• Richard Prosser

15th September 2019

As mentioned in my post regarding the Offshore Europe Conference and Expo, I had my first taste of Scotland last week.

This came by way of three days in Aberdeen. Despite living in and around London for three years back in the late eighties, I never made it north of the border. I regret that now, having had the chance to experience a wee bit of the other New Zealand, the northern hemisphere one.

Aberdeen was startlingly different from every other bit of the UK I've seen thus far; in a good way, however.

They call it the Granite City, because, well, it's made out of granite. It does go, somewhat romantically, by the name of the Silver City as well, due to the fact that the granite used in buildings here has a high content of mica, which causes it to sparkle in the light (and presumably in the misty eyes of homesick or whisky-affected Scots. Please note these two latter conditions may not be mutually exclusive.)

Being silvery isn't all beer and skittles however. A gentleman on the transfer bus from the airport, an Edinburgh native, advised me that in wet weather, the granite assumes a much more sombre and austere appearance. (He didn't put it quite that politely, but I'm pretty sure I knew what he meant.)

At any rate it makes for welcome and rather attractive change from the red brick landscape that dominates much of Britain.

Granite has been quarried here for more than 300 years, and was exported all over the world as well as throughout the UK.

The Stag, where we had tea, including deep-fried Haggis balls. Poor bloody haggis, is all I can say to that.

People have lived in and around this area for at least 8,000 years, first the Picts, then the Celts. Being sited at the mouths of two rivers, the Dee and the Don, it was an important area for fishing, trading, and beating up various invaders, notably the Romans and the Vikings (and presumably anyone else who looked at you the wrong way.)

The first City Charter is quite a Johnny-come-lately affair, not being granted until 1179 AD.

Robert the Bruce knocked the local castle down in 1308 after massacring the English garrison there, over some petty ongoing disagreement they were having regarding independence. By 1319 he'd rebuilt it again, and gifted the City - which provided him with refuge and succour during the unpleasantness between himself and the English - with the local Forest of Stocket, the income from which provides for Aberdeen's Common Good Fund, that's still paying out to this day.

In 1336 Edward III of England got his own back, for the Castle and massacre business, by burning the entire city down. It was duly rebuilt, of course, and there were a few more scraps during the mid-1600s.

Plague wiped out a quarter of the population in 1647. The city recovered, and by 1824 and 1865 respectively, it had gas lighting and underground sewerage.

There are plenty of truly remarkable buildings here, even by British standards. Aberdeen is Scotland's fourth largest city, population around 200,000. Nowadays it's the centre of the UK's North Sea oil industry, but judging by the unarguable opulence of the architecture, there has clearly been a lot of money here for a long time.

Before oil, Aberdeen had fishing, shipbuilding, textiles, and paper manufacturing underpinning its economy. And granite, of course.

Nothing says "I am Gothic" quite like granite. And, you know, I wouldn't argue with it.

My apologies for the quality of the pics here; I didn't take them when I should have, and got stuck with trying to capture whatever I could from the bus on the way back to the airport.

There are miniature Disney castles (in granite, naturally) like these everywhere, no two quite the same; many of them now occupied by law firms, doctors, oil company offices and the like, but still telling the story of the days when they were the townhouses of the well-to-do.

Even the modern terraced houses have that stark uncompromising thing about them, that only big, hard, heavy, uncompromising, naturally radioactive rock can bring.

There was something else that struck me as well, and that was how familiar the place felt. It could very easily have been New Zealand. I'm not just saying that.

Maybe it's some unspoken thing that the land just gets, along with the people. In Scotland, folk don't automatically assume that you're Australian the moment you open your mouth, which is par for the course pretty much everywhere in the English-speaking world. And they spark up conversation as if you're a long-lost cousin.

"Aye, New Zealand, it's like Scotland on steroids, love it there," was said by more than one complete stranger. "That's what we say about Canada," appears to be an acceptably humorous response.

I'm definitely going back. There's lots more Scotland to see, and I have to confess my interest has been piqued.


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© 2019  Richard Prosser