Embracing my Inner Aberdonian

“Ye hiv tae ken faar tae look. Ye need tae ken a the different places tae actually see the good characteristics o Aiberdeen.”

This was Leah’s wonderfully positive reply to a pretty negative question which I had tasked her with. It had come towards the end of a practice interview as part of my placement at Scots Radio. I had asked her if she thought Aberdeen had “something gaun fer it?”

My ever patient girlfriend from Keith was helping me sharpen my broadcasting skills as we discussed the idea of ‘A Sense of Place’, using the Scots language. This straight to the point reply took me aback and resonated with me as someone also from another part of the North-East.

You see lockdown and my third year as an Aberdeen resident has given me an opportunity to understand the city better. To realise that there is more to the Granite City than the unerotic shades of grey its nickname conjures up.

Growing up in a rural Aberdeenshire setting I always saw Aberdeen as somewhere I didn’t want to be. A larger dot on the road atlas I obsessed over. Eight capital letters at the end of the red A93. A destination which offered little more than 30 minutes of hell in John Lewis and a cringy secondary school date to Cineworld at Union Square. Snobbish I know.

Fast forward out of my teenage years (thank God) and I now feel more Aberdonian by the day. I’ve even considered changing my Facebook profile home town to Scotland’s third city. Therefore, renouncing the romantic falsification that I originally hail from a small fishing village (I spent my first year of my life in Whitehills, near Banff).

Through running (shock horror) and walking these streets, I’ve discovered parts of Aberdeen that I love. The River Don trail, Bucksburn Gorge, Seaton Park, Northfield Tower, Donmouth Nature Reserve and Girdle Ness lighthouse to name just a few.

Staying here due to lockdown imposed necessity has meant appreciating Aberdeen and it’s less obvious details more. I now search for previously unexposed detours amongst its many streets. I people watch and inspect every day life inside the city limits with an attentive curiosity that I didn’t have previously.

A large part of this is of course my connection with the harbour. This is where my late grandfather worked as a harbour pilot for many years.

At the entrance to the harbour sits the roundhouse, now dwarfed by a larger less aesthetically pleasing maritime operations building. The former is where my grandpa was based.

I often take a seat on one of the marble benches nearby, watching the boats of all shapes and sizes sail peacefully into the North Sea. This is somewhere I visit in search of some headspace. A place of important and joyful memories.

I think my memories are always intrinsically linked with the places I’ve been and the places I’m from and that this can sometimes be detrimental. For example, I realise that I was incredibly lucky to grow up in Deeside with the countryside as a playground and relatively safe adventures a stone throw away.

Unfortunately I feel I have to reconcile these feelings with some painful memories which I’ve tried to leave behind. Its not even events which happened in those geographical places, but more what headspace I was occupying while I was there.

This is course offset by a catalogue of wonderful memories with friends and family. By saying I’m from Aberdeen I feel I’m actually more connected with my family. They come from across the North-East and many have made memories of varying degrees in Aberdeen.

Over the last three years I’ve spent in the Granite City I’ve made an overwhelming amount of happy memories. I’ve stuck at a university course and will hopefully be going into fourth year next year. Additionally, I met my girlfriend here, I’ve shared two flats with brilliant flatmates, experienced the excitement of living in student halls and made good progress towards achieving my dream of becoming a journalist.

I now feel like an Aberdonian. A title I would be disinterested in claiming several months ago. This teuchter is gradually becoming a toonser and I don’t know whether to be pleased, slightly terrified or both.

Pounding Aberdeen’s Pavements with Purpose

Bringing in the distant bells of 2021 atop Creag Choinnich, I felt truly hopeful. I didn’t know what the start of this year would bring, but I did have one definite purpose: To cycle, run and walk 300 miles between New Year’s Day and the 6th February.

It had all started with a message into a family group chat from my Dad. The old man suggested my brother and I join him in logging our miles for the Doddie Aid challenge. This challenge would run throughout January and up until Scotland’s Calcutta Cup clash with England.

He didn’t have to wait long for my reply and I promised to donate a tenth of the miles I completed to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. This is a charity inspired by Scotland rugby stalwart Doddie Weir following his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease a few years ago.

After we had negotiated the treacherous descent of Creag Choinnich, my Mum and I woke early the next morning, setting off to find the Secret Howff. The location of this secret bothy is meant to be kept secret and we battled through deep snow to find it hidden on an outcrop after a five mile walk in.

At several moments during this mini-adventure I felt the cold ease into my bones. Casually chatting with Mum and glancing at Cora dog’s frozen paws warmed me up pretty quickly though. I had barely seen Mum during 2020 due to the sporadic nature of the previous year. This 10 mile walk had been the perfect sociable beginning to Doddie Aid.

