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The River Don

The River was recorded by the 2nd century AD cosmographer Ptolemy of Alexandria (d. c168) as Anουανα Devona, meaning 'goddess', an indication the river was once a sacred one. Near Kintore, not distant from the Don, is the Deers Den Roman Camp. In 1750 the Don's lower reaches were channelled towards the sea, moving its confluence with the sea northwards.  The River Don now less polluted by industry is well known for being a good salmon stock river, it also has a very good reputation for sea trout, but the reason why most anglers visit the River Don is to fish for it's cracking wild brown trout.

The Don runs parallel to the Dee for a great part of its course, but it is a much shorter river, measuring only some 78 miles. It rises at the very edge of the county close to the point where the Avon emerges from Glen Avon and turns north to join the Spey. It drains a valley which is only ten or fifteen miles separated from the valley of the larger River Dee. In its upper reaches it somewhat resembles Deeside, being quite highland in character; but lower down the river loses its rapidity, becoming sluggish and winding. Strathdon, as the upper area is called, is undoubtedly picturesque, but it lacks the bolder features of Deeside, being less wooded and graced with few hills on the grand scale. It has not, therefore, become a popular summer resort, but its banks form the richest alluvial agricultural land in the county.

A mile o' Don's worth twa o' Dee
Except tor salmon, stone and tree.
This old couplet is mainly correct.

The Dee is a great salmon river, providing more first-class salmon angling than any other river of Scotland, while the Don, though owing to its muddy bottom a stream excellent beyond measure and unsurpassed for brown trout, is now also, partly owing to good management and closure of Industry, a great salmon river. But the agricultural land on Donside, which for the most part is rich deep loam, about Kintore, Inverurie and the Vale of Alford is much more kindly to the farmer than the light gravelly soil of Deeside, which is so apt to be burnt up in a droughty summer. In the matter of stone, things have changed since the couplet took shape.  The granite quarries of Donside are now superior to any on the Dee; but the trees of Deeside still hold their own, the Scots firs of Ballochbuie forest, west of Balmoral, being the finest specimens of their kind in the north. The nether-Don has been utilised for more than a century as a driving power for paper and wool mills. Of these there was a regular succession for several miles of the river's course, from Bucksburn to within a mile of Old Aberdeen. After heavy rains or a spring thaw the lower reaches of the river, especially from Kintore downwards, are apt to be flooded, and in spite of embankments which have been erected along the river's course, few years pass without serious damage being done to the crops in low-lying fields. Some parts of Donside scenery, notably at Monymusk (called Paradise), and at Seaton House just below the Cathedral of Old Aberdeen, and before the river passes through the single Gothic Arch of the ancient and historical bridge of Balgownie, are very finely wooded and picturesque, and beloved of more than one famous artist.

The Don rises in the peat flat beneath Druim na Feithe, and in the shadow of Glen Avon, before flowing quietly past the ice-age moraine and down to Cock Bridge, below the picturesque site of the recently demolished Delnadamph Lodge. Several streams, the Dhiver, Feith Bhait, Meoir Veannaich, Cock Burn and the Allt nan Aighean merge to form the embryonic Don.  The water from the north of Brown Cow Hill drains into the Don, while water from the west side runs into the River Spey and water from the south side drains into the Dee.  The Don follows a circuitous route eastwards past Corgarff Castle, through Strathdon and the Howe of Alford before entering the North Sea just north of Old Aberdeen.

The chief tributaries are Conrie Water, Ernan Water, Water of Carvie, Water of Nochty, Deskry Water, Water of Buchat, Kindy Burn, Bucks Burn, Mossat Burn, Leochel Burn and the River Urie.

Rising in the Cairngorm National Park and flowing 82 miles East down to the sea in Aberdeen, the Don is Scotland's 6th largest river. It is home to a huge variety of species, with Salmon, Sea-Trout and Brown Trout sharing their habitat with Otters, Kingfishers, Eagles and Buzzards. Red and Roe Deer are often seen drinking at the riverside.

Inset - 
The salmon fish are caught by by sweep or drag-nets in the tidal reaches of the rivers. 

