethlehem.

But the bits about earth standing "hard as iron", and snow having fallen "snow on snow", pretty much summed up conditions all around us.

So, pretty as a Christmas card - but hard work for Tony and his colleagues.

The view from the cab of a gritter lorry
The view from the cab is pretty but conditions are challenging

John Bryson, head of roads for East Ayrshire Council, tells me that the last few days have been the toughest conditions he's seen in 20 years.

He explains that "the combination of rain, hail, sleet and heavy snow falls allied to the very low overnight temperatures make it really difficult to ensure roads are free from ice and snow".

But, he goes on: "Our gritters have been out 24 hours a day for the past five days.

"We're putting out up to 500 tonnes of salt a day, in East Ayrshire alone.

"In total we've put down about 2,500 tonnes in the past week. And that's a lot considering that in an average winter we put down between 6,000 to 8,000 tonnes."

But not everyone appreciates the work the crews are doing.

Driver Mr Davidson says: "It used to be we'd be passing along and people would be waving at you, and stuff.

"Now it seems they're making different gestures. We take abuse, from people who say we're lazy. People who think we're not doing our job. If looks could kill, I wouldn't be here today."

Digger inside the salt dome
Lorries go back to the depot to be filled up with supplies of salt

So, why do so many people complain that their roads haven't been gritted?

Mr Bryson says: "We've got to concentrate on our main roads, and get them clear and free and safe for the travelling public before we can turn our attention to the more minor roads, and the residential roads.

"There's no point in having the residential roads clear if there's nowhere to go because the main roads are blocked."

And there is no special treatment for gritter crews.

Mr Davidson lives in Cumnock, where roads were even worse than the area around the depot at Galston.

He tells me he had to dig his pick-up truck out of the snow so that he could get to work. He almost didn't make it.

And there is no relief, just because it is Christmas.

He says: "I'm working from 4am on Christmas day through till 4pm in the afternoon".

This is the sixth year in a row that he has had to do that.

"But the weans know if dad isn't working there'll be no Christmas at all," adds Mr Davidson.

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