River Dee

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Dee, a river chiefly of S Aberdeenshire, but partly also of Kincardineshire. It rises from the very bosom of the Cairngorm Mountains, in the SW corner of Aberdeenshire, close to the boundary with Banff, Inverness, and Perth shires; and runs first south-south-eastward, but generally east-by-northward along the Braemar and Deeside districts of Aberdeenshire, across a wing of Kincardineshire, and along the boundary between Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire, to the sea at Aberdeen. Its length, if one follows its windings, is 871/8 miles, viz., 2¾ from the source of Garchary Burn to its confluence with Larig Burn, 11¼ thence to the Linn of Dee, 6¾ thence to the Clunie's influx near Castleton, 9 thence to Balmoral, 97/8 thence to Ballater Bridge, 131/8 thence to Aboyne Bridge, 15¼ thence to Banchory Bridge, 17¾ thence to the old Bridge of Dee, and 1 thence to its mouth in the North Sea. Its drainage area is estimated at 700 square miles; and from 4060 feet above sea-level at the Garchary's source it descends to 1976 at the Larig's confluence, 1640 at the Geusachan's influx, 1214 at the Linn of Dee, 1066 near Castleton, 872 near Balmoral, 663 at Ballater, 397 at Aboyne, 296 at the Bridge of Potarch, 102 at Drumoak ferry, and 72 at Peterculter. Its velocity, above Castleton, is fitful and various, ranging from cascade to current, from torrent to pool; but, below Castleton, averages 3½ miles per hour, with a mean depth of 4 feet, and is so regular as nowhere to furnish water-power to a mill. Its tributaries partake of its own character, being mountaintorrents in the upper part of the basin, and, in the lower, gently gliding streams; or, in some instances, are impetuous first, next slow. Its waters are remarkable for both perennial flow and limpid purity; continue, a long way down its course, to be almost wholly unaffected by any such circumstances as pollute most other rivers; and, even in its lower reaches where the drainage of farms and villages runs into them, are comparatively well protected from defilement by skilful methods of land drainage.

The Dee has been almost universally identified with the -Deva of Ptolemy, but the Latin editions prior to 1525 all read -Leva, and Skene observes that ` the distance both from the Firth of Tay and from Kinnairds Head corresponds more closely with the mouth of the North Esk than with that of the river Dee.' By Celtic scholars -Dee itself has been variously interpreted by 'dark' or 'smooth' or 'double water,' the last signification referring to the river's two-fold source, in the Larig and Garchary Burns. The Garchary, issuing from Well Dee (4060 feet) between Cairntoul and Braeriach, hurries 2¾ miles east-south-eastward to a confluence with the Larig, which, itself rising from the Wells of Dee (2700 feet) between Braeriach and Ben Macdhui, runs 1½ mile southward, and midway is joined by a half subterraneous torrent rushing 1 mile westward from its source (4200 feet) upon Ben Macdhui. And which, then, is the veritable head-stream? Dr Hill Burton elects in favour of the Larig, as less desperately flighty, more voluminous, and more in the line of the glen, than the Garchary; but, on the whole, the latter carries the day, by its longer descent and very much higher birth. The scenery of the meeting of the two streams is terrible, wilder even than that of Glen Sannox, Glencoe, or Coruisk; and serves to explain how the influence of alpine landscape has darkened the imagination of the Highlanders, and given aspects of gloom and superstition to their traditions- Hogg, speaking of Ben Macdhui, exaggerates nothing, but fails to give due force and fulness to his picture, when he says-

'Beyond the grizzly cliffs that guard
The infant rills of Highland Dee,
Where hunter's horn was never heard,
Nor bugle of the forest-bee.
'Mid wastes that dern and dreary lie.
One mountain rears its mighty form,
Disturbs the moon in passing by.
And smiles above the thunderstorm.'