The Don is now known for its runs of salmon, particularly in the autumn, but it also has a spring and summer run of fish. During the calm warm summers evenings silvery sea trout make an appearance, and indeed at this time the angler is never sure what will take their lure, with salmon, sea trout and brown trout all prolific in the river at this time. The Don is also home to eels, loaches, lampreys and pike.

Don Fish Hatchery 1

Don Fish Hatchery 2

The Don District Salmon Fishery Board's Hatchery is located in an old meal mill. The Mill of Newe is approximately 2 miles east of the village of Bellabeg in Strathdon. The hatchery came into operation in 1964 as a result of former industrial pollution on the lower reaches of the River Don. Salmon stocks had become very poor on the middle and upper reaches of the river.  The mill has three floors. The top floor holds the water feeder tanks for the egg troughs which are located below. The bottom floor houses some of the 14 rearing tanks. There are also two external rearing tank units.  The egg troughs and rearing tanks are gravity fed by water from the Deochry Burn which flows past the hatchery. A brood stock holding impoundment has been constructed in the burn.  The Don Fishery Board bailiff staff operate the hatchery. They are assisted by local man Mr Gibby McIntosh O.B.E. who is employed by the Board to check the water supply and to feed the young salmon and trout when the Bailiffs are not in attendance. Salmon, sea trout and brown trout are reared on at the hatchery. They are stocked out to the main river and tributaries as yearlings and unfed fry. Mill of Newe fish are all reared from wild native River Don brood stock. (Inset) River Don near Castle Forbes, Alford.

Stoneywood Weir

The Don, to the north of the town, runs through a narrow, wooded, rocky ravine, and is spanned by a single Gothic Arch, the "Brig o' Balgownie" of Lord Byron. The bridge rests on gneiss, and is 67 feet wide and 34 feet high above the surface of the river, which at ebb tide is here 19 feet deep. The bridge is the oldest in the north of Scotland, and is said to have been built about 1305. The funds belonging to the bridge amount to £24,000.

River Don in Flood




The Estuary
There are two natural forces at work, one tending to put the river mouth straight east from the Bridge of Don, and the other to put it farther south. When the river is in flood its tendency is to hold on a straight course to the sea. In the North Sea the fiercest storms come from the north-east, and the waves tend to shift the mouths of the rivers entering the south side of the Moray Firth westward, and the mouths of Don and Dee entering the sea on the east of Aberdeenshire southward. The mouth of the Deveron is frequently altered; sometimes it is closed and has to be opened to let salmon enter. The mouth of the Ugie cannot be shifted farther south, the coast being rocky; but the mouth of the Ythan is curved southward, and the mouth of the Dee used to be frequently closed before the North Pier was erected. It would in like manner be a thing to be expected that the mouth of the Don should sometimes be closed in storms or driven southward.  Looking, however, at the great size of the blown sand hills on the North side of the Don Mouth and their diminishing size southward it seems clear that the mouth of the Don has as a rule been where it is at present. The sand hills are formed by east winds out of sand brought down by the river and then spread out on the shore by sea waves, and finally blown inward in tempestuous gales. Gordon does not say that there was any evidence that the Don once entered the sea near the Broad Hill.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

King Street leads in the direction of the new Bridge of Don (a little east of the old  "Brig o' Balgownie", of 5 granite arches, each 75 feet span, built for nearly £13,000 in 1827-1832.

Considerably more to the east affording a passage from Aberdeen to the North, and which was erected from the proceeds of the funds for keeping the old bridge in repair, originally left for that purpose by Sir Alexander Hay, and which, from £2. 5/6., had accumulated to £20,000;

It's a handsome structure of 5 arches, built of granite.






The River Don form the north-east boundary of Newhills from Mains of Grandhome to Persley. It supplies the water for the paper works and is also famous for its salmon fishing. Tributaries of the Don also water the parish: the Fairburn, the Bucksburn, the Greenburn, and the Scatterburn. The Bucksburn flows through the lovely Den of Fairley. The burns to the west of the area have already been mentioned.

Aerial Shot of the Don Bridge 1948 showing the Tram Terminus and the Tank Defences lining the South Bank

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Last modified: 01/09/2013