Cults named ‘one of UK’s best places’

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Piper reporter Kathleen Robertson has lived and worked in the Cults-Culter area for 45 years, moving to Cults with her family from Glasgow at the beginning of the ‘oil boom.’ She has worked both as a teacher and also as a journalist commenting on life in Aberdeen for local magazines and newspapers.

A RECENT survey by one of the UK’s top newspapers introduces the 101 “Best Places to Live in Britain,” one of which is the suburb of Cults in Aberdeen - one of only ten in the whole of Scotland. But why Cults, and do all its residents agree with the decision?

The criteria used for the survey are summed up as: “appealing properties, nearness to beautiful nature, cultural attractions, good schools, great shops and fantastic transport links in one lovely location.” Seven aspects, most of which do appear to apply to Cults, though some are more ‘within reach’ rather than actually in the suburb, while one in particular (fantastic transport links) will probably have most Cults residents puzzling over where these are.

One pensioner who brought up her family in her North Deeside Road home said: “I still work one day a week in the city but when I return home afterwards I always think how lucky I am to live in such a lovely leafy suburb.” A lovely location then, but that also covers a second of the criteria, beautiful nature, because Cults stands on the north bank of the River Dee just 50 miles east of the Scottish Highlands. And unusually for a city suburb, Cults folk also benefit from the curving sandy stretches of Aberdeen’s beautiful coastline only three miles to the east.

Location, natural beauty - what of the “appealing properties” and “good schools”? Depute Leader of Aberdeen City Council, Cllr Marie Boulton, who grew up in Cults and attended the local schools, said: “Cults is a friendly, safe place. There is a good quality of life, with some beautiful granite buildings - but we have seen the erosion of the heritage in the area due to developers knocking down granite houses and replacing them with modern houses.” This is an issue which local community councillors have frequently brought up with city planners, for despite a suggestion in the city’s local plan that granite houses should be preserved, developers have knocked down many, replacing them with modern buildings and blocks of flats which community councillors claim destroy the architectural heritage of the area.

As to the “good schools,” Cults Academy has undoubtedly gained a reputation since the 1960s of producing high-achieving pupils, frequently being in the list of schools with top Scottish examination grades. However, that comes at a cost for some residents as the pressure to move to Cults has resulted in some children being placed on a waiting list, meantime having to be schooled elsewhere in the city. Additionally, not all parents like the emphasis on a more traditional academic curriculum - only in recent years has the Academy had a Drama teacher (though there’s now a dedicated drama department). In similar vein, one local music teacher was concerned that so few pupils wished to study Higher music her son had to cross the city every week to take Music elsewhere (he is now an award-winning Scottish musician). Paradoxically, when the Academy opened in the late ‘60s, it was planned as a traditional senior secondary and only a vigorous campaign by the new younger population moving into the area resulted in its being changed to a modern comprehensive school.

Cults does have a variety of “good shops”, as well as being only three miles from the city centre department stores. Several cafes, high class clothes and gift shops, a Tesco Express and the respected century-old family bakers and greengrocers Kelly of Cults mean, as one resident said, “you can be quite self-sufficient here.” On the other hand, “cultural attractions” mainly have to be sought in the city of Aberdeen - there is an attractive Art Gallery, but with only one large theatre (His Majesty’s) in professional hands and two of the smaller theatres having been handed to Trusts by the city council, the population largely relies on a thriving amateur scene.

That leaves the thorny issue of “fantastic transport links,” a claim not supported by many locals. Community Councillor Eleanor Brennan commented: “We missed out in Aberdeen on a co-ordinated transport policy or decent bus shelters like they have in Edinburgh and Glasgow and we just haven’t met our transport needs. If you want to go anywhere from Cults, for instance, you have choice other than straight into the city centre, and there is no covered shelter for people then wishing to catch a bus either south or to the airport, and I find I have to think very carefully before taking my car out, abecause morning and evening rush hours can mean queues of vehicles almost at a standstill.” A final paradox is that just as the 1960s oil boom began and developers started building thousands of new houses around Cults, the Dr Beeching’s infamous railway cuts saw the popular Deeside railway line (or “subbies”) from Aberdeen to Braemar being axed.

It is undoubtedly a lovely place to live, as is all of Royal Deeside, but just how good can depend very much on a citizen’s priorites. Great for kids, of course, as one forty-something resident told the Piper nostalgically: “I had an idyllic childhood there.” Unfortunately he, like so many of his generation, can no longer afford to buy a house himself in the area where he grew up.