Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Fernhill Unconfined

Looking north towards Fernhill over the Bucksburn Valley
Fernhill is a hill, a farm, and - by extension - the name of an area which sits in the greenbelt between Sheddocksly and Kingswells, to the west of the built-up part of Aberdeen off the Lang Stracht. A network of farm tracks and footpaths - some in use as farm access, some maintained by our favourite quango Aberdeen Greenspace - provides access throughout the area and connects with the splendid recently-completed Bucksburn Valley Paths network (also the work of Aberdeen Greenspace). These paths are part of Aberdeen City Council's (ACC) Core Paths Network. 

Looking at the ACC Core Paths web-page we see that :
Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, all Local Authorities and National Park Authorities in Scotland have a statutory duty to prepare a Core Paths Plan that will "provide the basic framework of routes sufficient for the purpose of giving the public reasonable access throughout their area. The basic framework of routes will link into, and support, wider networks of other paths" 
The vision for Aberdeen's Core Paths Plan is to "form a complete paths network throughout the City, encouraging healthy and sustainable access opportunities for all". The Core Paths Plan will form a key part of outdoor access provision and will help to support wider national, regional and local policy objectives on health, recreation, education, economic development, social inclusion, community development, sustainable transport and tourism.
This, of course, is right up our street. Or rather, right up our Core Path.

Heading north up Fernhill to Greenferns
From Fernhill, we get views west to the Grampian mountains and east down to the North Sea. But perhaps surprisingly, very little of Aberdeen itself is visible. From this location the majority of the town is hidden below the ridge which runs from Cairncry to the Hill of Rubislaw. At the summit of Fernhill, we stand on the watershed of our town. A raindrop falling to our immediate north will find its way to the sea via first the Bucksburn and then the Don. A drop of water falling to the south will travel via the Denburn and Dee. The sources of the Bucksburn and Denburn are both to the west of Fernhill, and are surprisingly close together at Kingswells, surrounding Aberdeen in its own 'ring of bright water'. Sort of.

The Fernhill reservoir occupies the very summit of Fernhill, looking for all the world like a truncated stepped pyramid built by an ancient civilisation. Its sepulchral forms devising an apposite (but surely coincidental) mirror of the Aberdeen Crematorium, which sits at about the same elevation at Jessiefield across the Denburn valley towards Hazlehead. 

The stepped forms, splayed walls and truncated summit of the Fernhill reservoir remind us of the Peel Ring of Lumphanan and the vitrified fort at Tap o' Noth, and this thought in turn puts us in mind of some of the things we said when we berated the panopticonic "Project Kraken". Fernhill reservoir is today a crucial piece of infrastructure, crucial to the provision of a vital life-sustating service to the people of Aberdeen. But all things pass, and one day, in the normal course of development (or decline) its function will be redundant, and its structure will be left to decay back to the landscape, function all but forgotten, the arcana of its operation the subject of esoterica.

Peel Ring of Lumphanan - Motte.

Tap o' Noth - Vitrified fort.
Fernhill - 20/21st Century Reservoir.

As if to illustrate this point, an earlier (yet still from the 20th century) reservoir is visible just to the east of the presently used facility.  Heavy manhole covers protect path-users from the tank-voids of the redundant facility. The words "CAUTION - CONFINED SPACE" are stenciled on the face of the manhole covers as a warning to adventurers who are tempted to explore the formerly watery void below. 



The paths at Fernhill link working farms, old forges, semi-rural cottages, stately old stands of impressively mature trees and (last week) just-ploughed fields, the scent of the good earth rising from the newly-broken winter's crust of working farms. The very picture of Aberdeenshire. 


The good earth

One of these working farms is Greenferns, and is on council-owned land. This land at Greenferns is one of the so-called "pockets of market failure" which have been identified for "remediation" by the forthcoming work of the City Development Company "One Aberdeen" (which we wrote about a little while ago). We would like to point out that this definition of failure is not the same as ours.  We fear that the City Development Company appears to be set to fall into the trap of believing that a community is nothing more than the sum of the businesses which operate within it and that the market should be the final arbiter of success or failure. We deplore this pencilneck-narrow vision. 

The Core Paths at Fernhill do not in and of themselves make money; of course they don't. But they create value by enriching in non-monetary ways the lives of those that use them and the environs of Aberdeen. This is the true definition of wealth. The generation of money and profit is merely the creation of affluence. The two things are not the same.


Julie said...

I fear our Cooncillors are only capable of valuing things that have £££ signs on them.

I saw a digger at the country end of my road this morning - ready to start bulldozing some more of that worthless green belt that they feel needs buildings on it.

Alex Mitchell said...

Yup - difficult to see how such civic assets as Union Terrace Gardens can be described as examples of 'market failure' when they were never part of the market economy or run as private businesses in the first place.