Kinker to Dess

Kinker to Dess

Notes on history and land use

Kincardine O’ Neil

The village was at an important crossing point over the Dee from time immemorial throughout the medieval period and into the 19th Century. That changed only began to change 200 years ago when Potarch Bridge was completed in 1814 and the more so as the railways were built. Until then if you were travelling from the south of England to the north of Scotland you would probably have gone through Kinker which was on the Dundee to Inverness road. Cadgers (travelling salesmen), soldiers, thieves, cattle drovers and a king or two all passed this way.

St Erchard, a disciple of St Ternan, is associated with Kincardine O’ Neil and, alongwith other Celtic saints, they are likely to have brought the Gospel to this part of Deeside in those lawless Pictish times. In the village there is a well dedicated to St Erchard.

In medieval times there was a hospice at the old kirk, now ruined. Just west of the kirkyard a track leads down to river. This is the Ford road to the historic crossing. The Boat road is upstream: along the track along the east side of the football pitch. The ferry would have been a small rowing boat which was worked from the Ballogie (i.e. south) bank, where there is a Boat Cottage and a Ford Cottage to this day. To summon the boat to the Kincardine side, I am told, one stood on the riverbank and roared, “BOOOOAT!”

The Boat of Kincardine was operated until the 1930s and so remains within living memory. Margaret Allardyce, the daughter of the last ferryman, still lives on Deeside. Her father, Smith by name, had his difficulties and remembering to secure the boat properly was one of them. When my great uncle, Colonel Randall Nicol of Ballogie, had to send the estate lorry to pick up the boat from Aberdeen harbour after a spate yet again, he decided that enough was enough and closed the ferry. It is interesting though that the boat crossing was still in use well over 100 years after the opening of Potarch bridge in 1814.

The Old Deeside Road

The focus changed from a north-south axis to east-west! If you stand outside the village shop facing Christ Church you will see that the buildings stand progressively further apart. The cottages and shops on the north side are on the line of the Old Deeside Road which ran up behind (i.e. north of) the Old Rectory and Christ Church. The road crossed the Pitmurchie road at more or less right angles and over the field to the west. This section can no longer be traced on the ground. Between the next fields west the double dykes along the road survive as far as Heughead. West of there the turnpike road, which has become the A93 North Deeside Road, takes the same line as the Old Deeside Road for over a mile. There is a former toll house below Christ Church at the foot of the Pitmurchie road.

The longest section that remains a public road runs from Bridge of Canny up past Craiglash quarry until it meets the Kincardine O’ Neil to Torphins road. These old roads were built on the Roman principle: as straight as possible, up and over the hills. In the early 19th Century came the turnpike roads which were designed for stage coaches and carriages and so were made following the contours and went round the hills.

Water supplies

Still on infrastructure, a quarter of a mile up the Deeside Way north west of Kinker is Cistern Wood where there is a concrete structure with a semi-circular roof, similar in cross section to a Nissan hut. Inside this would have looked like a little swimming pool and was the collecting tank for the former supply to the village, which is now on mains water.

A quarter of a mile west of Westertown, the Deeside Way passes a solid masonry structure, some 2 metres by 2 metres. This is close to a wet hollow and is or was the collecting tank for the water supply to Dess House and the stables. It is likely to have been built in the second half of the 19th century at the same time as Dess House.

Dess Woods

The Hill of Dess was all but denuded of trees in the Great Gale of Saturday 31st January 1953. The gale was a body blow to forests across the North East coming a mere eight years after extensive felling in the Second World War during which Britain was compelled to be self-sufficient in timber for by way of example shell cases, rail rolling stock, railway sleepers, pit props, tattie boxes, fish boxes, hutted camps, aeroplanes, small boats, barges, wharfs, electricity and telegraph poles, signs, shoring up bomb damage, and of course paper. The combined impact of the wartime felling and the 1953 Gale remains imbedded in the age profile of the forests as there was a massive replanting programme across the hillsides in the late 1950s and through the 1960s. To say that all the trees on Deeside are the same age would be to exaggerate but restructuring the forests into a more balanced or normal age class profile does present a challenge to today’s forest owners and managers.

The path that branches off from the Deeside Way to the Falls of Dess is one of several radiating out through the woods from Dess House so that the owners and their guests could take a constitutional to the waterfall.

Carbon capture and storage

All through the growing season the trees use sunlight and the chlorophyll in their leaves or needles to combine carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates through the amazing process of photosynthesis thus reducing greenhouse gases. At both a local scale on Deeside and across Europe each year more wood grows than is harvested so the carbon store steadily increases. Much of the harvested timber that we use every day remains carbon (as opposed to being oxidised into carbon dioxide). For example three-quarters of the new houses built in Scotland are timber framed and in each of them the wood is a store of carbon throughout the life of the building.

Loch of Auchlossan drainage scheme

Looking down to the west from the Dess Woods above the Deeside Activity Park one sees a bowl of farmland. This used to be the Loch of Auchlossan which was drained for agriculture in the late 19th Century into the Burn of Dess. The outflow is through a large pipe, two feet in diameter if memory serves me right, a few hundred metres above the Falls of Dess. In winter or after heavy rain, the loch begins to form again: not so good for farming but of benefit to the geese who overwinter at Auchlossan in some number.


Medieval township

On Dess there is a fermtoun (Doric) or clachan (Gaelic) above Townhead with a well preserved pre-agricultural improvements field structure preserved in the stone dykes. The houses or cottages are on the hard ground of the ridge to the north and were built on the poorest sites as the fertile soils were too valuable not to be cropped. The Grants of Monymusk on Donside were leading players in introducing the new farming methods in the North East.

The folk here at this township were well placed for the St Bartholomew or Bartle fair which took place just north of Kinker and for which those from the southern side would have come across the river on the ancient route and they were also well placed to supply the hospice and the many travellers.


Andrew Nicol


June 2015