In 2022 I have been commissioned to research a memorial to Covid for Aberdeenshire. My proposal is to develop a long-distance path from Mountain to Sea – taking Aberdeenshire’s motto literally. Based on Patrick Geddes’s Valley Section, I have been walking from Aberdeenshire’s highest point Ben MacDui in the Cairngorm mountains to the North Sea port of Peterhead.
Braemar. Roy, Aileen, thänks for coming. Over the bridge, up, lost? No, its right. Lion’s face. Its true. Chat chat. Covid, lockdown, how was it for you? Her mum, her children, far. Meander. Through the forest. Invercauld. The wealth. Its here. Art and Wealth. No: Wealth and Art. Road. Along the road. Busy road. Busy, busy. All the tourists. In Royal Deeside. Path, wood, check map. Roy, how was it for you? The coach, the Olympians, the skiers? Good. But the rules. They change. Open, for interpretation. Ah. True. You interpret. I interpret. Can we meet in the middle? Deer. Stags. Many of them. Picnic. Pink one. Balmoral. The estate. Police. Dotted about. Queen. In Residence. Better stay away. James. Normally at Buckingham. The Palace. Cockney accent. Had a 2 year break. From Balmoral. Crathie.
A tick. Royal? From yesterday.
Crathie. With Nick. South Deeside Road. Scenic. Lochnagar. My favourite. Favourite mountain. Abergeldie castle. Access? Stumble. Stumble along. The river. The Dee. The royal. All royal. All different here. In this part of Aberdeenshire. Ballater. Patrick Geddes. My friend. Long dead. His birthplace. He is there. On a plaque. At the icecream shop. I ask. They never heard. They say. The library. Nice librarians. The Heritage Hub. Lovely keepers. They educated at home, and still do.
The tick. It’s big. Chemist. Antibiotics. No fun. 21 days! No alcohol. Lots of suncream. Side effects. Off I go. Old railway line. Past Patrick Geddes street. In a council estate. Would he have liked it? I doubt. The line. Straight. Easy. Bakery. Nice. The Dee. On my right now. Woods. Scared of ticks. Dinnet. Hotel closed. Meet James. At play ground. Former teacher. Along the road. Don’t like road. Only option. He says. Time passes quick. With the chat. Chat chat. The pandemic. It helped. He said. With his mental health. The calmness, the stillness. It brought. Pee. Sporty plane above. The vegetable garden. Megan. Her baby John. Born in lockdown. A lockdown baby. Pink picnic. With lockdown cake. Tarland. The village. Up, up. The paths. The path group. The MacRoberts Trust. The apiary. Meet Yvonne. The bee stories. They thrived. Off again. Along. Past the famous fiddler. Down to Coull. Anke the photographer. Awaits in the garden. Full of Covid induced flowers, veg and fruit. Could I ever do this kind of thing? I wished. Sigh. We talk through the night.
Sheila joins, upwards, steep. Wished I had some poles. Do I need poles? Its hot. Hot in Aberdeenshire? The woods, the path, the gate. Anke says good bye. Along the fence. Sheila tells about her son. Almost did not make it. Was shielding. Scary. Very scary. We see a loch. No-name loch. I jump in. Say good bye to Sheila. Walk on. Hot, hot, hot. Down the hill. Along, along. Something to do with Macbeth here. Not sure what. I think a small band of retrainers and MacBeth were ambushed here MacBeth hotel. I go in. They all turn round. Strange woman with a rucksack. All sweaty. I need a drink. I say. You are in the right place. They say. Ok. They all turn round again. Other direction. Lime and Soda. Move on. Tea room. No money. Where do I get money? Move on. Little road. Uphill. See red roof. My destination. Down again. Pick weeds. Floraging I call that. Hate supermarket flowers. Loads of different things here. Wild angelica. Pink clover. In abundance. Its nice. On the road now. Tornaveen. Margaret waiting in the garden. Nice. I have a bothy. A good shower. Wonderful after that hot day. We eat. We sit on the sofa. She tells me about Dave. We hug. We visit Dave in the garden, the grounds. Many trees. Newly planted. It’s all calm.
Margaret accompanies me. She gives me sunglasses. I see myself in her glasses. Funny. The dog comes too. Its uphill. She tells of the farmer, and the windfarm. And the money. We say good bye. Not for long. I hope. We hope. I move on. Turn right. Turn left. An avenue of trees. Like in France. I am soon there today. Over road. Over burn, some need to jump. Some more flowers. I arrive. Dalherrick cottages. Folks in garden. Bliss. So hot bliss. Not normal. New normal? I cook today. what the garden has on offer. I cook Ukrainian. Its week 25 or something. Since the war started. Crazy. Need to stop cooking Ukrainian. Too many other wars. We talk. About Covid, about lockdown. Lots of work for Jo. Family coming together for their Dad. Fun stories, meeting neighbours at corner of fields. Making music over the net. Reviving the folk club. All thanks to the pandemic.
