Monday, November 26, 2018

Autumn in Aberdeen

Autumn in Aberdeen... It's not quite winter here, but it is getting close to freezing, which you notice most when a solid wind greets you as you turn a street corner. Trying to tidy one's hair is a futile occupation. I bundle up and enjoy my walks each day, which can be an experience in time travel.

The modern route is King Street, where I share my journey with buses, trucks (lorries here), and incredibly brave bicyclists. Most of the granite houses lining the street were built in the late 19th and very early 20th century. It might have been quieter then, but there would have been the sound of cart wheels and carriages on cobbled streets and horses clopping by. At first glance, the houses all look alike, but each has its own way of marking itself as different from its companions.

Tiny gardens decorate the front of some; others prefer the look of unadorned gravel. 

Many houses have low garden walls with mysterious holes in them. The holes are where there used to be iron railings and fences; the railings were sawn off and donated to the government during World War II. (Ironically, they may never have been used.)

Late autumn here is a beautiful time, despite the short days and often rainy, blowy weather. (Sunset is at about 3:30 pm right now, and sunrise is about 8:15 am.) One of my favorite walks is through an old graveyard next to the building my flat is in. The trees have changed color now, and dropped most of their leaves. Astonishingly red berries hang down over gravestones. Frost occasionally whitens the carpet of colourful leaves on the ground.

And in a sheltered planter, it's not unusual to find the last roses of the season.

Another way I like to walk to class is the more leisurely 16th-century route, around the graveyard to the road called The Spital, and on up the High Street, into the old College Bounds. Here, the sounds are people talking as they walk to class, the occasional car tires stuttering along the cobbled streets, and bird calls.

This is the route past the King's College Chapel (1495), Powis Gate (which is not as old as it looks, built in the 1830s), tiny alleyways, and lovely granite walls. It's not the easiest thing to walk on a cobbled street, by the way.

King's Chapel (1495)
Powis Gate (1834)

Alleyway leading to Sir Duncan Rice Library 
from the High Street

Decorated windows along the High Street (the lower one was taken in early November, just after Halloween)

Looking down the High Street from an upstairs window in the old Town House and King's Museum,
University of Aberdeen

And speaking of pumpkins and the Hallowe'en, they celebrate it well here. However, their jack o' lanterns are not exactly like those in the States. It is actually far easier to carve the traditional turnip than a pumpkin, as our director, Dr. Tom McKean, demonstrated. For one thing, they're considerably smaller, and easier to scrape out.

Not unlike other countries, Scotland starts thinking of Christmas not very long after Hallowe'en. The Christmas tree in the market square on Union Street in Aberdeen went up before mid-November!

Christmas tree (photo taken at 7:30 a.m.
--dark mornings here!) 

The harbour at sunrise
On most of my trips outside Aberdeen, I walk down to Union Station to catch the bus or the train, past the market square where the Christmas tree is. The nearby harbour is always full of ships, and the Maritime Museum is definitely worth a visit. Some of medieval Aberdeen is still visible here, if you know where to look for it. The Carmelite Hotel, although 19th century, may have been built on part of the site of the 13th century building housing the Carmelite and Trinitarian friars, who were there for three centuries until they were murdered during the Reformation. What is left now is mostly the names: Carmelite Lane, Carmelite Street (and Car Park), Trinity Street. Place names like Old Blackfriars Pub and Greyfriars Church hint at an older Aberdeen. 

Old Blackfriars Pub, an excellent spot for good beer and great music sessions on Thursday nights!
St Nicholas Kirkyard, adjoining the lovely old church, is an oasis of quiet in the bustling downtown. I like to take a little detour through the graveyard and read the gravestones (there's a good map of them at the entrance). 

There is no oasis of peace and quiet when it comes to seagulls. Seagulls abound here. The biggest seagulls I've ever seen, they are remarkably  aggressive, too. I suppose something is officially a public nuisance if there are signs warning visitors about it...

Crathie Kirk

Several of my out-of-town trips this past month have been out the Deeside Road, which runs along the River Dee just south and west of Aberdeen. Crathie, a idyllic tiny town about two hours' bus trip west, lies beside the River Dee, and has been a favorite retreat for the Royal Family since the 1850s.
The old Crathie post office

The original Crathie post office, built in the mid-1850s, has been owned by the Thomson family of postmasters until this past year, when it was sold. One of the descendants, Bruce Thomson, still lives nearby. He and his wife own the Knock Gallery about a mile from the old post office. It's not only a lovely gallery, but it offers amazing views overlooking Balmoral Castle and dark Lochnagar, a mountain in the Cairngorms, made famous by Robert Burns. 

Lochnagar is a magnet for hikers and rock-climbers, and is notorious for rapidly changeable weather. The picture below is taken from Knock Gallery, looking out at Lochnagar, which at that moment was shrouded in thick clouds.

If I'd just waited another 10 minutes...

View from Knock Gallery, Crathie

Grave of J. Scott Skinner

So...a good part of why I'm here in Scotland is its music. On the early part of the trip from Aberdeen along the River Dee is Allenvale Cemetery, where the great Scottish violinist, J. Scott Skinner, is buried. He was born in Banchory, about halfway between Aberdeen and Crathie. Not only a violinist, he also played the cello, and was an excellent dance-master. He taught dancing for many years at the Balmoral estate in Crathie.

More music, ceilidhs, trips, and news to come! Visits to local violin ceilidhs (Polish and Scottish) organ concert in King's Chapel...a local arboretum...  Next weekend I will be in Sheffield, England, helping out at the Festival of Village Carols, and I will be sure to have some good pictures and recordings of that.

A glimpse of blue sky in a rainy week is welcomed!
Someone thoughtfully tucked a red rose in J. Scott Skinner's cravat.

And...a wildlife sighting in the koi pond of the David Welch Winter Gardens, Aberdeen. Could it be...Nessie?

Thank you for reading this! More stories soon...