I left the natural beauty of Braemar, three furry companions and my mother behind two days later for Aberdeen, just before another lockdown was announced. I added another nine miles in Upper Deeside to my total and then hopped on a bus. I knew I had to try and keep this momentum going in the Granite City.

I walked everyday, trying to discover route variations between Leah’s flat and mine or wandering down to the beach often in the dark. My phone can’t handle GPS, so every mile was being logged manually with the help of Strava’s routes function. Although this process had a time consuming element to it, I love maps so it wasn’t too testing a task.

My running was steady, if not slightly scattered into intermittent blocks of activity. I had habitual routes, but quickly became obsessed with running along the River Don where it almost felt like I was venturing into the countryside again. If only for a short while, I was able to get away from Aberdeen’s cold grey granite and the unnatural right angles of the city streets.

On two successive Saturdays I jogged to the Bridge of Don from my King Street flat, running a 7.4 mile loop around the River Don and timing myself. When I would return around 90 minutes later I was cold, sweaty and clarted in mud. The air felt fresher by the riverside, the trails fun and the nature more…natural. Those two runs were tough and magical in equal measure.

A difficult aspect of the challenge was the weather, with the mercury often plummeting towards freezing for most of the five weeks. This all but put the kibosh on my plans to brush the cobwebs of my bike. I could have ridden it, but I was admittedly nervous to face a potentially sketchy time in the saddle. I hadn’t ridden my stead for nearly six months following a crash at speed in the summer. I didn’t want to dent my confidence and more importantly my body, more seriously.

My original target of 300 miles would have still been reachable, but I unashamedly let this target go. I just wanted to be on my feet and to continue moving. Figures outside my daily totals began to feel meaningless. I took reassurance in taking every day as it comes.

The walking continued and I began to enjoy this less laboured form of exercise more. Towards the end of January the snow was beginning to deepen in areas of Aberdeenshire, but the city remained predominantly icy and sleety. On the penultimate day of the month I ran to the top of Danestone and found some feeble snow underfoot. Sometimes getting that wee bit of altitude opens up the city for those of us who like to explore its many streets.

On Friday 5th February I ran four easy miles around the beach and went straight into the shower on my return, running late for placement. It was only later that I realised my Doddie Aid total was at 190.4 miles. I stared at this figure for a while, in the knowledge that the day after was the final day of the challenge. Surely I had to try and finish on 200 miles?

And so the next day I set off with a 10 mile route planned out. I plodded towards a ominous sky along the Spital, scrambling across the slippery cobblestones of Aberdeen University’s cobblestones. From there I powered up Gordon Brae, breathlessly ascending this longish hill, before joining Whitestripes Road. On the final day of this personal journey I was finally leaving the city by foot. With a dull football playlist on low volume in the background, I ran with purpose in an easterly direction before turning back towards Dyce.

The Raynaud’s in my gloveless hands kicked in without mercy and the pain of having to clasp my phone became slightly overwhelming as I ran on. Continuing back towards the city, I passed a raging River Don which made me feel colder every time I glanced it. For the first time I was able to inspect the paper mills on the other side of the river in more detail. Running is a brilliant medium for actually experiencing your surroundings.

Eventually I reached Aberdeen’s city limits again. Ascending Great Northern Road I was buoyed by the deafening weekend traffic and the pain in my hands. I felt privileged to be able to run and more pertinently, to be able to use my legs for my own enjoyment at this time in my life.

And so with just hours to spare until kick-off at Twickenham I finished the challenge on 200.4ish miles. As promised I donated £20.04 to My Name’s Doddie and I hope I managed to raise a wee bit of awareness through my activities. It was a good excuse to be out and about for a worthwhile cause.

On a more selfish note, as I sat with my hands buried in a towel trying to get some feeling into them again I felt a huge amount of satisfaction. For some 200 miles in five weeks on foot will be impressive, while for others it will be less so. For me, I was just glad I rediscovered a lost love for running and as it turned out, for walking as well. I had pounded Aberdeen’s pavements with a feeling of purpose for five weeks.

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.

Six Festive Strolls

Cora pants with unstoppable enthusiasm as she drags me up the side of Carn na Drochaide with ease. Mum follows on behind as we struggle to navigate the slippery path in search of a good viewpoint. As humans we are unable to depend on the natural four-wheel system which dogs have at their disposal.

Eventually we are provided with views across to some of the highest mountains in Britain. The white complexion of the distant peaks of the Cairngorms means that several of them are difficult to make out against a darkening and overcast sky.

We agree to head back to the car instead of pushing onto the summit. It’s the day after the Winter Solstice and the landscape will soon to be pitched into total darkness. I’m tempted to chatter away to Mum about nothing much, but pause for a split second.

As we rest the silence is almost overwhelming. In that moment I realise how much I’ve missed the countryside and how grateful I should be for the opportunity to leave the city over Christmas, especially under the current circumstances.  

During the first unwelcome installment of lockdown, I often found it better to walk instead of run. Primarily, because it was usually a more relaxing form of exercise to slot into my permitted once daily venture out from Leah’s flat.

I suddenly found walking a great activity to slowly release any stress I had in my fragile system. Walks also provided a great opportunity for me to let any creative thoughts flow. Even if they centered on nonsensical nonsense half the time. Thus, I kept a short diary of my walks over the festive period. 

Monday 22nd December:

We left it until early afternoon to hop in the car with Cora, the excitable black and white Greek mongrel who enjoys elegantly posing for photographs. Parking near the punchbowl at the Quoich, we walked around the west side of Carn na Drochaide along a gradual incline to see if we could get a good view of the Cairngorms.

It wasn’t too cold and there was little ice underfoot, but we still had to navigate a couple of sketchy river crossings. From an elevated viewpoint we had a perfect of the east Cairngorm mountains. No one was about and blissfully, there was no unnatural sound. We descended carefully and eventually finished a decent outing as the last light faded in the west.

Tuesday 23rd December:

It was almost a full house for the Braemar Nixons contingent as we clambered up Carn na Sgliat on a chilly afternoon. At 690 meters, it is affectionally referred to by some locals as Coo Hill. The only member of the family missing in action was Skye, a tiring 13-year-old Black Labrador.

Although her fur is greying and she looks a lot slimmer, I don’t think she has run her race just yet. Though sadly, she does seem to be becoming slightly senile in her older age and is unable to come along on the longer walks with us anymore. I think she enjoys being without Cora and Islay’s company for periods though, especially as the former is the equivalent of a jumpy 20 something. Meanwhile, Islay is an 11-year-old Westie with a can do attitude.  

Coo Hill is one of my favourites hill runs. A winding path takes you up through the heather and eventually onto the summit. On a clear day you can get cracking views and it’s a great place to view Braemar village from.

Today it was blowing a hoolie and started to ding down with snow as we turned into the wind to return down the hill. Mags and I reminisced about eating lunch on the summit of every hill we climbed as a family when we were younger no matter the weather conditions. If we had climbed Everest as a family the result would have likely been death by tuna sandwich.

Christmas Eve:

Our Christmas Eve walk consisted of the classic Creag Choinnich excursion which is unequivocally the closest hill to the house. At a canter it takes about 25 minutes to traverse the steep path to the summit. It’s a perfect hill to climb if you find yourself in Braemar and are short of time. With enough exertion involved there is still a feeling of achievement when you’re able to stop and admire the several different views from the hill in all directions. Skye joined us this time and did admirably in slippery conditions.

Christmas Day:

Its almost family tradition to go for a decent walk every year on Christmas Day. In previous years the suggestion of an outing into the usually pretty ordinary festive weather is met quite begrudgingly. As a kid all I wanted to do was play with my new Subbuteo set or play with my new rugby ball.

This year it was definitely worth it though as we ventured out to try and find the Colonel’s Bed, a rocky overhang in a ravine in the River Ey. We parked the Corsa at Inverey, a hamlet three miles from Braemar and set off up Glen Ey. There was a smattering of snow on the ground and we had to take great care around the steep sided canyon where the bed lies.

The Black Colonel was a particularly violent Jacobite by the name of John Farquharson who apparently burnt down Braemar Castle in the late 17th century. Farquharson had also earlier been banished for killing a man from Ballater.

In search of shelter the colonel is said to have hidden from the Red Coats on the large overhang when they would pay visits to the local area. It is an atmospheric spot, but I also felt a little spooked when gazing into the tumbling rapids within the deep gorge.

 According to local legend, the colonel wanted to be buried at Inverey alongside his lover, but instead ended up at the graveyard in Braemar after his death. The story goes that on the day after the burial his coffin was discovered on the ground next to his grave. This happened twice more before he was eventually buried for good at Inverey.

This is a far-fetched story which I would love to explore in more depth as a piece of creative fiction. Despite this, I seem to get a shiver up my spine every time I read or write about the Black Colonel. It’s a bizarre feeling which I also experienced this afternoon in the vicinity of the Colonel’s Bed and again as I write this after everyone else has gone to bed.

Monday 27/12/20:

Today we walked from the Linn O’Dee car park to Derry Lodge, a building arguably at the outer edges of where the largest Cairngorm mountains begin. This was a bitterly cold walk which my numb hands and feet can attest for despite my thick gloves and wearing three pairs of socks.

Cora pulled Mags along on the lead with glee. When walking her we would love to let her run free, but she has run away so many times that we can’t really risk letting her off the lead. Her early years involved a tough upbringing on the streets of Athens, before she somehow ended up in the UK. With gas to burn Cora dog will just keep running.

This afternoon we were treated to stunning views of some snow-covered peaks as they almost blended in perfectly with the low cloud which obscured their summits. I again allowed myself to drift into my own creative thoughts as I strolled along. I considered how the weather conditions would-be near perfect conditions for the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui to make an appearance on Britain’s second highest peak, which is relatively close to Derry Lodge.

 Macdui is a monroe which I still haven’t ticked off my list. The fantastical accounts of coming across a giant creature near the summit in low visibility captured my imagination, but also irrational fear when I read up on the subject a couple of years ago. On the way back it started to snow heavily and darkness started to ascend quickly. I was suddenly glad that I wasn’t anywhere near the high peaks.   

Tuesday 28/12/20

This latest walk involved trying to find an abandoned cottage in the middle of a forest in a race against the fading daylight. Mags, Mum, I and the dogs went off the beaten track near Crathie, navigating a substantial forest with several spooky dark patches where the trees were more condensed.

After much map work, we finally found the cottage, apparently used by Queen Victoria during her extensive visits to the nearby Balmoral Castle. More recently planted trees now hem the long-abandoned building in and we had to walk a bit further to find the other end of the forest.

Once outside the intimidating woods we were treated to truly stunning views across to Lochnagar, a mountain which is synonymous with Upper Deeside. Today’s hike was the perfect ending to several festive walks which I was lucky enough to experience in a beautiful part of the world and with my family.

 Wherever you are I wish you the best for 2021 and hope you are also able to enjoy some walking when you need some peace. I would highly recommend it.  

Weekly Ramblings

Issue 11 – Monday 2 November 2020

The Good

The highlight of this weekend was watching Scotland defeat Wales in the Valleys for the first time in 18 long years, before enjoying a Guinness or two while watching France beat Ireland later on Saturday evening. Despite the turgid nature of the former game, it was bliss to see Scotland actually triumph on the road in the Six Nations against an opposition that wasn’t Italy. A feat the haven’t achieved since 2010!

Away from the oval shaped ball I’ve started a fundraiser for Movember as we head into the first month of winter. Seemingly lacking in the ability to grow facial hair, I’ve decided to start the month with some pre-existing facial hair and an aim to run as many miles as I can before the 1st December.

I’ll leave a link below to my fundraising page and would really appreciate any donations which you can spare. Hopefully we can help put an end to men losing their lives well before their time.

The Bad

I had a decent week in all honesty, but Leah did leave me for the sunshine and beaches of Moray to start a new placement. Although, I’ll miss her while she’s up there, I know its going to be another great experience for her being on a different placement and wish her luck in a new adventure.

The Ugly

This week I started the bad habit of running around the beach in the dark with my small phone torch for company. I enjoy the sound of the waves lapping on the shoreline and its a lot quieter along the Beach Promenade at nighttime.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s night run was slightly spoiled by a loose firework as I crisscrossed Broad Hill, the small bump next to Pittodrie. Descending from the summit an out of control firework landed ten meters or so from my feet after seemingly coming from nowhere.

Quickly changing direction I ran straight back up the hill and down the other side. Its funny how you don’t feel the pain when you’re running from danger. This is a clear advantage of reintroducing bears to Scotland for fitness purposes I would argue, but I’m becoming less of a fan of those fireworks.

Signing off,

David Hodo

Movember page: https://movember.com/m/14439801?mc=1

Running is Badass. Period.

While flicking through an issue of Runners World recently I came across images of toned athletic specimens in perfect fitting gear. Beside the images of barely sweating bodies are finely tuned weight loss regimes, 10K training plans and endless lists of foods to avoid.

Although I often envy the kitted out gentlemen in these publications tI have accepted that look isn’t for me. It might be one day, but it isn’t now. This is of course all my decision and I could look amazing if I chose to. I’m just bidding my time before I eventually cut out the digestives from my diet.*

As a man with wide thighs, short legs and a 30-32″ waist, most of my cheap running gear is seemingly either too baggy or tight. This perhaps explaining the multitude of curious looks which I think I receive when running around Aberdeen**, which have been compounded by the recent discovery of a large hole in a pair of my shorts. Not a look I would recommend.

My overthinking mind tells me the looks I receive are either for that or the unusual running style I’ve failed to adapt over the last five years since a p*** in a race told me I was running wrong. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.

Luckily I have come to accept my miss match of risque fashion choices and running style as my own. Running through the city has never really bothered me and it is one of the sole activities which I actually don’t feel socially awkward doing.

Several acquaintances have however, voiced their concern about running in the city. Some prefer the treadmill because they feel self-conscious about being seen on the hoof. Some do run outdoors but will only run at dawn or dusk when there are less people, but more zombies roaming the streets.

Unfortunately, our social media dominated society has suffered memory loss of what is real anymore, searching for a level of perfection which will always be difficult to reach. When I pass someone jogging around Aberdeen instead of judging their running style or studying their image for blemishes of imperfection, I instantly consider them a badass.

If your still concerned about feeling too self-aware then consider these points: 1.) Who put that person in a position to judge a badass like you? 2.) If they are judging you its because they are probably jealous that your a badass you badass. 3.) They are probably sad they will never be a badass.

Quite often I participate in the same formulaic discussions with non-runners or joggers who are unable to hide their incredulity at my most recent activities. They say: “How far did you run today?”.

And I’ll reply: “Just 7K”

And they’ll go “Just 7K?!”, often in a high pitched voice filled with shock and undeserved awe, before making it sound like I make it look easy when the reality was that I was blowing my arse out for most of the run. Almost collapsing at traffic lights as the blood rushes to my head when I come to a halt.

There’s a reason why several of my recent routes have taken me past ARI, climbing Foresterhill Road while dodging buses and ambulances. Running should be as hard as you want it to be, but the faster among us (not me) are most definitely not finding the experience painless when they run a 5K in under 20 minutes.

I guess I want to get across a point to those who see running as a higher playing field which they will never reach. Lots of people will never be keen on running and that is in itself understandle. Running can hurt dude and can sometimes be pretty miserable if your like me and suffer bouts of athletes foot. Many non-runners are also badasses. I’m just stating that in my book putting on some shorts and trainers is a qualifying factor for becoming a badass.

Gyms seem to be very popular places to visit, but I’m personally not a fan. I can understand the appeal for the more dedicated and disciplined or those who don’t like the Scottish weather. I like my exercise outside and in nature, even if that involves running through Northfield, probably not Aberdeen’s equivalent to the Amazon Rainforest or the Alps.

Some see this form of painful physical activity as pointless without a clear purpose. This epitomised by a passer by in Dundee who asked me: “What are you running from?”. That deeply philosophical question keeping me up long into the wee hours of the next morning after I had descended the Law in a state of existential crisis. I hadn’t been able to give him a straight answer on the spot.

On another occasion in the City of Discovery I was offered a lift. A kind yet misplaced offer which clearly showed a lack of understanding around the idea of running for leisure.

If you have never ran before you may find jogging difficult. We all have to start somewhere and it is the recognition that getting over that first hurdle is the hardest part which is a driving force behind my continuous running. I fear starting out again after a period of rest would be too hard.

I guess I just wanted to get across the point that it doesn’t have to be all about fitness, weight or even aiming to look closer to what this society wrongly assumes is aesthetically pleasing. Rain or shine, my running obsession will always be about my mental wellbeing.

The endorphin rush and sense of minor achievement helping me flush out any lasting negativity for a moment. I love the freedom which comes with a pair of trainers and a complimation of old rock songs on Spotify. Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnston has become a recent favourite of mine.

My message is pretty simple. If you want to go for a run or to get fitter then why not try the great outdoors and get some Vitamin D (not assured in Aberdeen). If you prefer the gym there’s nothing wrong with that either. You’re probably still a badass.

If you choose the outdoor version then why not run a 10K at your own pace? Run a mile. Jog for five minutes and then stop. Whatever you do, I swear you’ll look badass.

*Slight hint of sarcasm here for anyone that missed it the first time round.

**Maybe I’m a bit of an egocentrist?

Granite City Getaways

There was some faint hope yesterday on a sad day for the North-East that Nicola Sturgeon would announce a lifting in lockdown restrictions for Aberdeen. Alas there was understandably no change in the five mile travel restrictions currently imposed on Aberdeen’s 205,000 odd residents.

August is of course a time of the year when many Aberdonians would usually be jetting off to enjoy warmer climes or indeed, enjoying some Scottish sunshine while it lasts. This return to lockdown has therefore likely been a bit of blow, especially for those struggling to find or stay in employment.

However, for the former of these setbacks I thought I would maybe look at some of my favourite places to visit in the aptly named Granite City. While compiling this short list I realised the city which I often berated while growing up in rural Aberdeenshire isn’t really a bad place to live.

Kincorth Hill – Lets begin in the south of the city where most Central Belters and lost Dundonians will enter ‘Furry Boots’ city. Kincorth Hill is located just east of a Shell Garage which I spend much of my time in RGU library staring at when I have writer’s block.

There are several viewpoints atop this small gorse and heather covered hillock which provide great views of the city to the north. The hill itself can be quickly accessed via several criss-crossing paths from all sides.

I’d strongly recommend strolling across the hill with a fluffy Golden Retriever, although other dogs are available. Kincorth Hill is also one of several recognised nature reserves in Aberdeen and I imagine it would be a handy spot for those who have a keen eye for birdwatching.

Torry Battery – On the Southern side of the outer regions of the Aberdeen Harbour walls is the Torry Battery. This 19th century fortification was used during both world wars to protect the city from a very real threat. It was last actively used to house residents who were displaced during the resulting housing shortage following WWII.

The Battery is now recognised as a historical site which doubles up as a perfect viewpoint of the busy nearby port and the whole Greyhope Bay area is great for spotting a dolphin or two. These playful animals are often seen dancing in the wake of larger vessels as they pass the South Breakwater.

Girdle Ness Lighthouse – Just along Greyhope road from Torry Battery is the 37 metre tall Girdle Ness Lighthouse. This impressive structure is complete with a rusty fog horn and a cottage which can apparently be rented on Airbnb. To the south the lighthouse overlooks Nigg Bay, where a new harbour has been under construction since 2017.

It was built by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the famous Treasure Island writer, Robert Louis, in 1833. Activity on the building site next door is somewhat patchy due to apparent contract issues. This makes it a nice spot to find some peace and quiet away from the rush of the city.

Footdee – Directly across the River Dee’s mouth from Torry Battery is Footdee, an old fishing village pronounced as Fittie. This is a charming part of the city which likely dates back to at least the early 15th century. Its narrow pedestrianised streets give it the feel of somewhere which is almost stuck in time.

However, on my last visit to the village I noticed are signs which recommending against visiting the tight-knit community during the current pandemic. This should therefore be taken into consideration when visiting the area and I’ve ran along the beach when passing through the area.

Out with the village there is the modern Pilot’s House, with its many dimmed windows towering over the older building at Pocra Quay. This is where my grandfather worked for many years and it has recently become somewhere I like to go and reflect on life. A handy place to have in 2020!

Again this is also a great location for spotting the odd dolphin or porpoise along with the ships sailing into and departing the harbour.

Donmouth

At the other end of Aberdeen’s long beach promenade, the River Don enters the North Sea at Donmouth Nature Reserve. This area of conservation encompasses some grassland and sandy beaches on both sides of the river’s mouth.

I often enjoy strolling up the North Donmouth Beach while ensuring to maintain a safe distance from the seals which often congregate here. They seem to stop here for a friendly chat before swimming out to the icy waters of the North Sea again.

Brig of Balgownie & River Don Path

One of my favourite routes to run in the city has quite a rural flavour to it and involves traversing the Don from Ellon Road to Persley Bridge in Danestone. This route begins at the five arch Bridge of Don which was constructed from ganite in 1830, before reaching the Brig of Balgownie, an historic crossing which possibly dates back to the 13th century.

From this stunning bridge I usually follow a woodland track, passing through Seaton Park on my way to the relatively new Diamond Bridge at Tillydrone. Seaton Park is a lovely area to wander around on a sunny day, with a wide green space which is often traversed by students making their way to university.

The riverside trail then continues through the greenery which lines the lower echeleons of the Don. Taking you past the Woodside Sports Complex and through some newly built houses until you reach the Persley Bridge.

Northfield Tower

For anyone familiar with the outer regions of Aberdeen, picking a location in Northfield may seem like a slightly left of field option. I disagree.

Behind the area’s high school is the Northfield Tower which I happened upon a couple of weeks ago while looking to stand at the bottom of the city’s alternative to the Eiffel Tower.

From this landmark of the Aberdeen skyline also great view towards Aberdeen Airport and the northern regions of the city. Additionally, visitors to the surrounding playing fields can look into rural Aberdeenshire, a bonus for a teuchter currently stuck inside the city limits.

So there you have it. If you are currently struggling with being stuck in Aberdeen then perhaps you may want to visit one of the locations listed above for some local light relief. Although, even I’ll admit it will be a relief when lockdown has been lifted and everyone can carefully venture out into the countryside again.

A Crash Related Ramble

Never do I feel so confident as when I’m going great guns on a bike or tearing down a technical hill side like an ungraceful mountain goat, just about managing to keep my balance. Those moments are blissfully rare insights into a fantasy life which could resemble total self-belief while anxiety remains absent.

Reality does however bite when I dismount my bike or fling of my trail shoes. With this in mind, I hold those blissful moments before with added value. Only now as I relapse through a period of being anxious about those very activities do I realise how significant a role they play in my quality of life.

A wide spectrum of situations will undoubtedly make different individuals anxious and for me personally there are many. Public speaking, meeting strangers, driving in the city and visiting the dentist to name just a few.

Many of my anxieties need to be overcome if I’m serious in the long term about becoming a journalist or to indeed enjoy a good quality of life. And in truth many of them have been overcome several times. But life isn’t that simple unfortunately. So often its a case of one step backwards to make two steps forward and I’ve come to accept that.

Feeling anxious about an activity you’ve held as a remedy to detrimental mental health though? That’s a bit tougher to accept.

