Friday, 14 January 2011

March Stones 37 to 39 ABD

Regular readers will know that, over the weeks and months, we've been touring the ancient boundaries of Aberdeen, and the marker stones or "March Stones" which identify the extent of those boundaries.

There's all sorts of histobunk available online, and we recommend having a look at both this article in the Leopard Magazine, and this heritage trail leaflet from Aberdeen City Council. Both are excellent sources of information.

The March Stones we're cataloging today are all on Tulloch Road. This road runs round the north east face of Brimmond Hill and borders the now failed Craibstone Golf Centre which went into liquidation in the autumn with debts of half-a-million pounds. Our thoughts about golf are a matter of record, but we don't like to see businesses fail. Let's hope the employees will be OK.

Though perfectly visible and accessible, March Stone 37 is up against a wall in somebody's garden at the south east end of a renovated and converted former outbuilding of Ashtown farm.

37 ABD. Ashtown Farm.
East of Stone 37 towards Newhills, March Stones 38 and 39 are within 50 metres of each other on either side of the road, close to the Gough Burn and its source: the Moss of Brimmond; an area of boggy ground to the south and west of the road. Run-off fom the Moss is drained via a system of channels which empty into and form the Gough Burn. Stone 38 is on the south verge of Tulloch Road, Stone 39 on the north. Stone 39 is also thought to mark the boundaries of the lands of Craibstone.

38 ABD - a bit worn. On the bank of the Gough Burn.

39 ABD
You can just see the golf course in top left quadrant of the shot.

The detail route plan drawings for Aberdeen's proposed bypass - the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) show the new "special category" road passing very close to the location of March Stones 38 and 39. Indeed, as drawn, the embankment for the Ashtown Overbridge will necessitate the re-siting of Stone 39.

AWPR - Special Category Road. Whatever that means.

If and when it is built, the AWPR will mark a new de-facto boundary for Aberdeen, one which at its westernmost extent tracks surprisingly close to the boundary set by Robert the Bruce in the middle ages.

Psychogeography is not primarily about history, fascinating though that can often be. We have journeyed to the various March Stones not only for their own sake, but also and more importantly as a semi-arbitrary construct upon which to hang the variety of many of our psychogeograpical adventures. We must take care not to get hung up on the historical aspects of Aberdeen's ancient boundaries, so in that context, it's enough for us to reiterate that the March Stones mark the extent of the "Freedom Lands" which were "gifted" to Aberdeen by Robert the Bruce in 1319. Bruce is to be commemorated in a new statue which is to be sited outside the redeveloped Marischal College.

And it is at this point, where history and deep topography and politics and urban placemaking combine to affect the lives of modern and future people that the subject of Robert the Bruce and his interaction with Aberdeen takes on a psychogeographical significance for us today.

We have qualms about this forthcoming statue. We cannot help but wonder whether Bruce is a suitable person to be commemorated in this way, in this town. Firstly we have (both municipally and nationally) plenty enough statues to Powerful White Men who's stock in trade was violence. Secondly, do we really want to commemorate the man who, in order to crush an enemy's power-base, conducted an ethnic cleansing genocide in Moray, Buchan and Aberdeenshire in 1308: the Harrying of Buchan?

The Harrying was a devastating event for this area, characterised by its (surprisingly modern) ruthlessly systematic nature. This was a policy, managed and executed with businesslike efficency; entire towns like Ellon were completely eradicated, livestock and crops were burned in the fields, infrastructure was dismantled and dissipated. Some historians say that so complete was the destruction that the innate and potential wealth of Buchan was damaged for centuries after. A terrible and exceptional act of vengeful spite, unparalleled in these islands before or since.

Small wonder the Aberdonians cowered and offered Bruce whatever he wanted. The  fearful and pusillanimous capitulation of Aberdeen's burghers (who had been loyal to the English crown until the pogrom in the hinterland) no doubt, in time, pricked Bruces' conscience and lead to his eventual largesse. According to the Aberdeen City and Shire website, the ordinary people of Aberdeen also "furnished" Bruce with "large supplies" of cash, food and other goods. We cannot help but wonder under what levels of terror and sword-edge compulsion this "furnishing" was obliged. In this context, the "gift" of the Freedom Lands more than a decade later might be seen as a form of belated conscience-stricken compensation from Bruce to Aberdeen's craven burghers.

Those craven burgers, the pattern of their behaviour - their contemptible gutlessness - reinforced and rewarded by their eventual payoff from Bruce, set the precedent for a peculiarity of Aberdeen's civic character which is evident to this day. It is telling that, even now, our local paper adopts a fawning tone when writing of the "heroic" Bruce.

In pointing out that, in order to win a little monetary gain, the Aberdonian is content to humiliate and debase himself grossly, Paul Theroux was no doubt tuning in to this mercenary venality. As he said in his psychogeographical masterpiece "The Kingdom by the Sea" :
The average Aberdonian [is] a person who would gladly pick a penny out of a dunghill with his teeth. 
O Paul, it's actually much, much worse than that.

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