Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Up the Stairs to an Understanding of Topography #01

Desire lines diverge
As we walk the concrete, adamant and flagstone pavements of Aberdeen, from time to time our feet stray with purpose onto grass and topsoil desire lines - on the beaten track unrecognised by those who have placed the paving, mis-planned our best route from place to place.

And just as often, we find our feet climbing or descending the many staircases of the public townscape. When gradients become too steep for feet to comfortably and safely walk an incline and the ground beneath them breaks up into the discontinuities of riser and tread, those stringer-held steps can help us to a topographical understanding of Aberdeen. An understanding of human interventions in the landscape - building up artificial features; bridges and causeways, embankments and revetments to span hollows and valleys, to terrace inclines or consolidate banks and tame hills. And we can reach an understanding of those banks, inclines, hollows, valleys and hills themselves - the treads and risers whisper to us a story of the three; no-four (not forgetting time, not forgetting heritage) dimensional shape of our urban environment.

And so a mental acquisition is gained and augmented by the agency of our calves and thighs and their unconscious and unblended apprehension of scarp and glen: the sixth psychogeographical sense is fed by unconscious muscle memory and conscious eye.

Up from Virginia Street to Castle Terrace, up Castle Hill. These steps, according to Aberdeen Civic Society's Alex Mitchell, may well correspond to the former Hangman's Brae, where a house was allocated to the town executioner.

Up from Ruthrie Terrace to Ruthrieston Road, vaulting over the Old Deeside Line disused railway (now re-used as Sustrans National Cycle Network route 195). Up from the broad flat valley of the Ruthrieston Burn (its flood-plain occupied by Asda, carparks, playing fields and a trunk road today). Ruthrieston Road connects the Foords o' Dee (fording the river-shallows where newly feudal modern medieval Ruadri extorted his licensed tax and gained his power) with the south-western marches (ancient borderlands) of Aberdeen along Countesswells Road. But who was the countess?

Devanha Lane climbs step-terraced between unremarkable modern tenements on the après post-industrial sites where brewery and foundry and cattle-exporting/royalty-importing railway terminus once helped built Ferryhill's wealth.

All the way up to splendid Devanha House on the summit of Ferryhill itself from the once tidal mudflat - long-since railway re-claimed - land at the southern end of South College Street, the ancient right-of way connects the southern turnpike road and Wellington Bridge to the heart of Ferryhill.

We've identified about 36 sites like these around town, we'll document them bit by bit over the coming weeks. Nominations are welcome.

1 comment:

uair01 said...

Great topographical exploration! You might also like similar items at the Forgotten New York site. For example: