Saturday, 21 May 2011

Up the Stairs to an Understanding of Topography #02

Today, the stairs we document are all in areas which begin with a 'K'. This is just a coincidence.

At Kincorth, this complex of paths and stairways (pictured left) leads all the way from the southern landfall of the medieval Bridge of Dee to the summit of Kincorth Hill itself. (There's a great deal of interesting history and artifacts in Kincorth and on Kincorth Hill, which we'll cover in more detail someday soon.) At the Bridge of Dee, the river is tidal, and the summit of Kincorth Hill is marked by an Ordnance Survey pillar marking 105m elevation. So that's quite a trek, but well worth it for the view over the entirety of the southern-facing slope from the Dee to Cairncry and north-east to the city centre and over to the North Sea.

The majority of the path is in a directly straight line up the steepest part of the hill, in line with the bridge, and so forms an irresistible temptation to the psychogeographer: the grandiosity of a Roman-straight desire line directly up a hill from a strategic river-crossing is very difficult to ignore.

Mounting the paths and steps from the south of the Bridge of Dee, we take a civic journey in time, from Bishop Elphinstone's medieval bridge, passing a handful of Victorian houses at the Inverdee initiation of the Stonehaven Road, then up and up through the pleasant 20th Century 'garden estate' social housing of Kincorth.

The photo was taken in the autumn, and the charm of the yellowing leaves made for a pleasant, if a bit fall-melancolic walk on the day. During most months, the path is not visible from the south, as foliage obscures it, only in the winter is the lamplit footpath plainly visible to southbound users of the Bridge of Dee. It's is also visible in the winter months from the pocket park which divides Wal-Mart/Asda from South Anderson Drive's terminal roundabout.

Next, these stairs allow an easy climb up the steepest part of Kaimhill from the of the valley of the Ruthrieston Burn at Auchinyell. At this point the trackbed of the dismantled Deeside Railway runs along the valley of the burn and forms a border between the areas of Garthdee/Auchinyell and Mannofield. Once the primary route to highland Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside, the railway was closed and dismantled in 1966 after 113 years in operation. Then left to grow wild in the 1970's and 1980's the track-bed now forms a highly successful part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network and is designated 'Route 195'. While we like this, we'd still greatly prefer that this were a railway route.

Kaimhill itself is a prominence which separates the broad tributary valley of the Ruthrieson Burn from that of the River Dee. We suspect that the name Kaim-hill may be derived from that of the glacial feature kame: "a geological feature, an irregularly shaped hill or mound composed of sand, gravel and till that accumulates in a depression on a retreating glacier, and is then deposited on the land surface with further melting of the glacier." Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are strewn with glacial features - but we really don't know for sure if Kaimhill is a kame. If anyone can enlighten us we'd be grateful.

And now, once again to Kepplestone. We've written about Kepplesone once or twice before, and we return to it now in the context of the grand-processional stairway feature which we previously called an "orotund yet oddly asymmetrical staircase [which hints] at a touch of unhinged, slurring megalomania in the conception of the scheme."

We wrote about this new-ish development in slightly mocking tones. We questioned the validity of the design, we raised concrerns about the quality of the fabric of the buildings, and we satirised the emphasis on underground parking upon which both the developer and the residents of this type of new housing appear to place so much emphasis. We received several reader comments in support of what we'd said, but we did appear to have upset one anonymous commentator - a resident of Kepplestone - who wrote:
Yes the outside is not too everyones taste ... But inside is very nice and spacious. The parking is excellent with no common on street problems. And no amount of boring pictures of gutters or negative comments will overcome the fact it is prime real estate in the west end with excellent transport links and local infrastructure.
The rest of the comments are merely jealously.
I bet none of you have even been inside one?
My neighbours are all nice professionals. Unlike the studentville or DSS that seems to occupy most other parts of Aberdeen.
We found these borderline offensive comments, socially prejudiced as they were, to be highly enlightening - telling us a great deal about the abrasive mindset of the type of people who live in Kepplestone today; their insecurities, their beliefs and their provocative outlook.

This gave us quite a lot to ponder upon, particularly in the context of a former resident of Kepplestone who we also learned about through a reader comment.

There he is. Outside Kepplestone House itself (the house is, at the time of writing, still lying derelict on one corner of the site). This is Thomas Ogilvie, wool merchant and hat manufacturer in Aberdeen at the turning of the 19th into 20th centuries. It is said that this man brought the top-hat to Aberdeen. And here he is wearing one (fifth from the left, 2nd row back).

Ogilvie was an old-style paternalistic capitalist, building real capital in this town, investing it and providing wealth for future generations of the entirety of Aberdeen. This is the building of social and civic as well as financial capital - as well as industrial capital. Indeed, he retained architect William Kelly (of Kelly's Cats) to build his stately wool warehouse (Ogilvie Buildings) on the corner of Dee Street and Dee Place which stands in situ to this day, a listed building now converted into city-centre apartments.

We can't help but feel that there's a huge contrast between the - "I've got mine, I'll tolerate no criticism of what I hold dear - but I'm happy to display my contempt of everyone else..."  - attitude so indignantly exhibited by the current Kepplestone resident, and the more civil and civic practical business activities of the resident of Kepplestone one hundred years ago. While the Victorian/Edwardian era saw the operation of capital in the generation and accrual of real societal wealth and was often characterised by great works of philanthropy, today's resident mistakes private affluence for wealth, having no concept of social capital. Let the devil take the hindmost. Thus, where once value (and values) was (and were) built at Kepplestone, today it is (and they are) destroyed.

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