#ScottishPlaywright: The Alloway Rap by Sadie Dixon-Spain is published

By Dixon-Spain


Delighted to announce that the first print run of Sadie’s play for voices, The Alloway Rap have arrived and are now available for sale here in a commemorative edition for Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014.

This is the first in a series of Sadie’s plays that we will be publishing over the next couple of years. We’ve several on the blocks, all telling stories of communities and clans across Scotland, and all of them, like this one, will have pictures of performance, audiences and venues.

Special mention for Kilmodan Primary School who were an integral part of the play’s development.

Midsummer Archaeology: surveying Colintraive & Glendaruel’s ancient monuments inc. Dunans!

By Dixon-Spain


Seems oddly appropriate that today volunteers from the Forest Archaeology Group spent several hours learning to and surveying artefacts in the landscape on the longest day of the year. We began with the war memorial to the twins McKirdy on Colintraive beach, taking innumerable photos of the tall, cruciform monument to their sacrifice during the first world war, and then with the ACCORD team producing a 3D model of the artefact using the PhotoScan software from AgriSoft. This process was extraordinary and we’ll post some pictures tomorrow of the result.

Eamon acting as tentpole.

We then went up to the chambered cairn in Stronafian Forest and watched while the Archaeology team set-up a four point laser survey of the cairn. More of this tomorrow too!

So inspired was I that on returning from the day, I downloaded the software and tried my hand on the exterior frontage of the castle. The result is the main image above, and the movie below:

And while I waited for the software to render the 3D image, I found this excellent article by Will Self on Stonehenge, Landscape archaeology and heritage – almost written for the purpose of underlining all the discussions we’d had today with Mhairi, Al and Stuart. More info on the overall ACCORD project is here.

As a bonus, here’s an almost aerial pic of the Glendaruel polytunnel taken from the Cairn.


Working on the 5 year plan for @DunansCastle today and the big news is … we can do it!

By Dixon-Spain


The picture that heads this post shows the 5 year cashflow for restoring the castle. I’ve been working out how the financial demands for the work on the project can be catered for utilising a mix of income from Scottishlaird, grant-funding and finance. The figures show it is possible at present levels, but it would be much more comfortable if the ScottishLaird project kept expanding at its current rate (of course!).

The reason we’re looking at this now is that we will soon know whether the bridge restoration project, led by the Dunans Charitable Trust, will get funding – this is effectively the ‘go’ button for the entire site and will lock us into a five year process that will mean we’ll open the building for visitors sometime early in 2019.

Obviously there are some critical stop/go moments. The grant-funding is one, listed building consent is another, loan finance yet another, but if there is anything I have learned from working with CGDT over the years, is that any project, large or small, is unstoppable once it gets momentum.

So now that the cashflow is roughed out, the next step is to put together plans for how the ScottishLaird project will maintain its momentum, continuing to sell decorative titles and also all the other products which will help to restore out Highland Castle. We’re looking at mugs, calendars, garments and more books (of course), but more excitingly (for techheads like me) we’re considering a game for smartphones – considering only at the moment, but given the revenues generated in the casual gaming market at present, this could represent a huge opportunity.

All I am wondering now is, what type of game should it be? A Castle restoration sim perhaps? Or maybe that’s too close to the bone?

But first the 5 year plan – and here’s the gant chart it’ll be based on!

We have lectern! New signage at the castle for the multitudes of Lairds and Ladies this summer!

By Dixon-Spain


The first of our new signs is now in place. Its a kind of lectern made out of treated softwood, so its neither too heavy to shift, or too light to run away with. We also wanted something we could swap signs in and out of as the project progressed. I think Mike has done us proud realising the design.

Later this week we’ll post photos of the new Bridge sign.

Here’s the original design post btw.

Delighted to announce our first reprint of Conservation Plan for Dunans today!

By Dixon-Spain

Very happy to announce that the sales of our Conservation Plan, both online and onsite at Dunans have been so good we have had to order a reprint of the book. Great situation to be in, and delighted that the investment in the design and print time has been worth it. This is also a testament both to the readability of Robin Kent’s report, and the interest that our Lairds and Ladies have shown in the project.

We’re anticipating high sales going into Christmas, so there’s likely to be a second reprint in September.

And here’s a question – what is the subtle difference between original print-run and this reprint? Answers in the comments please!

Hint: the photo is a clue!

The Design for the new Flag for the @DunansCastle Project is finalised!

By Dixon-Spain


We have recently had some requests for a Dunans Castle Project flag, one that all the Lairds and Ladies can get hold of and fly if and as they so desire. Well, today I am delighted to say, we have finalised our design and the order for the prototype has been made. Once we’ve received the flag we’ll check the colour reproduction, and adjust the final pantones accordingly.

