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Royal Deeside

The River Dee

General evidence indicates that the Dee Valley and the rising ground above the river have been populated since prehistoric times. Mesolithic flint scatters have been collected in the Peterculter area, a bronze age burial cairn survives on Cairn Road, Bieldside, while several other cairns were extant in the Cults area until the 19th century. A stone circle and a cairn also survive at Binghill

In ancient times folk were very superstitious and believed in many Gods.  Folk believed there was a River Goddess in the River Dee, the following ancient rhyme reflects sacrifices made to the Goddess:
Bloody thirsty Dee,
Each year demands three.

During a 12-day period of gales in January 1937 the River Dee flooded causing widespread damage and isolating many buildings. The No 2 lifeboat was called out to rescue a woman and 2 men from a farmhouse.

The coxswain took the lifeboat stern first through the front door. The farmhouse is now included among the local landmarks pointed out on coach tours.  

Aberdeen No 2 station and Torry Life Saving Apparatus closed on 30 June,1962.

The chief river of the county is the Dee. It is the longest, the fullest-bodied, the most picturesque of all Aberdeenshire waters. Taking its rise in two small streams which drain the slopes of Braeriach, it grows in volume and breadth, till, after an easterly course of nearly 100 miles, it reaches the sea at Aberdeen. The head-stream is the Garrachorry Burn, which flows through the cleft between Braeriach and Cairntoul. A more romantic spot for the cradle of a mighty river could hardly be found. The mountain masses rise steep, grim and imposing — on one side Cairntoul conical in shape, on the other Braeriach broad and massive, a picture of solidity and immobility. The Dee well is 4060 feet above sea-level and 1300 above the stream which drains the eastern side of the Larig the high pass to Strathspey.  As it emerges from the Larig, it is a mere mountain torrent but presently it is joined at right angles by the Geldie from the South-west, and the united waters move eastward through a wild glen of rough and rugged slopes and ragged, gnarled Scots firs to the Linn of Dee, 60 miles above Braemar. There is no great fall at the Linn, but here the channel of the river becomes suddenly contracted by great masses of rock and the water rushes through a narrow gorge only 4 feet wide. The pool below is deep and black and much overhung with rocks. For 300 yards stretches this natural sluice, formed by rocks with rugged sides and jagged bottom, the water racing past in small cascades. The river is here spanned by a handsome granite bridge opened in 1857 by Queen Victoria. As the river descends to Braemar, the glen gradually widens out, and the open, gravelly, and sinuous character of the bed, which is a feature from this point onwards, is very marked. Pool and stream, stream and pool succeed one another in shingly bends, clean, sparkling and beautiful. At Braemar the bed is 1066 feet above sea-level. Below Invercauld the river is crossed by the picturesque old bridge built by General Wade, when he made his well-known roads through the Highlands after the rebellion of 1745. Here the Garrawalt, a rough and obstructed tributary, joins the main river. From Invercauld past Balmoral Castle to Ballater is 16 miles. Here the bottom is at times rocky, at times filled with big rough stones, at other times shingly but never deep. The average depth is only 4 feet, and the normal pace under ordinary conditions 30 miles an hour. From Ballater, where the river is joined by the Gairn and the Muick, the Dee maintains the same character to Aboyne and Banchory, where it is joined by the Feugh from the forest of Birse. Just above Banchory is Cairnton, where the water supply for the town of Aberdeen, amounting on an average to 7 or 8 million gallons a day, is taken off. The course of the river near the mouth was diverted some 40 years ago to the south, at great expense, by the Town Council, and in this way a considerable area of land was reclaimed for feuing purposes. The spanning of the river at this point by the Victoria Bridge, which superseded a ferry-boat, has led to the rise of a moderately sized town (Torry) on the south or Kincardine side of the river. The scenery of Deeside, all the way from the Cairngorms to the old Bridge of Dee, 2 miles west of the centre of the City, is varied and attractive. It is well wooded throughout; in the upper parts the birch, which would seem to be indigenous in the district, adds to the beauty of the hillsides, while the clean pebbly bed of the river and its swift, dashing flow delight the eyes of those who are familiar only with sluggish and mud-stained waters. It is not surprising therefore that the district has attained the vogue it now enjoys.

