Fording the Urie – By Duncan Harley


I visited Old Rayne today. Not my favourite place to be honest since it brings back difficult memories. I lived in the village some years ago and when forced by chance to drive past it, I tend to avert my gaze and block out ghosts.

But no matter. Little did I know that some decades on from a trip across the water – well the River Urie actually – a blast from the past would come back to haunt me.

Wiki informs that ‘The River Ury is a small river in North-east Scotland situated in the Garioch area of Aberdeenshire. Its origins are close to Bennachie, approximately 25 miles to the northwest of Aberdeen. The river runs for approximately 15 miles before meeting the River Don at the south edge of Inverurie.’ And that would be about right. Mind you I am unsure about that spelling since the Urie appears within many local books as Ury and the source of the Don tributary is subject of debate.

It’s a powerful river, despite its size, and over many years the Urie has meandered at will over the farm land along its banks. Inverurie’s Souterford in particular suffers regular flooding leading to warnings from the likes of SEPA instructing residents of the newly built houses on the floodplain to take vigilant action to “protect yourself and your property.”

Housebuilders including some quite well-known nationals have it seems built upon dodgy ground and one local resident recently commented that the water levels were “very alarming” and “almost within reach of the foundations” of his newly purchased 3-bedroom house in the towns Birch Drive.

“If I had been told about the flooding problems, I would never have bought this house” he said.
“We moved here from London and never expected anything like this, the home report made no mention of flood risk. Both the developers and the council are liable in my opinion.”

Thankfully the newer developments at Souterford’s so-called ‘Osprey Village’ have been re-monikered as ‘Osprey Heights’ which should put future purchasers at ease.

Anyway, back to that past-blast.

A chance read of Martin Love’s Observer Magazine ‘Wheels’ column (P39 6/1/19) put me in touch with a man whose mission is to record all – or @ least most – of the fords in Britain. Now what are the chances of that?

In the course of flogging a £39k snorkelled Nissan Navara, Martin referenced crème brulee, arctic trucks and hairy moments – all within one paragraph. Then he moved onto fords. Not the mass-produced versions, more the 2,214 fords of river crossing fame listed on Lee Chapman’s wet roads web-site. The site is a splendid resource and is not just for nerds – well I would say that.
If you are looking for places on the UK mainland to drive through water, Professor Lee Chapman’s site is quite simply the place to look.

Having spent two decades documenting Britain’s forgotten fords, Lee – Professor of Climate Resilience at Birmingham University - has concluded that “I know it’s childish but I love the splash it makes, the skill of getting through and the sense of achievement you get from crossing a deep ford… “

Well, a quick recce revealed that the ford over the Urie just off the A96 at Strathorn had failed to make the hustings. Hence that trip to Strathorn today. The sun was against me and, although a shot from the Strathorn Stables might have made for a better image, I resorted to parking at the Westhall end of the old ford road. If you look carefully you can almost see the crossing, although in the 21st century the ruts are low and the high central verge makes for a daunting drive.

In a past life, I used the river crossing as a short-cut on the way to and occasionally from work in the Granite City. Driving a 2CV, a rust-bucket on wheels, I must have crossed some fifty times before a move to a less corrosion-prone Volvo estate forced me to stick to the main roads. Both the 2CV and the 240 are long gone. One, sadly not the deux chevaux I might add, was destroyed by an ex-wife but the ford at Strathorn soldiers on although in the 21st century only farm-tractors and £39k Navara’s are fit enough to make it over to the far-side.

Professor Chapman is, of course, always keen to hear about any wet roads he may have omitted from his national database of fords, causeways and tidal roads. He can be deluged @ www.wetroads.co.uk .

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire plus the forthcoming title: The Little History of Aberdeenshire - due out in March 2019

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