Friday, 27 May 2011

Craiginches Littoral

If you've used the new-ish dual path for walkers and cyclists along Aberdeen's Riverside Drive, on the north side of the Dee, between the Duthie Park and the Wellington Suspension bridge, you'll have looked across the river towards Craiginches prison, and seen a network of paths crisscrossing the steep bank (almost a cliff) below the prison and down to the riverside. I've always been aware of these paths, but, somehow, never found the time to go and explore them, to feel what it's like to be there.

So, a few weeks ago, we walked to the Wellington Bridge. This Scheduled Ancient Monument was recently restored and re-opened for pedestrians and cyclists as part of Sustrans routes 195 and 01. Crossing the bridge, we gave ourselves a new perspective by having a good mooch around the littoral on the south bank of the Dee.

The Dee is tidal up to and just past the medieval Bridge of Dee, a couple of kilometres west of here, but the river shore isn't like a sea shore. Although rinsed by the tide twice daily, it's not beaten by waves or swell, and so it has a kind of dusty crust, a dirty patina. And it attracts long-lived detritus. On the day we visited, it was very bluesky bright, with the golden sun low in the west towards the end of the day, and so an atmospheric quality of clarity was lent to our outing as winter turned to spring and as we scrambled along the shore below Wellington Road, under the Ferryhill railway viaduct and crossing the toxic Tullos burn to emerge into the nascent "Granite City Forest" planting at Inverdee (where we saw the husks of the fruit of the sherry-tree).

And finally then on to and under the George VI Bridge, with its impressive civically-emblazoned cutwaters. And there finally (mirroring the supernatural Christian blessing which the stones impart upon travelers crossing the Wellington Bridge) when we climbed onto the George VI bridge we received the more rational secular blessing of orientation, courtesy of an OS Bench Mark on the south west parapet. And we realised that both marks on the stone are essentially the same: only separated in time and the changing perceptions which that passage of time heralds both seek to make sense of the land and its forms, both seek to best orientate people in the world, both seek to give people a sense of security and both try to permanentise their world-view in stone.

And both systems try to tell people where they are and where they're going. The newer with the rational certainty of theodolite and trigonometry, the elder with blind trust in arbitrary dogma and supernatural faith in a supreme being. A newer-yet orientation system, the GPS, is the spun-off civilian hinterland of a militarised economy, and is controlled by unseen and far-off hands and minds. To what priority these far off hands and minds answer we cannot know, because it's secret.

We don't much like the idea of these unseen forces telling us where we're going, so we'll stick with the OS for now. That's our dogma.

A Christian benediction to travelers crossing the Wellington Bridge.
Click for a bigger version, see the word 'HOLY'
(with thanks to reader Bill Watt for this one)

A secular blessing from the
Ordnance Survey.
Now we really know where we are!

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