Remembering the Duns whirlwind 50 years on

It may only have lasted a few minutes, but it certainly left its mark and 50 years on is still remembered by those who witnessed it.

Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 5:27 pm

With the 1970 Duns Summer Festival in full flow and the newly crowned Wynsome Mayde Jacqueline Turner enjoying her first couple hours in office, few could have predicted what was about to hit the town during the early evening of Wednesday, July 8.

Sometime after 5pm the sky turned an inky shade of blue, trees remained very still and the air was muggy. Then, from the south, the wind picked and a funnel formed.

There was some uncertainty over where exactly the whirlwind first appeared. Some reports suggest it was near to Nisbet House while others felt it was closer to the old railway station.

By the time it was first identified its course was set in a north easterly direction and as it increased in intensity it made straight for the town’s caravan park and campsite.

Oblivious to the impending storm were a group of youths playing football close to their campsite. All were members of the Les Éclaireurs et Éclaireuses de France who were enjoying a 20-day tour of Scotland.

When the weather changed they quickly found shelter and were left watching in horror as their camp site was decimated within the matter of seconds. Tent sheets and poles were devoured by the vortex now believed to be around 100 feet high.

The scouts described how their belongings were being “spirited away” by this ferocious wind in the shape of a giant ice cream cone. Many from the group lost money and passports along with clothes and their tents.

Caravans in the park were not spared. A couple from Somerset were taken to Leith Hospital after the caravan they were in took off and rolled several times before coming to a halt.

The young scouts ran to rescue a woman buried under the wreckage of her caravan. They also assisted in the clear-up operation around the campsite in the area of town where Hawthorn Bank was built six years later.

Residents were quick to praise the youngsters for their efforts and ensured they were well catered for. The town officials provided a night’s accommodation for them in the agricultural centre.

Between 20 and 30 houses were damaged with windows smashed, chimney stacks and roofs ripped open. A football club turnstile was blown 60 feet into the air before smashing to the ground. Fallen trees blocked roads. Many headstones were damaged as the stormed tore its way through the cemetery. The storm continued in the direction of Preston where it petered out around Cumledge Mill.

Fire crews from Duns and Kelso assisted with the clear-up operation. 20 and 30 tradesman worked long into the night repairing windows and rooftops.

Despite the upheaval it was business as usual for the town’s Reiver, Graham Walker and within two hours of the storm he was leading a cavalcade of riders to Gavinton.

Not surprisingly the whirlwind was the main talking point that night, for the rest of festival week, and for some time to come.