Footdee, Aberdeen

Footdee white house

Footdee (pronounced "Fittie") is a small fishing village near Aberdeen harbour. From the beach it’s easy to miss but turn a corner and you're in a delightful square full of dinky little houses gathered round a communal green. Round the outside of the square the buildings are regular - neat rows of granite cottages and townhouses but round the inside they're anything but with shacks, sheds and outhouses jumbled with washing lines, plants, flowers and even a church.

The wonderful thing about Footdee is the randomness of these buildings. They're pretty puzzling. It's hard to tell if they're outhouses, or holiday homes or perhaps mansions for a race of tiny seafaring people. No two are the same and the styles range from miniatures houses with well-kept gardens to ramshackle structures made of found materials that look like only luck is holding them up. The only place I've seen anything similar is at Dungeness. In the details there are lots of seafaring accoutrements - model boats, ships-in-bottles and glass fishing weights. Hanging on one shack, a lifebelt from the Thermopylae, the world’s fastest sailing boat built in 1868 by the Aberdeen White Star Line, is a nod to local nautical heritage.

There are three squares altogether. North and South Squares were designed in the early 19th century by Aberdeen City architect John Smith who also designed Balmoral Castle. Pilot Square, built to a better standard for pilots of the harbour boats was added later. Looking closely, there are some clever design features - the houses are low and face inward to shelter from the sea, the pitched roofs keep the rain off and even the chimney pots are specially designed to keep seagulls away. As the cottages were so small, they were sold with space for an outhouse opposite, which explains the more idiosyncratic architectural elements. For fisherfolk this would be somewhere to keep your nets and other necessary equipment.

Footdee shack

A wander round Footdee is a highlight of any trip to Aberdeen. It's amazing how quiet and sheltered it is despite the sea roaring on one side, the harbour clanking away on the other and the docks round the back. Through gaps in the houses you can see masts, gasometers and industrial bits and pieces but apart from that the modern world doesn't intrude.

Although there is nothing to see apart from houses and their decorations, it's easy to spend a while here as the details are so fascinating. Even the park has a nautical theme with an old buoy and a real fishing boat to play in. Instead of rocking horses there are seals to wobble about on. Aberdeen beach is beautiful with wonderful soft sand. The wind would slice you in two some days but provided you bring enough layers it's a pleasure to come here. Aberdeen, "the Granite City" is sometimes depicted as a city lacking in colour but there's plenty here.

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Aberdeen beach is surprisingly lovely - I visited it once, about ten years ago, but I never found Footdee.

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