Posted by: christinelaennec | May 22, 2013

The Short Mile

I wonder what people will think this post is about?  Well, it’s something that makes me smile.  To explain, I need to show you two “march stones” in Aberdeen.  These stones form a ring around the city of Aberdeen, and were put in place in the late 16th century.  Many towns in Britain had march stones marking their boundary (“march” is an old word for boundary”), and in some places there is still the ancient custom of “riding the marches”.  This was originally done annually to reassert, or check on, the boundaries of the town.  Here’s a link to the Edinburgh March Riding Association, if you’re interested.

In Aberdeen, the first march stone is an “Omega stone” located near where the River Dee meets the North Sea.  March Stone 1 is in Ferryhill to the West, March Stone 2 is by the Ferryhill library on the Great Southern Road.  March Stone 3 is on the Great Western Road, on Nellfield Place, as you can see:

March Stone 3, at the corner of the Great Western Road and Nellfield Place, Aberdeen.

March Stone 3, at the corner of the Great Western Road and Nellfield Place, Aberdeen.

The march stones continue on westward, as far as Westhill, before looping north and back east across the north part of the city.  They come through Northfield and Kittybrewster, and end up at the mouth of the River Don.  March Stone 65 is near Mrs. Murray’s Cat and Dog home, and the last march stone is the Omega stone, at the mouth of the Don.  You can find out much more and see a map in Aberdeen City Council’s March Stones brochure, which is currently available online here.

The march stones are not mile markers, and there are several places along the circuit where they are spaced fairly close together.  And this brings me to the Short Mile.  March stone 4 is only a few yards away from March stone 3:

March stone 4, on the Great Western Road about 50 yards from Nellfield Place, Aberdeen.

March stone 4, on the Great Western Road about 50 yards from Nellfield Place, Aberdeen.

In between the two is a pub, called “The Short Mile,” a joking reference to the two march stones placed either side of it:

The Short Mile pub, Aberdeen.  On the Great Western Road at the corner of Nellfield Place.

The Short Mile pub, Aberdeen. On the Great Western Road at the corner of Nellfield Place.

March Stone 3 is just a street’s width away from the shrub on the corner, to the left of the photo, and March Stone 4 is just visible behind the middle bollard in the photo.

So there you have it.  A bit of history about march stones, and a pub whose name makes me smile.  I’ve never been in there, but I’m grateful to whoever named it for their sense of humour.



  1. What a great little post! I had no idea these stones even existed, what a wonderful piece of history. The pub name is inspired!

  2. Nice history. Also great to know the other definition of march.

  3. I always love your posts like this (well, I love all your posts, really) that give me both a taste of history and cultural glimpses.

  4. How interesting. A bit more knowledge I have gained. I had heard about riding the marches, but didnt know stones were involved.

  5. Well, I’ve learnt something today, Christine. I’ll be keeping my eyes open from now on.

  6. I lived all those years in Aberdeen and I never knew about this. It’s fascinating – thankyou very much. And I do remember people speaking about Mrs Murray’s Cat and Dog Home, though I never had occasion to go there myself.

  7. A very curious and interesting bit of history, Christine! Stones seem to be the universal markers for every country. Here in our tiny town, we have a stone tower commemorating some early pioneers killed by Indians. I love the pub’s name. xx

  8. great write-up on the stones, Christine. I also had heard about riding the marches but had no idea what that was. I find it interesting how often stones are used to mark something important …. it reminds me of the standing stones I saw on Arran. I like the name of the pub too; someone had a sense of humor.

  9. I too, had heard of riding the marches, but did not understand the allusion. Thanks for the illuminating post, Christine 🙂 It is great that you are enjoying Aberdeen to the fullest before you move away from it!
    Gracie xx

  10. Very interesting, Christine, thanks. That council brochure you linked to is excellent. Being Australian, the concept of having remnants of the 16th century still visible in the main street is completely foreign to me! We think it’s a great historical feat to preserve something that dates back to the Victorian era!! (Our 16th century residents didn’t leave much sign of their inhabitation). But as usual, for me your post provokes other questions . . . is that your bike in front of The Short Mile (were you really riding the marches?); and, more importantly, what does the prominent “Free House” sign in the pub doorway mean (I have never been to the UK….the answer may be “obvious” to a local)?

  11. Oh, the charms of old places! ❤

  12. Interesting post, thank you! 🙂

  13. My father-in-law drinks with the boys at the Short Mile. Interesting to know the meaning behind the name.

  14. Dear all,
    I’m so glad you enjoyed this along with me. Thank you for your kind words!

    Flora – Tilly came from Mrs. Murray’s, so we have a great affection for the work they do.

    Karen – it would be really interesting to read about the stone tower, if you wanted to post about it!

    Ajb – You’ll also know about the tradition of marking things with a cairn of stones in Scotland. When you climb up a hill there’s often a cairn at the top and you can find a stone and make your contribution.

    Gracie – thanks, I am doing my best to make the most of it!

    oldblack – It’s the same in the States, as regards what is considered “old”, and particularly where I grew up in the West of the US. As in Australia, the native inhabitants didn’t leave a lot of marks on the land. However, I do have fond memories of hunting for arrowheads with my Grampa, and being aware of people living there a long time ago.
    To answer your first question, I wish that were my bike. I do have a bike, but have found riding it through Aberdeen traffic to be too scary, so it doesn’t go out very often. I’d like to change that when we get to Glasgow, as the Dafter gets better. As you might know, Michael goes nearly everywhere by bike.
    In answer to your second question: some pubs are owned by a particular brewery, and so serve only their beers. A “free house” is a pub that isn’t owned by a brewery, and thus is free to serve its own selection of beers and ales.

    Robert – how funny! I don’t go to the pub these days, but I think it’s really nice that people meet up in pubs on a regular basis, for socialising more than for drinking (in most cases). I see you’re another American in Aberdeen. Welcome to my blog!

  15. Thank you for all this history I have never hear of these stones before. But I have heard of Marking the Bounds, usually performed in spring to set the Parish boundary goes back to pagan times,


  16. Was doing some reminiscing recently with a long lost friend from student days and the Short Mile pub was our local nearly 50 years ago when we were in student digs in Gt Western Road. Always thought the stones were mile markers gone wrong! Never knew they were march stanes. Sadly, I believe the Short Mile has now closed its doors. A victim of the change in folks drinking habits.
    Great article and superb link to the city info. Many thanks for the memories.

    • Hi Marshall, Yes The Short Mile closed its doors at least a year ago I think. There was a lot of sadness about that. I’m glad you liked the post and it gave you some happy memories.

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