All we need now is a flag pole!

New Signage for Castle & Bridge drafted incorporating portability

By Dixon-Spain


Today I finally found time to draft the new tabletop signs for the front of the castle and the side of the bridge. The idea is that they provide a table height interpretation for both structures which can (a) be moved as the restoration projects demand (just like a table) and (b) the signs themselves can be swapped as needed when there’s a significant update (like the bridge being restored or the castle re-roofed).

Left is a sketch of the wooden frame we are going to make from the Lime I have loaded up in the sawmill at the moment. The signs are A0 size or 841mm x 594mm … More once the signs are in place and the frames made!

Initial Enquiry into the Heritage Lottery Fund for Dunans Bridge Today!

By Dixon-Spain


… and they’ll be getting back to us in 10 days. As soon as they feedback we’ll report here. In the meantime here’s the detail of what we said:

The project will focus on the restoration and celebration of the A-listed, Thomas Telford-designed, Dunans Bridge, which reaches its bicentenary in 2015. This is a nationally important, rubble-built, triple gothic-arched bridge which is in need of urgent restoration. As the only publically accessible A-listed structure in South-west Cowal it is an essential heritage structure to maintain – not least because it also provides access to the B-listed Dunans Castle. These two buildings provide the core of a designed landscape which has been open to the public since 2006, and at which guided tours have been conducted since 2010. These tours, in which the bridge plays a central role, are focussed upon the heritage of the site, its relationship with Clans Fletcher, MacGregor, Campbell and Lamont, the Jacobite rebellion, the vision of Clan Fletcher when designing the site, and the commissioning of Thomas Telford to build the bridge. In its present unrestored state the bridge, the castle and grounds attract 5,000 people a year, with tours happening between April-October inclusive Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The project will ensure continued access to the site for these visitors, events and celebrations around the bridge’s restoration as well as its bicentenary.

This project will:

restore Dunans Bridge, ensuring its future. The programme will replace the carriageway of the bridge, repoint the three gothic arches, strip vegetation from the structure and restore the undermined stanchions.This work will maintain a nationally important A-listed structure and maintain access to the B-listed Dunans Castle.

engage a varied local, national and international audience. The restoration works will provide an opportunity to extend and improve the skillsets of individuals and groups who are already involved in restoration of historic structures professionally or as volunteers – we will include this element of the project in our tendering process for contractors. During the restoration we will ensure the local community, local schools, youth organisations and history societies are able to access the structure as it is repaired, and at different stages, both by visiting directly and monitoring progress online via webcam, social media and our website. The virtual element of this access is particularly important because of a large international community of interest associated with the site. It is also our intention to integrate with the curriculum for excellence, and in particular build upon the work of the All Our Stories Project at Kilmodan Primary School “Glen of the Red River”. This will add an important thread to the history of the area.

celebrate the centenary of the bridge. On restoration we will be celebrating both the completion of the work and the bridge’s 200th anniversary in several ways. We will create a longterm legacy with the publication of a Bridge Restoration Book, rather like the recently published ‘Conservation Plan for Dunans’. We will hold a Bridge celebration day, which will include a performance of a specially commissioned site specific play about the bridge, the interment of a time capsule created from contributions from the children who have been involved in the restoration, and of course a Grand Opening Ceremony. Thereafter the play will be performed during festivals including Cowalfest, the Cowal Way Day and any appropriate events which are planned at the castle. Further events will also be planned during the project and held as appropriate.
We expect to begin in early 2015 with restoration works complete by August 2015, and consequent celebrations to occur in the remaining period until October 2015.

It *seemed* like a good idea at the time, but was it? We get interviewed by the BBC’s lovely Clare English!

By Dixon-Spain


… actually it was great fun, which I think comes across. Particularly like the bits where Clare is trying to get Sadie and me to concentrate on the more challenging times and we keep laughing about them – especially the midges swarming over the windows on the red shed.

I mentioned the interview on my blog at the time and it is going to be broadcast at 13.32 gmt on Thursday this week, BBC Radio Scotland. Here’s the link:


Right is the official photo with Clare to prove she was actually at Dunans (in the kitchen)!

Cause for Celebration! Application to Historic Scotland completed and submitted

By Dixon-Spain

It took a week to put into the right words, a second to submit – on Friday at around 3pm – but this application (and the one to HLF which I will be working on this week) starts a process that restores the bridge by October next year and enables the opening of the castle by late 2018.

It feels onerous on the one hand, but fantastic to be finally moving on the other!

Below is the edited text of the application.