Walk off with Jo. Real Aberdeenshire land now. Farms and fields. As far you can see. No villages, no shops, no buses. But farms and fields. Zig-zag myself through the farmland. Its hot again. My antibiotics play up. A man on a bicycle. He liked it too, the pandemic, the lockdown. Bye Jo. See you soon. Zig-zag. Zig-zag. Barley, neeps. What else? Grass for cattle. Aberdeen Angus on the horizon. Sheep too. In the woods. Think I am right. But am not. Bloody phone. Why don’t I look at the paper map? Get destructed. Call. No, move on. Fall over wall. Into the nettles. Never mind. They stimulate the blood circulation. No? Busy road. Echt shop. Icecream. Cornetto. Not had one in years. Move on left, then right. Along. The loch. Can you swim? Yes. No. Rough farm. Bit scary. Bullets and bottles. Bottles and bullets. How would it be if some body came? How? Ok. Wood, path. Mike catches up. With bike. We climb over the trees. Storm Arwen. Obstacle course. With and without bike. Garlogie Inn. Lime and soda. On the road. Jim. Former sailor, tea. Liked it all. No much change, he says from other times. No car. Just bike. Stayed put. Daughter came and brought the shopping. Walk on. Road so busy. So many cars. Why always cars. What would a world without cars look like? Mike’s house. Elspeth. Lasagne. Yum. Chat into the night. On the terrace. Like back home. Not Scotland.
Elspeth joins walk in morning. Across the big road, across the roundabout. Westhill. Urban Aberdeenshire. Good bye. Good bye. Thänk you. Komoot. Tells me to go behind the houses. Clever. Clever software I walk along. The Burn. The
Bucksburn Criss cross. Cross criss. Hot. Too hot. The bus. Hop on.
I start in Dyce. Nice café. Unexpected. Christine here. Nice. Missed her. We walk on. Nick has sore foot. Along the railway. They former track. We chat. The stones. Yes, the stones. They are a possibility. They are markers. Thanks. For the tip. Newmachar. Pub. Hotel. Chinese. Rig workers. Should have talked to them.
Formartine and Buchan, that’s what it is called. Off we go. Udny station. Where are my people? No, wrong address. Udny another 4 miles. Shit. Off. Fields with thistles. On purpose? All purple. All purple. In Udny. Oh no. Wrong again. Turn round. Wrong, wrong. Pitmedden. 2 hours too late. Congratulation. Jill waits. Tells me her story. With the family. At home. The people, the walkers. The older ones just did not want to do it. Younger ones more obedient. Funny. Walk off. Towards Ellon. Hungry. Coffee Apothekary. Soup. Off. Bridge, path underneath. Turn back. Woods, wrong, lost again. Good grief. Kneedeep in thistles. Good for the blood circulation. Path. Finally straight. Not much can go wrong. Through a housing estate. Crisscross. River Ythan. Library. Meet Kirsty. She was moved to the helpline. In Covid. Stressful. Then carpark attendant. Moira too. Thanks for signing. BnB.
Day in Ellon. Foodbank, dogwalkers, retired people, sheltered housing, Covid researcher. The stories are multiplying. Locked in, food scarcity, lost jobs. All there. I am knackered. Bruedog factory. Something else.
To Mintlaw today. Railway track. Like every day. The fields, the vastness. No people, no farmers. In sight. The pink. Off the willow herb frames the walk. Same colour as the OS map. Same as the table cloth. Maud. Icecream. Sibby joins. A teacher. She missed the students. The internet was shite. No, was not good. Teaching languages. No. Not good. Old Deer. Good bye. See you soon.
Day around Old Deer. BnB folks. Corrie and Martin. Just moved. 2 weeks, before lockdown. No income. Aden Country Park. The walkers. Health walkers. Charlie, Edna, Ann, others. Justine organizes it all. They like the walking. Keeps them going. Derek next. Aden Heritage group. Brought the Book of Deer to Aberdeen. Full of stories. The abbey, the archaeologist, Ali. Now Saskia. At the museum. The book of Deer. Interesting. Oldest book in Scotland. Now in Cambridge. Why? Saplingbrae. Hotel. Loch. Nice.
Some folks from Huntly today. Rick, Claire, Alison. Nice. I talk to them all. Individually. It’s hot again. New normal? In Scotland? Not sure. Alison – carer. Worked through it all. Rick –worked from home – hard to motivate. Lots of rowan trees. Spot the sea. Would be nice if there was still a railway. All gone. Since the sixties. The houses. The pool. The harbour. Its there. I arrived. The ships. The trailers, the rigs. I am there. In Peterhead. Dolphin restaurant. Sole in batter.
Norma comes. And Tony. Walk to Boddam. Hot. Forget the sun cream. Blister. Past the prison. Go there tomorrow. After the foodbank. The stories of the Zero hours. The stories of the prisoners. They are sad. I am sad.