Monday, 30 May 2011

20th Century Boundary Stones "ACB"

Once you've got your eye in, it's difficult to stop seeing stuff that you might otherwise miss. We've mentioned 'unknown stones' before - our tag for boundary stones that aren't mentioned on the Aberdeen City Council's splendid archeology pages, but perhaps are mentioned on the RCHAMS database. Or perhaps not mentioned anywhere at all, like this one:

Simply inscribed "ACB"
It's about 45cm in height. The stain 5/8ths of the way up suggests that it may once have been buried deeper than it is now. And that's all new turf around it, so this may not even be its exact original location.

It's on Lang Stracht (for those without Scots - a streetname which translates: "Long Straight"), at Sheddocksly, near the pedestrian/cyclist access to the new-ish housing association homes which occupy what had been the site of the garden centre chain before it moved farther west. From the crisp quality of the stonework and typeface used for the inscription, it appears to our eyes to be post-Victorian, and being different in its form factor (not having an inclined face for the inscription) is not one of the series of "ABD" or "CR" marked 'March Stones' which regular readers will know that we've been tracing over the weeks and months.

An educated guess might bring us to conclude that "ACB" stands for "Aberdeen City Boundary"; but that geographical point on the Lang Stracht is much closer in than today's far-flung city limits. So then we think of the time during the 20th Century when that city boundary was much closer in than today...

As a child, I remember road signs with words to the general effect: "Welcome to the City of Aberdeen"; specifically I remember them on the North Deeside Road at Pitfodels, on the Stonehaven Road just south of the Bridge of Dee and on Auchmill Road just about at Newton Terrace. We suppose that we should really get ourselves along to the local studies department at the Central Library and see if we can look at a mid-20th century map for clues to where we might find others of these 20th century boundary stones, but hey - this isn't a job! (Nevertheless - if anyone's got a copy of such a map that they can let us have we'd be really grateful.)

Anyhow, by far the easiest to get to of these half-remembered street-sign border signifiers from the early 1970's from Other Aberdeen's salubrious atelier in the upscale heart of downtown Pitmuxton is at Pitfodels. So, off we go for a look. And bingo! An ACB marked boundary stone at the bottom of Baird's Brae.

Just a hundred yards up the brae, at the junction with Airyhall Road/Rocklands Road there's another.

We've been past this location hundreds of times before and never
noticed it till today.
Interestingly, at the location of the ACB stone at the bottom of the brae, at it's junction with North Deeside Road, across the road a current roadside sign still marks the boundary of Cults village. A milestone still survives at this location too. Though it's seen better days...

If you weren't looking, you'd not see it.

The face seems damaged.
This would have been the 3-mile stone. Having spent time and effort looking for Aberdeen's boundary stones, and having become accustomed to people saying things like "oh yes, you mean those mile-stone thingies", it is ironic to actually come across one of these artifacts more or less by accident.  The item itself, pre-dating as it does the 1867 survey, seems almost impossibly remote and exotic (ish).

Farther along North Deeside Road, at Bieldside, the 4-mile stone has survived in a much better condition.

We've since seen other milestones in other locations around town which mark both different routes and different transport modes. But that probably enough trainspotting for one day. We'll get around to mentioning the other milestones in the usual course of psychogeography...

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!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

March Stones 49 to 51 ABD. Persley and Woodside

"49 ABD"
(the new one)
South-east parapet of Persley Bridge
Regular visitors to Other Aberdeen will well know that over the weeks and months, we've been tracing the line of Aberdeen's medieval boundary. The boundary of the land gifted to Aberdeen (the "Freedom Lands") 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 - some others 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 reach 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 over and above that, we find things out about ourselves and our relationship to all that external stuff which forms the environment which we live in.

The most recent stone (stone no. 48 ABD) we wrote about was in residential Northfield, amongst the pleasant residential cul-de-sacs and circles so characteristic of that type of mid-20th century suburban social housing. We like Northfield with its human-scale planning; with its generous gardens, open spaces, grassy public areas, civic amenities, local shops - it definitely doesn't deserve the formidable reputation that social prejudice has labeled it with over the years. From the self-employed decorator who pointed us to stone 46 ABD, to the headsquared old lady getting off a bus just having a wee cheery wordie with passers-by, and to the fat emo teenager walking his longhaired daschunt puppy - we've had genial interactions with absolutely everyone we met on the day we traced the marches through this part of our town. In its built environment, in its people and in its outlook, Northfield is a generous place. That's so much more than can be said for supposedly 'nice' parts of Aberdeen, where we've found that people often tend to be hostile and suspicious; where property and 'things' are regarded as more important than people and their activities. Where what someone's got is so much more important than what they will give.

