Strange ice pancake phenomenon observed in the scorched Highlands in the far north

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

Although the Met Office describes the phenomenon as a “one-off sight,” previous sightings have been reported at Lochcarron and also at February 2021 when a disk of ice cream or a monster-sized pancake, measuring about 20 feet in diameter, was seen on the Thurso River near Halkirk.

Ice disks on Scouthal Burn near Watten. Photos: DGS
Ice pancakes were seen on Scouthal Burn on Sunday morning.
Ice pancakes were seen on Scouthal Burn on Sunday morning.
Ice discs form when conditions are just below freezing.
Ice discs form when conditions are just below freezing.

Discs typically form in areas with some water movement and just below freezing air temperatures, such as at Scouthal Burn on Sunday. They have also been seen in the oceans where pancakes can grow to huge proportions and where individual slabs can overlap in a process called rafting, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Over time, individual ice sheets can freeze together to form a solid ice sheet.

At Scouthal Burn, a rapid stream of water caused scum to form and accumulate in a basin on the side of a small bridge. The frothy mixture was disturbed by eddies of water causing rotations within it which froze in cold weather.

Frozen pancakes at Scouthal Burn.  Cuckoo Hill is in the background and the remains of an old monastery and graveyard known as the Clow Chapel are on the right side.
Frozen pancakes at Scouthal Burn. Cuckoo Hill is in the background and the remains of an old monastery and graveyard known as the Clow Chapel are on the right side.
The phenomenon is relatively rare although other sightings have taken place in Caithness.
The phenomenon is relatively rare although other sightings have taken place in Caithness.
Ice pancakes are formed when there is fast flowing water next to slower moving water and the surface foam freezes.  Image: DGS
Ice pancakes are formed when there is fast flowing water next to slower moving water and the surface foam freezes. Image: DGS
The Scouthal Burn site is dominated by Cuckoo Hill.  Photos: DGS
The Scouthal Burn site is dominated by Cuckoo Hill. Photos: DGS

The discs ranged from the size of a saucer to the size of a large pizza and although they felt solid they were quite sticky and easy to shatter when lifted.

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

Jamie McCarthy saw this massive ice pancake while walking stretches of the Thurso River last year.  Photo: Jamie McCarthy
Jamie McCarthy saw this massive ice pancake while walking stretches of the Thurso River last year. Photo: Jamie McCarthy

Jamie said, “I grew up on the river so I’ve seen a few big ones over the years, but definitely not bigger than this one.”

Related Articles: Swirling frozen pancakes are a delight in Wester Ross

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Latest news David G Scott