Tuesday, 12 April 2011

March Stones 44 to 48 ABD.

Bucksburn dam
Over the weeks and months, we've been tracing the line of Aberdeen's medieval boundary. The boundary of the land gifted to Aberdeen as a salve to his conscience by Buchan-harrying Robert the Bruce is marked to this day by a series of boundary stones or "march" stones, some of which are easy to see and find - perhaps you pass one or two of them every single day - others of which are quite hard to get at, and you need to do a bit of research to pinpoint their exact locations and decide how you plan to access them.

Tracing the boundary - the Old Scots word for boundary is "march", hence: "march stones" - is one of the constructs which we hang our psychogeographical excursions upon: by setting out to go somewhere which is off the beaten track and for no other reason than just for itself, we can find out a great deal about the four-dimensional shape of the town we live in (the fourth dimension being time, heritage, the historical aspect) and we find out about ourselves in relation to all that.

There's all sorts of histobunk about the march stones available online, and we recommend having a look at both this article in the Leopard Magazine, and this heritage trail leaflet (pdf) from Aberdeen City Council. Both are excellent sources of information and both were compiled and written by our local council's Chris Croly. We thank and congratulate Chris for his work, without which we probably wouldn't have been able to do what we've done in tracing the location of each stone.

Howes Road
Gorge-ous (apologies).
The most recent stone (stone no. 43 ABD) we wrote about was in residential Bucksburn, and the next stone is in a small semi-rural greenbelt oasis - the gorge through which the Bucksburn itself flows. The Howes Road, now closed to motor traffic, runs along the base of the gorge and connects the 20th century housing scheme areas of Northfield and Sheddocksly with the once-independent burgh of Bucksburn.

An etymological note: Howes Road - howe meaning hollow or hole, dip, depression.
Bucksburn - buck from the gaelic boc meaning leap or fall.

March Stone 44 ABD is on the west side of the Howes Road, about half way between Bucksburn House with it's spendid dam and old mill and Bucksburn Police Station, where the Howes Road meets the A96 Inverurie Road.

March stone 44 ABD. Looks quite new. It is. 
If stone 44 ABD seems crisp and new-looking in its appearance, that's because it is.  According to the Council this stone was placed on the east side of the burn in 2006, the older stone on the west side being judged to be too hazardous to visit. Well. We'll be the judge of that!

You can see both new and old stones in this pic, with the burn between them.

So, over on the west side of the burn, this gate leads to...

A barely-used path down to the stone... 

Indeed, a little difficult to get to - and probably not possible in wet conditions. You need to be fairly fit and well-shod and sure footed. But we thought not too bad. The engraving "44 ABD" on the stone is quite hard to make out, and the stone has an Ordnance Survey leveling rivet embedded in its top-face. But, yes! Two for the price of one at 44 ABD.

Bucksburn Valley
When we trace the boundaries, we are, of course, widening the boundaries of our own experience and horizons, if only in a small way, and we find our viewpoints opening up to new interpretations of things, artifacts and behaviours which we might have previously dismissed as irrelevant or worse. For instance, the now pedestrianised Howes Road connects with the Bucksburn Valley Paths network, which we've mentioned once or twice before. One of the many reasons why the Bucksburn Valley Paths network has now reached the splendid levels of outdoor access which it has now achieved was the need to provide a safe offroad means for school pupils from Kingswells to get to Bucksburn Acadamy (Bucksburn and Kingswells being surprisingly close as the crow flies, but rather far as the motorist drives).

Being in the mindset to understand human geographical boundaries - the delineations between discrete communities or spheres of interest or whatever - and having opened our minds to the arbitrary posturing of the tribal warlords who became the feudal lords who became the local civic worthies and all of whom made and maintained the marches for their own reasons, we have predisposed and conditioned ourselves to find where boundary markers might be put, and how the boundaries flow between places of interest. We noticed a new graffito on a stone about equidistant between the two communities.