For so long riding a bike has been the love hate relationship which I’ve always enjoyed coming back to. I can’t exactly pinpoint my first experience on two wheels, but I can almost create the images in my head of a chubby blonde haired four-year-old on a bike with oversized stabilisers.

Likely pushed along gently by an incredibly patient parent or grandparent until eventually reaching that pleasing moment when I could ride unassisted. Sounds of encouragement coming thick and fast as I wobbled along at a snail’s pace.

Fast forward 20 years and the bowl haircut is gone, replaced by an even more horrendous hair style. This time inflicted by yours truly in a late night cider fuelled haircut session with some full sized scissors and a sink full of damp hair.

On a more serious note, that came last week when my anxiety felt as out of control as my ever growing lockdown mullet. Cutting my hair, however poorly, felt like one of the only things I could control on a visual level.

My legs are also thankfully stronger nowadays and I’m able to propel myself along at a much faster pace, thanks in part to getting rid of the stabilisers. Unfortunately however, in another addition to a comedy of errors I discovered I maybe still needed them.

It had been a surprisingly warm June day after the week previous had proved there isn’t really a Scottish Spring weather wise. It just seems to jump straight from winter to summer. Must be a baptism of fire for those poor calves and lambs.

Anyway, on a pretty depressingly unproductive day last week I decided to brush of the cobwebs, aiming for a wee spin out to Linn O’Dee. I wanted to add a few mild evening miles to the cyclometer. I wanted something, however small, to show for when I lay my head on my pillow later that evening.

I sped up to the Linn O’Dee Bridge, brushing past a father and son with an arrogant greeting as I sped past. I felt like Bradley Wiggins if he had a shit hairdo and no side burns.

I felt so good I decided to extend my ride slightly to the Linn O’Quoich. A car park further down the road heading back east where the tarmac comes to an end.

The road was unsurprisingly devoid of traffic and pedestrians until I glanced a couple leaning on their grey vovlo after reaching the brow of a slight hill. On seeing a potential crowd to my incredible Tour de France cycling skills, I decided my gratification levels needed an unnecessary boost.

As an inconsistent user of Strava and social media in general, I feel like I don’t look for that gratification and justification quite enough. Even if I guiltily concluded recently that this very blog is also seemingly often geared towards lazily gaining those two elements.

And so I hit the accelerator, pummelling my way down the other side of the slight incline, imagining I was time trialling.

Suddenly I wasn’t peddling anymore. There was no saddle beneath my lycra cladded buttocks. I lay sprawled on the tarmac, my long suffering bike slightly mangled beside me as a sat like a startled ugly deer for a split second. I had crashed good and proper.

Regaining some sense quickly, I leapt to my feet praying that the nearby couple hadn’t seen my wee incident. There prayers weren’t answered.

“Are you alright?”, asked the woman as I followed her voice to see the concerned Volvo owners giving me discerning looks from a safe distance. Fuck.

My go to response was nervous humour as I tried to mount my poor bicycle with some urgency. I joked about the number one rule of crashing being to always crash with an audience, before quickly realising my front brakes were jammed.

While fixing it I noticed the blood pouring profusely from my left knee and found some solace in my right knee’s rare avoidance of harm in an accident. I was likely fairly lucky not to break anything. Especially after coming down at some speed.

Instead of the fulfilment I’d hoped I would have felt after my ride, I spent the rest of that evening cleaning my wounds and trying to figure out why I’d so unexpectedly ended up on the tarmac.

Only once previously had I bailed from a road bike. That occasion being seven years ago and occurring in an almost comically controlled and deliberate manner. A swinging tractor’s trailer resulting from a mistimed overtaking attempt forced me to fall into a soft verge in slow motion.

There hadn’t even been any bruises that day and it hadn’t at all discouraged me from going out and doing the same the next day. This time however, was different.

This time there had been no obvious risks. I was sure I hadn’t pulled my brakes and the accident had taken place on a fairly straightforward section of road. Perhaps a pine cone laid by an evil squirrel had been the culprit. Maybe my front brake had jammed before the crash, but this seemed difficult to explain if I hadn’t touched the lever.

A week on and my bruises are now healing well and I’ve realised this crash shouldn’t have really been that big a deal. Yet, I also realised I’m now worrying about my recurring cure for worry. That in itself is worrying!

Forgivable confusion from that last statement aside and I’ve now suitably recovered from my bruising encounter with the tarmac. I’ve left the bike and its buckled wheel alone for the moment and am focusing on the running.

After saying I would, I eventually made it up the mighty Morrone on Tuesday and plan to do the same tomorrow after laying low for the last few days.

Hopefully I’ll be back on the bike soon. Able to banish any nervousness which comes with riding it. Wish me luck!

