Running Diaries – The River Don Trail

On an afternoon of icy rain in Aberdeen I found temporary shelter under the arching Diamond Bridge. This is the third Don crossing, a structure completed in 2016 which connects the housing estates of Danestone and Middleton Park with the city centre.

Five miles into a nine mile run and the bridge was offering little respite from the biting cold. My hands were damp and almost numb. Despite this, I was most definitely in my happy place.

I scanned my surroudings. The River Don looked heavy from rainfall and snowmelt from the Eastern Cairngorms, 70 odd miles upstream. The thought of the icy water made me shiver.

For the last two years I’ve enjoyed following the river’s journey through Aberdeen on foot, switching between its north and south banks in different combinations. For a country lover like me, the area surrounding the Don isn’t too distant from a rural setting.

Monday’s muddy scramble had began by shadowing the river at Persley Bridge, a workmanlike crossing which carries the A92 as it heads North-East. The surroundings hadn’t been too glamorous for the beginning of this mini-adventure but I didn’t mind.

Separated by a roundabout, a sewage works sits across from the two storey Danestone Tesco store complete with massive car park. However, it was a steep embankment beside a Bannatyne gym that started my journey down the Don proper, leading me onto the path to Danestone Country Park.

On entering the park I had crossed the Bridge of Wellies. As my name for it suggests, this is a bridge with dozens of Wellies clinging to its fencing. Each welly boot contains a plant as part of a local initiative to brighten up the otherwise barren country park.

The Bridge of Wellies which crosses the Grandholm Mill Lade.

The path then distances itself from the river, but on Monday I turned back on myself and onto an always slippery slope. In my opinion, it isn’t really trail running if there aren’t some slips and trips. This time was no different and I soon had a mud splattered knee.

This excursion led me right down to the riverside for the first time and onto a more technical path. Careful attention has to be paid here to not tripping over a large tree root and headfirst into the Don’s dark waters. I’ve accidentally dunked myself in the River Dee at Kincardine O’Neil previously, but I think I’d rather fall in there for obvious reasons.

Across the water from this section is the Woodside sports pitches where I last attended a rugby match. That was in March last year, while on reporting duties as Aberdeenshire narrowly defeated Ross Sutherland.

Meanwhile, the trail meanders around trees with more lethal roots and stingy nettles in abundance. This is what a trail runner cooped up in a concrete jungle longs for.

Across the river from the Woodside Sports Complex.

This section soon gaive way to the cobble stoned Grandholm Avenue which leads to a complex of houses, shops and a care home. There are options here to cross a narrow girder bridge and tackle a cobbled ascent into Tillydrone. I personally prefer the muddy route to Diamond Bridge where I then crossed over onto the river’s south bank.

Between the Third Don Crossing and Seaton Park is an impressive Archimedes Screw and an island which seems to be permanently closed off despite there being a small wooden bridge across to it.

After my break under the Diamond Bridge, I had passed both these landmarks and traversed a short section of trail on boardwalk before reaching Seaton Park. This is a particularly picturesque area of the Granite City, especially when the sun shines and a plethora of flowers start to blossom in the summer months.

On Monday, the path towards Brig of Balgownie could be compared to a slip n slide. In my road runners I struggled to gain much grip with the path gaining altitude as it passed the prison like Hillhead student halls.

This exceedingly muddy section comes to an end at the scenic of Brig of Balgownie. Originally built in the 14th century, this bridge would have been the primary crossing across the Don in the locality for many years.

Night falls at the Brig O’Balgownie.

Addicted to polished running statistics and Strava segments, I used to foolishly view stopping for breaks during a run as almost a cardinal sin. Since moving away from Strava as a platform however, I now always ensure I include a moment or two of respite here. I watch the river flow lazily downstream and under the much newer Bridge of Don towards the nearby Donmouth Nature Reserve.

Just upstream from the Brig an ordinarily small trickle down the side of a steep drop sometimes becomes a majestic waterfall following a period of heavy rainfall. It cascades down from just below Balgownie Road and into the Don.

Crossing the river again here, its didn’t take long to reach Ellon Road. Often this is where I bid farewell to the river, returning to the realities of the bustling city. On other occasions I venture slightly further and into the small sand dunes of the Donmouth, the quieter side of the river’s completion point where there are often more seals than people.

On this occasion I ventured no further, flying down King Street. My hands reminded me that my poor circulation had taken a hammering. The ensuing discomfort of thawing them out in the flat is always worth it if there is mud and trails involved.

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