The average rise of the tide at the mouth of the Dee is 13½ feet at spring tides, and 8 feet at neap tides, and the former takes place when the moon is about 36 hours past the full and change, the latter about 36 hours after the 1st and last quarters.

This 1823 view shows the Castlehill Barracks and the then Trinity Quay running along the then Denburn shoreline with many sailing ships moored there. In the middle ground is the Craiglug Ferry area, above is Clayhills Brickworks and in the foreground intrepid walkers with creel on back.  The Ferry Hill rises from the north bank and in the distance St Nicholas Church.

The Dee, issuing through the Craiglug Narrow, spreads away northwards, skirting the Ferryhill and Clayhills, spreading over the shingle, where now stands the Guild Street Station, and then eastwards among the mud-flats that line the north shore (now Virgina Street) . When the tide was full a broad firth stretched from Torry to this north shore, with a few green islands, called the Inches, appearing above the water, the larger of which were occupied by the huts of the salmon fishers, and grazed by cattle. At ebb tide a network of narrow channels among sandy shoals and mudbanks lay between Torry and the City. How different the scene to-day, with the water confined into definite channels - the docks, Albert Basin, and the river. The old mud-flats are reclaimed from the tide, the main stream of the river is diverted into a new channel, and where once the fluke and the saith swarmed in the shallows and the crabs squattered in the mud, we have to-day busy thoroughfares, bustling factories, and deep-sheltered docks crowded with all the various craft the sea carries.

Old and New Torry

Seaside and Deeside Archive Film

Site of the Lower Dee Ferry Boat For centuries the ferry boat shuttled people between Pocra Quay on the North shore of the Dee and Torry on its Southern shore. The ferry was latterly operated by means of a rope strung across the river. The rights to run the ferry were lucrative and the Council regularly sold (or rouped) them to the highest bidder. The ferry was eventually replaced by Victoria Bridge, following the Dee Ferry Boat disaster of April 15th 1876 was a feast day and a holiday for most people in Aberdeen. There was a fair at Torry and many people were crossing the Dee by ferry in order to get to it. People waiting at the north Aberdeen side had become impatient waiting for the ferry to arrive. When it did they pushed onto the boat without allowing time for those already on board to disembark. The boat again unwisely set off, overloaded with more than 70 people. The ferry started to shake in mid stream, the rope was loosened and the boat drifted. As she capsized a number of passengers were able to swim to safety, but 32 people drowned.

The fishermen of Footdee did not object to this popular crossing of the water; it was a lucrative custom for them, but they were often fined and censured for hiring their boats on Sunday and watching men were also stationed at the ferry boat to note such persons as crossed the water to Torry, and order them before the Session for reprimand and fine. The old records will illustrate this state of matters 300 years ago.

It was the afternoon of a Sacramental fast-day April 15th 1876. For years these days, set apart for religious observance, had been changing their character and had come to be largely spent as holidays, and crowds of pleasure-seekers left the city to seek a change in the woods and glens and by the sea shore. Torry had been from time immemorial a favourite haunt of the townspeople, and on this day many hundreds had crossed the river and wandered to St. Fittick's, the Downies, and Tullos Hill. As the afternoon advanced the crowds seeking the ferry became more numerous and more impatient. About three o'clock over seventy passengers crowded into the boat before all its freight from the south shore had been able to disembark. One poor girl, who had just crossed from Torry, was obliged to return with the doomed boat, and she was among the drowned. The boat, propelled by a wheel round which a steel rope fixed on each bank worked, set out on its fateful journey. The gunwales of the over-loaded craft were within an inch or two of the water; the tide was ebbing ; the river, swollen by the snows melting on its upper reaches, was in flood, and the boat was swept down stream until the rope, stretched to its utmost limit, formed a sharp bight (loop) beyond which the boat found itself unable to advance. Tilting to the west side, the water began to flow in. The passengers, who till now had been quiet and orderly, became panic-stricken. Many leapt from the boat and saved themselves; but with the intention of relieving the boat the rope was slackened at the north end. The boat swept down river, the rope tightened again then snapped under the seaward momentum, and at the same moment the boat turned keel upwards and 32 of the 73 passengers were drowned.

