Volunteer guides will bring Duthie Park’s history to life

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A team of volunteers is to help bring alive the history and heritage of one of Aberdeen’s best-loved parks in its 135th year.

The volunteer guides at Duthie Park will take people on tours around the 44-acre site which is located beside the River Dee and within easy walking and cycling distance of the city centre.

Guides will provide information about the park to visitors and be available to assist with queries.

Full training will begin later this month and will include the history and heritage of the park, as well as how to prepare for a tour, group dynamics, dealing with questions and getting to know the park.

Councillor Jean Morrison, Aberdeen City Council communities vice-convener, said: “We know there are a lot of people who are interested in the history of the park and are very keen on the green space and all of its facilities – we would love to encourage their enthusiasm.

“This is the first time we will be training members of the public as volunteer guides.

“Our own Park Rangers have held tours in the past but members of the public wanted to get involved.

“Duthie Park is a year-round destination thanks to its water features, playparks, Japanese Garden and, of course, the David Welsh Winter Gardens so there is plenty of history, heritage and features for the volunteer guides to get their teeth into.”

Earlier this year, Aberdeen City Council advertised to find 15 guides to lead tours at times and dates to suit their diaries.

The training session which is being held later this month is now fully booked.

Those taking park include Friends of Duthie Park members, people who have retired and those with a keen interest in the park.

The training will be led by Elma McMenemy who has been a Blue Badge Scottish Tourist Guide for more than 30 years.

Once the guides are trained, the tours will take place as and when groups come to visit, rather than on set days and times.

The park will match each visiting group with one of the newly-trained volunteer guides.

Arthur Gill, of Duthie Park, said: “I’m looking forward to the volunteers getting involved at the park and leading the guided tours.

“We’re always looking for new volunteers to get more involved.”

The guides initiative was part of the Heritage Lottery grant funding awarded in 2008.

Duthie Park was built on land given to the council in 1881 by Lady Elizabeth Duthie of Ruthrieston in memory of her uncle and her brother and she purchased the land for £30,000 from the estate of Arthurseat.

It was officially opened by Princess Beatrice on September 27, 1883.

The park is noted for its spectacular David Welch Winter Gardens with tropical and arid houses which contain the second largest collections of bromeliads and giant cacti in Great Britain – beaten only by the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Originally opened in 1899, the greenhouses had to be demolished and rebuilt after suffering storm damage in 1969. Today they are a tranquil place surrounded by tree ferns, Spanish moss, anthuria and banana trees.

Within the gardens are railings salvaged from the south side of the major bridge in the middle of Union Street which feature unusual metal cats, derived from the city’s coat of arms.

They were saved when the south side of the bridge was developed for retail units in the mid-20th century.

The obelisk in the park was originally situated in the courtyard at Marischal College and was moved to Duthie Park in 1906 when the college was developed.

The model boating pond was altered in 1927 from an hour glass shape to rectangular to accommodate model sailing boats.

The 135-year-old park enjoyed a £5 million refurbishment and re-opened in 2013, with funding provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Aberdeen City Council.

The original 1883 plans were consulted in order to restore some long-lost features such as the linked lakes, mound and riverside.

In December, it was announced the park’s café was to re-open in the spring after an extension and refurbishment.

Anyone who would like to find out more about volunteering at Duthie Park should contact Arthur Gill on 01224 580165 or ArGill@aberdeencity.gov.uk