The next stone is stone no. 49 ABD, which we walked to by following the ancient "Freedom Lands" boundary which runs the length of the Scatter Burn (Scatterburn) between Old Town Place and the burn's outfall underneath Persley Bridge. To follow the route of the burn is a simple matter - its valley (a tributary of the River Don) is quite easy to see looking north between Heatheryfold and Middlefield. Indeed, the etymology of the burn's name "Scatter Burn" means "burn with a deep eroded channel". The valley is an open grassy area with playgrounds, skateboard half-pipes and the like. While it's not possible to see the burn itself - it was covered over and tamed in its own pipe at some point in the 20th century - the route of the Scatterburn is more-or-less traced by the residential street Manor Walk which leads us down from Northfield through Middlefield into the valley of the Don at Haudagain. Here, for the first time in the entirety of our tracing of the route of the march stones, we find the environment becomes unpleasant. Motor vehicle pollution sticks in the throat, conversation becomes impossible over the roar of traffic and the entire layout of the built environment has been artificially conceived for the convenience of machines over that of people. We felt cheated, abandoned, alienated and at a bit of a loss; for in this place, pedestrians are not welcome and are barely catered for.

Not wanted.
Car journeys deemed
more important than housing.
Not only that, but things are about to get an awful lot worse. Some commuters claim that the roundabout at Haudagain is the very worst thing that there is in the whole of Britain, but we think that motorists who complain about traffic congestion in Aberdeen suffer from a hopelessly parochial viewpoint: Aberdeen traffic's really not that bad. Unfortunately, so strident have these selfish commuters' voices become that, like the child who pesters and pesters mummy for sweeties, their calls have been heeded - probably more to shut them up than anything else - and they're going to get what they want (no matter that it's not good for them, and that they'll just want even more soon). Consequently, the social housing tenements of Manor Drive, Logie Avenue and Logie Place are to be demolished to make way for a relief road "improvement" which is "vital". We find it astonishing that planners should regard it as "vital" that families are moved from their homes, that those homes be demolished and that a community be split up and scattered merely because of the exigencies of the unsustainable transport choices of a few commuters. That this maniacal wrecking-ball-based option should be seen as an "improvement"; as preferable to attempting to encourage a small minority of commuters to change their habits just a little bit is sadly, we think, indicative of some of the wrong-turns which planning policy in our town seems keen and likely to blindly take. That these poor choices are dressed up as "improvements" which "contribute" to and "complement" the Middlefield area (pdf) is nothing but doublethink duckspeak.

Anyway, once we were away from Haudagain and it's appalling psychogeographical outlook, following the slope down to Persely den to march stone 49 ABD, we first encountered the charming Persely Walled Garden, where sits this remarkable monolith memorial obelisk above the outfall of the Scatterburn.

Inscription reads:

Commissioned by
Aberdeen Trades Council
This monument was made possible
thanks to financial assistance from
the Trade Union and Labour Movement
It is dedicated to those who lost
their lives in industry

Aberdeen City Council's March Stones Trail leaflet (pdf) tells us that stone 49 is, like stone 44 ABD, a doubled stone - a newer, more accessible doppelganger copy having been created and placed in an easy-to-get at spot. This is fair enough, but we love a challenge and couldn't resist crossing the toxic outfall estuary of the Scatter Burn to see the older stone. If you're going to do this, a level of reasonable fitness is required, as is decent robust footwear that you won't mind getting filthy.

Scatterburn outfall.

49 ABD
(the older one)
That's Duncan Bannatyne's
'fitness' centre across the water.
The boundary now follows the Don for about 2 km towards the former independent parish of Woodside. A path alongside a mill-lade (which is a high-level water-feed channel) takes us through an area rich in the industrial archaeology of water-power, water-capital: mills, weirs, lades and sluices; the evidence of ancient and more recent, now obsolescent, equipment vital to the exploitation of this water-plus-gravity equals wealth-generating resource is all around.