 

 

Weekly Ramblings

Issue 9 – Wednesday 10th June

The Good

A slightly late Weekly Ramblings comes to you from a fifth week of lockdown spent in a slightly colder and cloudier Braemar. Later this morning I’ll be leaving the village to perform a socially distant visit of my Granny with my brother.

Armed with muffins, I’ll be taking Dad’s diesel Mitsibushi on a proper spin for the first time after embarrassingly being unable to figure out how to pop the fuel cap open earlier last week.

Apparently the car itself is slightly top heavy, meaning I’ll have to take the many corners between here and Ballater with care. This week it was finally given its MOT and is now road ready. I just need to remember it takes unleaded? No, diesel!

This week has also seen less lycra action out with a weetabix fuelled ride over Glenshee on Thursday in unseasonably cold temperatures. That ride definitely doesn’t rank as being one of the more enjoyable ones.

Indeed, neither was it one of my finest moments as I often loudly cursed the existence of a moderate North-Westerly wind all the way home.

As always though, there was a recognisable overriding feeling of achievement after completing a Rule Five ride for the first time in a while. More obviously enjoyable at the  however, has been my strive to find my hill running legs again.

Starting of relatively small, I’ve started going further and finding some more challenging climbs to test myself on. The Morrone Birkwood and forest beyond it has proved a good testing ground, with a multitude of climbs amidst colourful heather providing a strong backdrop to several outings now.

Next week I’ll be targeting a rare attempt at Morrone Hill itself and lets hope the Old Women of Winter doesn’t leave me needing temporary stitches in my knee this time. I’ll also be attempting once again to improve my poor diet habits in the hope of making the load I need to carry with me up the Corbett a bit lighter.

The Bad

In order to avoid making this segment a weekly rant, I’ll try and cut to the chase as quick as possible. As the title of this segment suggests that alone can be difficult for me at times.

On Thursday evening I sent a letter to the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie. Within the short-ish (for me anyway) essay I asked Mr Bowie about his views on: (a) The Black Lives Matter Movement and its significance in his constituency.

(b) What he thought about Donald Trump’s dangerous and perverse reaction to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests in his country.

(c) Whether he would be willing to call out cases of institutionalised racism in the House of Commons.

Now there has yet to be a reply, but I want to give my local Westminster representative the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe he’s been flooded by similar letters and is replying to them when he can. Maybe my email landed in his spam folder.

I also realise he’s likely been heavily involved in the political response to the Covid-19 outbreak, amongst other localised and national issues. It is therefore unfair to locate Mr Bowie in this week’s bad section purely for his failure to reply to my email.

Although, I would be interested to find out how many of those who have written to their local MPs have received a reply. Perhaps an Instagram poll later in the week will provide a vague idea of their response to those who did put pen to paper.

That being said, I have been slightly irked by the general response amongst Conservative Mps (and others) to the growing movement behind Black Lives Matter. This response from some MPs local to Aberdeenshire seems to be either pretty meagre or actually focused on choosing a different issue of the here and now.

This issue being the violence which has been perceived as marring the UK based protests. Protests which have been largely peaceful, with the tearing down of statutes and defacing of others being widely reported.

At this point let’s be clear. In no way I’m I defending the vandalising of the Cenotaph, an important war memorial to those who bravely fought and died for this country.

Instead, I’d suggest that many who have a political platform and a clear voice aren’t doing enough to back this pivotal movement and the toxic rhetoric and behaviour of those who still base suppression on a person’s skin colour.

Its arguably easier to discuss violence on the streets and protest related social disorder rather than attempting to tackle an ugly racist undercurrent within our society. I just feel this isn’t a time to pick and choose issues.

Some have clearly decided to give more airtime to the unfortunate and indeed, unforgivable incidents where British police officers have been harmed. They seem to have given this issue prominence over the systematic killing of black people at the hands of American police for generations. This to me seems slightly puzzling, if not a tad inconsistent.

The Ugly

My hair is pretty ugly right now, floating between a poor attempt at a surfer dude and a 1980’s lower league footballer. Getting a haircut is definitely one of the items on the post-lockdown priorities list.

A slightly ugly scenario also played out on Tuesday’s run when an oyster catcher became anxious about the threat a bedraggled bandanna sporting runner poised to its nearby nest.

Running down towards the Games Park I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of bird shit. This being accompanied by several rounds of good old fashioned dive bombing.

Although, this was an unnerving run in, my similar experience with a buzzard in a field a few years ago was definitely more intimidating. During that encounter I could feel the bird of prey breathing down my neck as I breathlessly sprinted towards the nearby trees. I will however, consider an alternative route next time for the angry oyster catcher’s benefit.

Hoping that this relatively harmless bird anecdote has distracted you from the slightly politicised section beforehand its time to go and fill up the car. I realise I’ve broken my unwritten rule of not being political on this blog, but I hope you realise these are unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone.

 

Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.