Things To Do In Denburn When You're Dead

I don't live in Aberdeen any longer, so I've missed my chance, but what the Granite City needs is a guidebook to the curious and interesting aspects of the place. They're quite well-hidden, smothered by development and the growth of a small fishing port into a large oil town, but they're out there.

"Things To Do In Denburn When You're Dead" is a wastrel's guide to Aberdeen, an irreverent but affectionate attempt to highlight the many hundreds of years of history, and it starts with...

1. Shite-water rafting.

Everyone familiar with Aberdeen knows about its two rivers, the Don and the Dee. To the north, Old Aberdeen (on the Don) is strictly Aberdon, whilst the newer city (on the Dee) is Aberdee.

Or is it Aberden? For although the Dee Estuary is where the harbour is sited, the fishing port grew up around the confluence of the Den Burn and the Dee. Until the 17th century, the town stretched no further west than the east side of the Denburn valley, with Union Terrace Gardens being Corbie Heugh or Haugh (the glen or meadow of the crows).

The geomorphology produced by the Den Burn controlled the westward development of the city, and it wasn't until engineering techniques advanced sufficiently to enable various bridges to be built that this changed.

Once the bridges went up, however, the Den Burn became an annoyance, a hindrance to development, and being a burn rather than a river, it could be managed in a way that the Dee or the Don never could. So now, a couple of hundred years later, you'd barely know it was there.

The name Denburn lives on in street names, and the viaduct on which His Majesty's Theatre stands, but you have to go a fair way out of the city centre to find it at the surface. Even then, it appears and disappears, as roads and houses bury it in many places. Nonetheless, once you find it's course, you can track it reasonably easily, and begin to uncover its whereabouts.

Up in Rubislaw, the wealthy oil barons keep it locked away in their back gardens, unable to be seen by mere mortals. Which is why I've decided to invent the sport of shite-water rafting. On my search for the Den Burn a couple of weekends ago, I spotted the perfect vehicle for such a sport:

An upturned bathtub on Denburn Viaduct.

Having collected your bathtub, you can then lug it a few miles up to Anderson Drive. If you cross Anderson Drive into the grounds of Marathon House, you will find the Den Burn there. Jump into your bathtub and away you go.

From Marathon House you'll disappear under Anderson Drive before bursting back out into daylight in the Den of Rubislaw. As you flash past the bottom of their opulent gardens, make sure you wave cheerily to the landowners as they gaze at you in astonishment. The most exciting part of this section is probably the various small waterfalls that are said to occur.

Further downstream, back in the normal world where ordinary people are allowed to look at streams, you'll end up on a very low gradient stretch that runs alongside the lane at the back of Beaconsfield Place. The people on the houses overlooking the burn will undoubtedly look upon you strangely, especially as you'll probably have to get out and push yourself along, but such is life. In a few yards it'll all be worth it, as you and your trusty vessel get to splash merrily along beneath a dry cleaning shop:

The Den Burn, Beaconsfield Place.

The tunnel takes you safely across Fountainhall Road, and out into a short passage that runs between a car park and some offices, one of them the Talisman building (these oil companies obviously have an affinity with the Den Burn), and then you approach the house of the esteemed geophysicist Dr Mads Huuse. There's no blue plaque yet, but just wait a few more years.

Next up is the Osborne Place mystery section, a tricky part of the course as it is entirely subterranean, so I know nothing about it. It's probably best to take a sledgehammer with you so that you can smash your way out of any dead ends you encounter. Alternatively, you'll be able to tunnel upwards into someone's living room and provide them with a story that'll keep their family going for years. If however, you are persistent, and can cope with eating rats for sustenance, you may eventually see the sky again close to Albert Street.

The Albert Street-Esslemont Avenue section is particularly cool, with rapid alternation between under- and over-ground rafting. Passing beneath Albert Street, then Albert Square, you'll burst out of a graffitied tunnel on the edge of Aberdeen Grammar School:

Den Burn, back of Aberdeen Grammar School.

The burn shoots along for a few yards, vanishes underground again, and reappears in the grounds of the Grammar School. Suddenly, it looks like you're in a country park, rather than urban Aberdeen, and you may wish to enjoy the peace and tranquillity for a while:

Den Burn, grounds of Aberdeen Grammar School.

You might also like to play on one of the rope-swings that hang over the burn. Shite-water rafting is conditioning for the whole body!

Moving on, the tunnel under the grounds of the grammar school is pretty low-vaulted, so you'll need to adopt the low-lying position of an experienced toboganner. It might also be a bit of a drop, as the section on the eastern side of Esslemont Avenue is a long way down below the road:

Den Burn, Esslemont Avenue.

You are now entering the final subaerial part of the burn, as it meanders along its valley between Skene Street and Northfield Place. Bizarrely, although you're getting to the edge of Aberdeen city centre, this is one of the least managed-looking parts of the course. The houses dotted round Mackie Place could easily belong to a village in the 'shire, and there are grassy slopes and dense vegetation. And then, at Gilcomstoun School, the burn disappears. The channel is closed, fenced off, padlocked away, and only the topography tells you where it goes.

The end of the Den Burn.

Novice shite-water rafters may wish to stop their run now, as I have no idea what happens to the burn from here on. The southern side of Upper Denburn, just before you go beneath Rosemount Viaduct, has the Scottish Hydro-Electric Denburn sub-station, so continuing your journey might see you turned into environmentally friendly power, but what a way to go.

Trying to uncover the precise whereabouts of the Den Burn further downstream is tricky.  I have toyed with the idea of positioning a fellow rafter in the harbour, somewhere in the area where I assume the burn must still reach the sea, releasing a load of garishly coloured ping-pong balls, waiting for a call to signal that the balls have safely arrived, and then jumping into my bathtub to follow them.

Does the Den Burn still flow out into Aberdeen harbour?

However, if any intrepid rafters find out before me I shall be fascinated to hear their stories.