We met an old man walking on the artificial river-bank wall which separates a mill-lade on the south side of the river from the roaring-fast river itself. He was in his eighties and had lived in Woodside all his life. Warming to our interest, he told us tales of the many mills and their legion workers; Woodside in its wealthy 20th century pomp; a tram from The Fountain into town and a spur to the Haudagain. How the tram united Woodside to Aberdeen, but how, when it came, the dual carriageway divided Woodside even from itself.

He talked of the Crombie Mills, whence coats to the world originated - Churchill, Gorbachev, and Cary Grant, all Crombie-clad lads.  He talked of the Rag Mill ("the ragger") which pulped scrap textiles for use in papermaking, he talked of the retiral of the mills, their desuitude, and the fact that we could walk these routes today was because of their retirement: where once industry thrived, today moss encroaches, ivy overruns and the dilettante psychogeographer mooches. His whole life and work in Woodside amongst the mills, now walking "his three miles every day" beside their gently declining artifacts - this man embodied and stood as a living metaphor for the progress and decline of the industrial activity in this area. Now good for a story, now interesting but retired, he walks away from us along the path of the mill-lade. How long will he manage to keep up his three-miles-a-day. How long before his stories are away?

Rag Mill
"The Ragger"
We'll document the post-industrial Don in much more detail over the coming months: There's a great deal to explore and think about in this area, and the resonant impulses of what we saw will still animate us for a long time to come: water being wealth; a diverse and mixed sustainable economy - capital goods, consumer goods, only recently disappeared; autonomy versus agency; the remnant artifacts of a way of life and a way of work only recently past, but now as psychogeographically distant as the medieval marker stones which we were tracing when we came across these traces, picturesquely framed by benign neglect.

Past the remnants of the Rag Mill, we mount the stairs at Jacobs Ladder to find stone 50 ABD which sits against a wall at Don Terrace. Then it's under the railway, past a canal-remnant bridge span and back across the Great Northern Road dual carriageway.

Jacob's ladder

50 ABD

Under the railway
Stone 51 ABD is situated on Clifton Road, near the top of Deer Road. Deer Road was named for a moss and turf dyke which kept wild deer out of the nursery gardens of Woodside. For centuries dating back to the time of medieval Bishops' parish charters this wildlife management feature was known as the boundary between Woodside and Aberdeen's Freedom Lands. Today, we seem to have lost the knowledge or will to manage our natural resources - the wild inhabitants with whom we share our town - in this sustainable way, choosing rather the immediate violence of an eradication cull over the long-standing science of sustainable management.

51 ABD
At the top of Deer Road
At the top of the Deer Dyke

And so between March Stones 48 and 51 we've traversed the psychogeography of loss. Consider the dreams of the planners who created the pleasant social housing of Northfield - those dreams today so far lost in a debt-driven speculative fever-dream of chimerical property aspiration that now social housing of this type is thought of as being lower than the lowest. Indeed our current UK government would have it that council-owned housing should be regarded as emergency short-term accommodation only. This is a grave and dangerous loss to our sense of society. Consider the deliberate destruction of some of that very housing to make way for a big roundabout or gyratory road system or something - the twice daily commute of some cubicle-jockey office workers being deemed more important than many peoples' homes. Consider the message this policy sends to the people who lead their lives blamlessly, yet live in those very homes scheduled for what we can only regard as arbitrary destruction.

Consider now the worker's monument at Persley, consider those who died creating the wealth which we now enjoy in the comfort we take for granted. Consider those metaphorically crushed by the wheels of industry, and consider the real and literal remnants of those very wheels themselves - evident on the banks of the Don. Sentinels to a diverse and sustainable economy now past even decline, now irrevocably gone. This is a loss to our economic sustainability. 

And finally, consider the sick spiteful slaughter of roe deer, today, on Tullos Hill in Nigg to the south of our town in the cause of some dubious greenwash PR policy. When the last of them lies finally bloody, every one dead on the heather and gorse, not only will it be those deer which will be lost, but we will also have conclusively and ably demonstrated our loss of society, our collective loss of civilisation. And our loss of direction.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Some campaigners worry that greenery in central Aberdeen is under threat.

We say: Nonsense! We've never seen so much!

And, in all seriousness - what has happened to this bus shelter is quite effective.

They should keep it like that.