Cults Cairn. This round cairn is scheduled as an ancient monument and is probably around 4,000 years old. It was originally one of three but the other two were carted away in December 1892 so that the stones could be used to repair damage to the banks of the River Dee after the massive flooding caused by the 'Muckle Spate'. At this time (1930's) the cairn was in a rural area, but it is now surrounded by a modern housing development in the area between Cults and Bieldside, 3-4 miles west of Aberdeen. It is about 20 metres in diameter and about 5 metres high on a crest overlooking the Dee valley. There was much concern in the late 1970's that the stones were being removed to create paths and rockeries.




1865 - Craiginches Survey

The diversion of the River Dee was effected under a contract which amounted to nearly £60,000.  Borings made in the channel formed for the river yielded fresh water, but it rose and fell in harmony with the rise and fall of the tide. The whole area of the estuary of the Dee, and also the bed of the river for a good way up, had been at one time a bed of fine laminated clay resting upon sand. Water from the river enters below the upper edge of the clay, and passing through the sand comes out at the lower edge of the clay, where the Navigation Channel begins. As the tide rises the under current of water is stopped and rises in bores, but it runs away again when the tide falls. About 200 yards below Craiglug Bridge, where there was anciently a ferry, dressed sandstone blocks were found. They could hardly have been the remains of a bridge over the river, but they might have been in a pier projecting into the river, at which passengers and horses embarked and disembarked. Farther down beams of oak were found, still connected together. These might have formed part of a wooden bridge, formed with planks resting on piles driven into the river bed. Such a bridge would easily have been constructed — one in Switzerland is carried across a broad lake — but it would have been in danger from ice and snow coming down the river. This might have been the bridge for the upholding of which John Crab made a bequest. The diversion of the river cost £37,000, and as the salmon fshers were tenacious of their rights and obstructed the operations of the Commissioners an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1871, empowering the Commissioners to purchase the fishings at a price to be fixed by arbiters. £38,000 was paid for the fishings in the sea within the new breakwater and for those in the river up to the Chain Bridge at Craiglug. The material excavated from the new channel for the river was employed in filling up the old channel, and by it and the dredgings from the Victoria Dock a large extent of ground was reclaimed. Some material was obtained also from the point of the Inches, which was removed lo facilitate the entrance of large ships into the dock. The Navigation Channel was cleared of all obstructions by the removal of the greater part of the old breakwater and the South Pier, only the end of it being left. Both these works had cost, much money and had been regarded as great improvements when they were made. In dredging the Navigation Channel, cairns built up around posts were found and removed, and the channel was widened out to 300 feet. The posts had been used in warping ships into the harbour against the wind.

Timothy Pont's Early Map of Deeside
This particularly informative map shows the lower valley of the River Dee, Scotland's fifth longest river. It extends from a point just west of Kincardine O'Neil to the North Sea at Aberdeen (although Aberdeen itself is not drawn fully on the map). The map extends southward to include the Cowie Water and Carron Water at Stonehaven. To the north the map includes Skene and extends almost as far north west as Alford

Pont's Upper Reaches of the River Dee
This sheet contains four separate units: Pont 7(1), a profile of Ben Lawers, the 3984 ft mountain just north of Loch Tay, Perthshire; Pont 7(2), a small neat map showing the catchment area of the Water of Tanar from near its confluence with the River Dee to the high hills around its source; Pont 7(3), a map showing the River Avon (and its tributaries) from its confluence with the River Spey in the north to Ben Avon and Loch Builg in the south; and Pont 7(4), a map of lower Strath Avon.

