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WATCH: Strange ice pancake phenomenon observed in Highland burn in far north


By David G Scott

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A rare sight was observed on Sunday morning as a series of icy discs were seen spinning on the surface of Scouthal Burn near Watten in Caithness.

Though the Met Office describes the phenomenon as a very "unique spectacle" previous sightings were reported in Lochcarron and also in February 2021 when a monster-sized ice disc or pancake, measuring around 20ft across was seen on River Thurso near Halkirk.

The ice discs on Scouthal Burn near Watten. Pictures: DGS
The ice discs on Scouthal Burn near Watten. Pictures: DGS
Ice pancakes were observed on Scouthal Burn on Sunday morning.
Ice pancakes were observed on Scouthal Burn on Sunday morning.
The icy discs form when conditions are just below freezing.
The icy discs form when conditions are just below freezing.

The discs typically form in areas where there is some water movement and air temperatures just below freezing, like at Scouthal Burn on Sunday. They have also been observed in oceans where the pancakes can take on enormous proportions and individual slabs can ride over each other in a process called rafting, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over time, the individual pancake ice slabs can freeze together to form a solid ice sheet.

At Scouthal Burn, a fast flowing stream of water was causing froth to form and collect in a pool at the side of a small bridge. The frothy mix was disturbed by eddies of water causing rotations within it that froze over in the chilly conditions.

Ice pancakes at Scouthal Burn. Cuckoo Hill is in the background and the remains of an ancient monastery and cemetery known as the Clow Chapel is on the right hand side.
Ice pancakes at Scouthal Burn. Cuckoo Hill is in the background and the remains of an ancient monastery and cemetery known as the Clow Chapel is on the right hand side.
The phenomenon is relatively rare though other sightings have occurred in Caithness.
The phenomenon is relatively rare though other sightings have occurred in Caithness.
Ice pancakes form when there is fast flowing water next to a slower moving one and surface froth freezes. Picture: DGS
Ice pancakes form when there is fast flowing water next to a slower moving one and surface froth freezes. Picture: DGS
The site at Scouthal Burn is overlooked by Cuckoo Hill and the remains of an ancient monastery. Pictures: DGS
The site at Scouthal Burn is overlooked by Cuckoo Hill and the remains of an ancient monastery. Pictures: DGS

The discs varied from the size of a saucer to that of a large pizza and though they appeared solid were quite slushy and easy to break apart when lifted up.

In February last year, a 20ft-wide ice pancake was seen and photographed by Jamie Mccarthy just above the Aimster pool on River Thurso.

Jamie McCarthy saw this huge ice pancake while surveying stretches of River Thurso last year. Picture: Jamie McCarthy
Jamie McCarthy saw this huge ice pancake while surveying stretches of River Thurso last year. Picture: Jamie McCarthy

Jamie said: "I was brought up on the river so I’ve seen a few big ones over the years but certainly no bigger than that one."


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