Old Aberdeen, New Aberdeen

Aberdeen is a city that tends to polarize people.

"Ah, the Granite City," say some with fondness. "It's great..."

"Oh, the Granite City," say others with disgust.  "It's so grey..."

I can see where the doubters are coming from, but the thing I like about Aberdeen is that it has an identity.  You may think that coarse-grained felsic igneous rock is dull - and you'd be wrong to do so - but granite gives the city a look that you don't get anywhere else in Britain.

The Granite City on a monochromatic day (Copyright Graham Scott, Geograph project).

Coming from a redbrick Midlands city with no major geographical landmarks, no major industry, and no clear sense of itself (and whose town motto is Semper Eadem), I rather envy this.  And every time I come back to Aberdeen, I find something new and interesting.

Aberdeen University Library

The Aberdonian nay-sayers who complain that everything here is built of grey granite are wrong.  Everything is built of grey granite or grey pebbledash.  All the lovely old buildings are granitic, and all the horrible modern buildings are pebbledashic.

The King's College campus in Old Aberdeen gives eloquent testimony to this (although I should admit that King's itself is mainly constructed of sandstone).  Or at least it did.  Now they've demolished the dreadful Queen Mother Library and replaced it with something that is neither grey, nor granitic, nor pebbledashic:

The new University of Aberdeen library

OK, so it cost an absolute fortune, but I like it.  It has style, grandeur and a distinctive presence, and you can see it from almost every point across town.  Including...


When I moved to Aberdeen many moons ago, one of the places available to rent was a flat in Girdle Ness Lighthouse.  I turned it down on the basis of transport limitations, but often thought I should have just taken it for the novelty.

I finally saw the place last week, thanks to the suggestion of a friend that we play a round at Balnagask golf course.  It was a great idea - the peninsula has a fabulous view of Fitty (ok, Footdee) and the harbour and the town and - indeed - the new university library.

Aiming for Girdleness lighthouse on Balnagask golf course.

My golf was pretty rubbish, but I knew that.  Balnagask is just pretty, and I didn't know that.

Don Street and Seaton Park

Somehow, despite working in Old Aberdeen for nearly three years, I only went into Seaton Park once, and I never walked along Don Street.  The latter oversight was particularly remiss of me - Don Street is atmospherically ancient, especially at night. The streetlights cast an uneven light across the cobbled road, and the houses seem to leap forward or jump back from you as you meander your way along.

Don Street, Old Aberdeen, as seen on a sunny day (Copyright Colin Smith, Geograph project)

Seaton Park isn't quite as exciting (and I wouldn't recommend walking through it at night: there's not a street light to be seen!) but it's still worth a wander round.  And you should certainly visit the Brig o' Balgownie too.

Union Square

After three paeans to recent discoveries, I thought I should temper them with a less impressive new acquisition: Union Square shopping centre.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it.  The area around the railway station was in desperate need of improvement for the whole time I lived in Aberdeen.  The problem with the Union Square development is that, inside, it's just another generic shopping mall, and it doesn't connect with the city at all.

As is so often the case, it is a project conceived in isolation, rather than as part of an integrated urban development scheme, and now the central part of Union Street is looking run-down, with bargain shops and To Let signs.  If only someone with vision had tried to re-open the Den Burn and connect harbour and station with Union Terrace Gardens.