Up 'i' Dee in a Boatie

Ogilvie, James, Sr., Victoria Bridge
Rose, A., Victoria Bridge

The Holburn or Potters Creek outlet to the Dee was the Ferryhill Bank destination

Real fun for gangs of Loons was to find an abandoned pleasure dingy – the pleasure of gan - Up ‘i' Dee in a Boatie – run over time and left by the riverside café by the hirer for fear of an added time fine – the intrepid sailors would learn how to row regardless of the unfathomable depth of water beside the north buttress of the railway and suspension brigs and swan around on the pretext of returning it to the Boat sheds with clearly inadequate navigation skills – och we could have been swept out to sea of it wasn’t for the salmon netters.  The Torry Ferry disaster - ach it's deja vu a’ o’er again.

Daedie (David) Wood was a master boat-builder and may have built some of the pleasure craft available for hourly hire used on the Dee from the David and Alec Ogilvie South Bank Pleasure Boat Houses.  He hailed originally from the Doonies near Portlethen (derived from Port Leviathon as whales often beached there) and lived in Menzies Road and in his dotage in the mid 1940's he sat in the corner of the boathouse smoking his pipe and awaiting the odd repair job.  For entertainment he would watch the stunts of amateur oarsmen who ventured out on the Dee to express their manly but uncoordinated skills on their partners and put these girlfriends at risk of drowning on the deep and open waters of the Craiglug area of the Dee.  He was familiar with many boat designs and also a model ship maker; he would have waxed lyrical on the following dying skills of fellow craftsmen,  (The name Daedie was also used to address the oldest male in the Family of a fishing community) 

Fair Isle Skiff

The Loch Fyne skiffs. These are perhaps the best-known of all the small boats of the West Coast of Scotland, yet there is an urgent need for a good example to be preserved before they disappear. They were clinker-built at first, later carvel. The normal length increased to 30-34 feet early in their history but some examples were as small as 18 ft.  McCaughan has discussed the evidence that, like the Manx nobbies and similar boats built in Ulster, they were derived at least in part from Cornish luggers following the West Coast herring fishing. The Loch Fyne skiffs are distinguished by a heavily raked (45o) skiff stern and a nearly vertical stem with a well-rounded, shallow forefoot. They are very deep aft. Sometimes they are called Zulu skiffs because the profile is like the great Zulu luggers of the East Coast, but their origins and detailed hull shape are completely different. The Loch Fyne skiff has a much fuller stern above water, but shouldered rather than semicircular at the gunwale. The maximum beam is slightly forward of amidships although the bow is quite fine at the waterline and the stem profile is more rounded than a true Zulu. Relative to the size of the boat the construction is much lighter than the Zulus. The Loch Fyne skiffs have a standing rather than dipping lug rig, with a large jib set on a longish bowsprit. They are well documented on paper, with published plans by P.J. Oke and others, but preservation is urgently needed. The Scottish Maritime Museum has a nice small skiff but it is not of the Loch Fyne type. There were plenty around a few years ago but they are decreasing very fast, like all small boats of the Southern half of the West Coast. There was a small carvel one in good condition at Ardrishaig about 1982. The yacht “Neighainn Donn” is a good example of a carvel skiff with the original rig. I know of none of the early clinker ones except one hidden in the trees at the head of Sailean Mor (Ardnackaig, between Crinan and Carsaig, Argyll), in a fairly disintegrated condition

Horseback UK Deeside

The skyline of Aberdeen above Ogilvies Boat House and the approach to Wellington Bridge showing Riverside Drive by Craiglug.  The railway can be seen in the background and the Town House but no Citadel or Marischal College yet.  Two Cooling Towers seem active by what may be the Electricity Works at Dee Village Site

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Last modified: 01/09/2013