We can say with some certainty that this is a modern boundary stone - its intent and execution corresponding analogously with those of antiquity and near-antiquity - this new mark is perfectly legible and as visible as a flaming beacon to those who feel the necessity to mark a boundary for their own reasons.
This marks the line between areas of special interest for the young people of Kingswells and Bucksburn.
They have felt it necessary to mark their boundary for exactly the same reason as those men in the past who felt it necessary to mark the extent of their land and influence. It's the same thing. It's as important today to the people who made those marks as it was to those who made the marks of the past; there is no practical difference. Had spray-paint been available to our ancestors, they would have used it. Nothing changes; we are territorial animals and at times it is clear that our free will is subsumed by our nature.

A short way up the Howes Road (south), just past Bucksburn House and its dam, a narrow path leads between a farmer's field and Auchmill Golf Course and after a couple of hundred metres deposits us at the site of stone 45 ABD.

It's got a leveling rivet, too.

The Auchmill Golf Course is a municipal course built and landscaped over and among the remains of the Dancing Cairns Quarry, which we examined before. (Worth a read if you haven't already, if you can be bothered.)

Dancing Cairns Quarry / Auchmill Golf Club
Bonnyview Drive.
Nipping through a snicket off of the golf course and on to Bonnyview Drive we enter the town's Northfield estate, where, with a bit of head-scratching and walking up and down looking suspicious and asking local passers-by we eventually find stone 46 ABD, close to the wall of someone's house, in their garden.

Stone 47 ABD is against the fence of someone's back yard, down a snicket off Bonnyview Drive.

And crossing Provost Rust Drive to get to Marchburn Drive ("March" "Burn" - geddit?) at its corner with Old Town Place we find stone 48 ABD. The "burn" along which the "march" runs is the Scatterburn - more on this next time.

And at that point, having seen enough stones for the day, we were blessed by what we noticed next. It was October when we visited the site, and the weather had just turned cold for the first time in the year. Just above the roofs of the pleasant family homes, semi-detached post-war social housing - arranged around open grass playparks in horseshoes and crescents, cul-de-sacs and circles - the sun appeared to take on a smeared, dynamic appearance, as if rendered by an action painter. Five miles high in the sky, drifting hexagon nanocrystal plates of ice fluttered and fell gently downwards, prisming the wan sunlight through twenty-two degrees. The more we looked - sunglasses on, averting our eyes from the sun itself, holding up our hands to shade it away - the more we could see an arc around the sun; a sun halo! At the leftmost and rightmost edges of the halo, smears of rainbow color spread in a brightening splash; red on the inside through white to a blue-white brilliant sideways-spearing smudge. We were delighted to realise we was being treated to our first ever sight of parhelia; sundogs!

As we observed the phenomenon first brighten and then fade over about five minutes, we shared it with a young family who'd come out to see what we weirdos were gawping at from the end of their garden - passing our sunglasses around and wowing and oooohing we considered what we were seeing. We thought about how the interaction of scales from the unimaginably vast to the unobservably miniscule created this display, seemingly just for us who took the time to stand still and marvel. We wondered just how many other pairs of eyes were seeing that same halo, those same sundogs.

That night, we considered the recurring cycles of human activity, marking and re-marking old and new boundaries in the landscape we'd traversed, we thought of the cycles within cycles and prompted by the sun-dogs we thought of the cosmic cycles too - the whorls of primordial material which aggregated into the rocks and stones and water and gas that founded and maintain life on earth and the sun above which sustains all cycles of activity, however grandiose or trivial. Important or inconsequential all items and intentions, all actions and philosophies come from the same ancient stardust source. The fingerprints of the motions of the people and the events and everything that ever went on or goes on or will, the guidelines of our nature that constrain our free-will - all were encoded first in that condensing cloud of primordial dust and gas. No - encoded first in those uncountable previous star cycles; that dust and gas itself in turn the remnants of previous cycles of starbirth and death; the surface detail, the bloating darkness, the imperfections on the face of the big bang itself.

Imperfections on the face of the Big Bang.

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