Sunday, August 11, 2013

Aberdeen's Public Gardens: Seaton Park

Located in Old Aberdeen is one of Aberdeen's largest public spaces: Seaton Park. Seaton Park is a big, beautiful space that boasts a playground, beautiful flower gardens, a memorial fountain, and lots of walking trails, some of which go all the way around the University of Aberdeen's Hillhead Halls of Residence. On a warm day, it's a great place to sit and chat with a friend, or to take your kids to play at the playground, or to kick the football around (if you support football - I certainly don't!), or to read a good book.

However, Seaton Park has two other faces: comically tragic, and seedy.

As far as being comically tragic, Seaton Park is located in an area of very low elevation, and wide swaths of it - particularly the southeast quadrant - turn into giant ponds for months at a time. (They seem to have largely dried up during the Summer months, but more flooding is only a few months away.) It's gone now, but while that quadrant was flooded, there was a hideous, diseased-looking swan that never seemed to leave. That elevation also makes leaving Seaton Park a bit of a challenge, as both the northern and southern approaches to the park are on really heinous inclines; many a University of Aberdeen student has lamented the southern path in particular. I'm not in horrible physical shape, but on the occasions when I've spent the sixty seconds walking up that hill, I've felt like a sherpa if I was able to get up the hill without taking a breather and then keep walking once I'd reached the top. It's brutal. This also makes both of the paths particularly treacherous in the winter months, and many a pedestrian has severely injured themselves trying to navigate the ice - particularly those Hillhead Halls of Residence students who use Seaton Park as a shortcut to cut five or ten minutes off of their walk to campus.

More troubling is Seaton Park's reputation as a place of great danger. One source of this reputation is its use as a venue for "dogging", which the Navigator introduced me to - well, she didn't introduce me to it, but she informed me of it based upon a discussion in one of her lectures. (I'll let you readers Google "dogging" for yourselves, but I'll warn you that those with tender sensibilities would do best to leave it be.) It's not the sort of family-friendly activity one would generally associate with a public park. Beyond that, Seaton Park has a reputation for being the site of homosexual rapes, and there have been a number of other minor assaults and petty crimes committed there over the last several years. In an October issue of The Gaudie, the University of Aberdeen's hilariously inept student newspaper, reporter Grant Beveridge wrote:
When I first walked through Seaton Park at night I thought of it as pretty insignificant, cold, yes, but not very memorable. Little did I know of the reputation that it has made for itself. When I spoke about this with a friend he reacted as if I had just walked through Helmand Province in Iraq with a target painted on my back, not strolled leisurely through a public park after daylight hours. The one and only time I have been back after dark, I found myself scampering up the hill towards the refuge of my halls of residence, overpowered by the fear of noises in the bushes. As the nights get longer and daylight is at a premium, does Seaton Park deserve it’s dangerous reputation and what other areas of Aberdeen have a reputation for violence?

The University’s stance on Seaton Park is very clear; they issue a preferred walking route to the campus, which bypasses the park and adds on an extra 10 minutes to your journey time. They have also placed signs around the halls of residence asking students to take care when walking through it, especially at night. Over a period stretching from 2009 to 2011, there were fifteen recorded crimes in Seaton Park, three of which were minor assaults. Of these, only one of the complainers was a student. These figures are not exactly shocking but in relative terms they are still quite high for a fairly quiet public park. Unless you are looking for an adrenaline rush, I would still advise anyone to approach the area with caution and try traveling in daylight, in a group whenever possible.
I hadn't been informed that Helmand Province had relocated from Afghanistan to Iraq (perhaps he meant Anbar?), but regardless, Seaton Park's dangerous night time conditions have even become the subject of an Internet meme!

At any rate, despite its many, many drawbacks, Seaton Park is still a pretty neat and noteworthy place. Here are a few more pictures of the beautiful and carefully maintained flower gardens, which are a real highlight of any walk through the area.

By the way, if you don't mind hills, but hate unnecessarily steep hills, there's a path that runs along the southeast rim of the park. It's a bit longer than going up that heinous hill at the south end, but it's a much more gradual incline, and both of them will put you at the same spot outside the Cathedral Church of St. Machar. Seaton Park, and its seedy reputation, certainly add a bit of character to any prolonged duration of time spent in Aberdeen.

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