A barren and desolate region, of which, as a boy, Hill Burton was told by Donald that it was 'a fery fulgar place, not fit for a young shentleman to go to at all;' and of which, some forty years later, Hill Burton wrote that, 'if we compare this defile to another of the grandest mountain - passes in Scotland-to Glencoe- we find a marked difference between them. The scene of the great tragedy, grand and impressive as it is, has no such narrow walled defiles. The mountains are high, but they are of the sugar-loaf shape-abrupt but never one mass of precipice from top to bottom. Cairntoul resembles those hills, though it is considerably more precipitous; but Braeriach is as much unlike them as a tower is distinct from a dome.' Through this narrow glen, then, that begins to widen below the Geusachan's influx, the united waters of Garchary and Larig flow, as the Dee, over a broken rocky bed in alternate sweeps, rapids, and cascades, till, at a place 6¾ miles above Castleton of Braemar, it forms a remarkable series of small falls-the Linn of Dee. The Linn is a natural sluice of rock, with rugged sides, and jagged, shelving bottom, 300 yards long, and at one point barely 4 feet wide-an easy jump. Through it the river shoots in small cascades; and it is spanned by a handsome white granite bridge, opened in 1857 by Queen Victoria. The river, about 1½ mile below the Linn, begins to touch some marks of cultivation; but it soon afterwards enters Mar Forest, through which it flows to some distance beyond Castleton, receiving in it the Lui and the Quoich from the N, and the Ey and the Clunie from the S. It next traverses Invercauld Forest; proceeds thence past Balmoral and Abergeldie: receives two small tributaries, from respectively the N and the S, in the vicinity of Balmoral; passes on to Ballater; and receives, in the neighbourhood of that village, the Gairn or Gairden from the N, and the Muick from the S. Its scenery between the Linn and Ballater is noticed in our articles on Braemar and Balmoral, and its scenery around Ballater and for some miles further on is described as follows by William Howitt: 'The hills are lofty, grey, and freckled; they are, in fact, bare and tempest-tinted granite, having an air of majestic desolation. Some rise peaked and splintered, and their sides covered with débris, yet, as it were, bristled with black and sharp-looking pine forests- Some of the hills run along the side of the Dee, covered with these woods, exactly as the steep Black Forest hills in the neighbourhood of Wildbad-' Meadow, cornfield, and garden, however, begin to show themselves as one approaches Ballater, ever more and more as the river rolls on towards the sea.

The Dee, from a point about 3½ miles E of Ballater, flows through a gradually widening valley, still narrow, but with less and less of its former Highland character; and it forces its way through a comminuted compound of granite, gneiss, porphyry, greenstone, and hornblende débris, and receives on both banks numerous small tributaries. It enters Kincardineshire at a point 3¼ miles SE of Kincardine O'Neil, and, traversing that county over a run of 9¾ miles, receives in it, on the right bank, the tribute of the Feugh. Retouching Aberdeenshire at the SW corner of Drumoak parish, it thence runs 14¼ miles along the boundary between the two counties to the sea at Aberdeen; and, from the point of its entering Kincardineshire onward to its mouth, offers alternations of tame hill scenery and beautiful lowland landscape. From source to mouth it traverses or bounds the parishes of Crathie, Glenmuick, Aboyne, Birse, Kincardine O'Neil, Strachan, Banchory-Ternan, Durris, Drumoak, Peterculter, Maryculter, Banchory-Devenick, Nigg, and Old Machar; and in our articles on these fourteen parishes full details are given as to the villages, mansions, and other features of its course.

The Dee was once the most finely wooded and the best fishing river in Scotland; and, though much Damaged by entails, manufactories, and stake-nets, it still, for wood and fish, has scarce a rival among British rivers. Salmon contrive to force their way, up all its currents and obstructions, to points above the Linn, and, though not now caught in any such quantity as in bygone days, are still taken in great numbers. About 20,000 salmon and 40,000 grilse are caught in an average season; but these numbers include those taken by stakenets and on the beach adjacent to the river's mouth. The best catch of the 1881 season was got about the middle of July, when some 600 fish were landed in a single day from the Pot and Fords. The finest reach of the river for rod-fishing extends from Banchory to Ballater. Clean-run salmon have often been taken by the rod so early as the 1st of February, in the waters above Ballater, at a distance of 50 miles from the sea; but they rarely ascend the Linn till after the middle of May. As a rule they run small, 7 to 10 lbs. on an average. The connections of the river with the water-supply and commerce of Aberdeen, as also the diversion of its channel, are noticed in our article on that city.—Ord. Sur., shs. 64,65,66,76,67,77,1870-74. See chaps. xxiii. -xxv. of Sir Thomas Dick Lander's Moray Floods (Elgin, 1830; 3d ed. 1873); James Brown's -New -Deeside Guide (Ab., 1843); and Dr John Hill Burton's Cairngorm Mountains (Edinb. 1864).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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