Dunans Bridge will be 200 years old next year and the Dunans Charitable Trust wishes to restore the A-listed, Thomas Telford-designed structure. The Dunans Conservation Plan, produced by Robin Kent Architecture and Conservation (attached), identifies the bridge as the first element of an ongoing restoration programme for the site. The bridge is in need of urgent repair at an overall cost of £898,000, with a grant-funded component of £842,000. The repairs will include repointing the three arches, stabilising the surrounding banks, repair of the carriageway, repair of the stonework and removal of foliage as detailed both in the Conservation Plan and the Initial Structural Appraisal by David Narro Associates.

This project will ensure the bridge remains standing and used both for access purposes to the B-listed Dunans Castle, and also as a visitor attraction in and of itself. The structure’s merit will be enhanced simply by returning it to its original form in the year of its bicentenary. As the attached documentation indicates the works we are applying for funding for are essential to save and then maintain this structure.

The work in view for the bridge will ensure that its longevity is assured and we anticipate only maintenance works within the first 5 years of the project being completed. However, the work on the bridge will enable the restoration of the B-listed Dunans Castle as detailed in the attached Conservation Plan and this work will be implemented as a consequence of the work on the bridge that we applying funding for.

The bridge gives access to Dunans Castle and grounds. It provides a significant heritage value as a visitor attraction, drawing visitors daily. As one of only two A-listed structures in the area, and the only A-listed structure accessible to the public, its presence is a significant draw to the community and has a direct economic impact on the local tourism economy.

The community already benefits from the presence of the bridge. The bridge’s significance as having been (possibly) designed by Telford, its status as the highest bridge in Argyll and its proximity and relationship with Dunans Castle make it, along with the associated castle, one of only three significant heritage attractions in South-west Cowal. Over the last six years over 10,000 visitors from all over the world have visited the bridge and castle for tours of the structures. In each case these visitors have contributed to the local tourism economy, and have been particularly welcomed by the 8-10 accommodation providers in the local villages of Glendaruel and Colintraive. To maximise the profile of the bridge and this benefit to the local community, during the works each stage will be documented in video, photos and via blog, we will engage with local primary schools from Cowal, Bute, Kintyre and the isle of Arran, providing visits and projects for the pupils (in line with the Curriculum for Excellence) as well as ensuring the local Archaeology group associated with the community-owned forest at Stronafian can access the expertise being applied to the bridge. With the completion of the project we will be organising several events around the bridge’s bicentenary, including a Bridge completion party, an outdoor theatre piece about the bridge and interpretation around the whole project. We have already published a book of the Conservation Plan, and will do the same for the restoration of the bridge, and this, like the use of social media during the restoration works, will increase the engagement both of locals, and also of our wider international community of interest. We have letters of support from the Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Council, and the Colintraive and Glendaruel Development Trust which speak to their support of the project to restore bridge and castle.

The bridge is part of a £5-6M investment in Dunans, the castle, the bridge and the grounds, enabled in part by the Charitable Trust through its lease of the bridge. The repair and renovation of the bridge is the first stage in this project, an essential one if the ruined castle is to be restored. Therefore we can with confidence say that after this initial investment is made in the bridge, the project to restore castle will be able to secure the £3.5-£4.5M finance needed. Once both heritage structures have been restored we anticipate that from the present employment of 5 people full-time onsite we will employ between 10 and 15 individuals at Dunans, with economic activity for a myriad of local contractors (events, weddings, conferences, cleaning, catering, marquees etc). The risk of course is that if the bridge isn’t repaired the present employment and visitor numbers will be lost. The Conservation Plan is also supported by the local Community Council and our Development Trust, both of whom see the economic value of what is happening at Dunans. In this way, the project at hand is the foundation for a significant investment locally and ties in with Argyll and Bute Council’s single outcome agreement which prioritises economic regeneration and tourism.

We have two potential audiences for voluntary work, skills acquisition and, professional advancement. The first is an active Archaeology Group in the local community, whose efforts at present are focussed around conserving a chambered cairn in Stronafian Forest. Active conservation and restoration such as that which we are proposing for the bridge is an ideal opportunity to cascade skills and knowledge in project management, archaeology, survey and interpretation to this group, and to others like it across south-west Cowal, in particular bodies like the Strachur and District Local History Society. Given the large international community of interest around the project, we also anticipate strong interest from this worldwide group along the same lines. We will also liaise and encourage our contractors, via the terms of the tendering process we will work within, that the work on the bridge will offer opportunities for skills development among their and other workforces as well as locally among crafts people who work with rubble-built structures.

We presently provide signage around the bridge to introduce the structure and its context to walkers and our visitors. There is significant education benefit in the structure, its renovation and the bicentenary. We anticipate providing interpretation during the works as well as after the works, ensuring every stage is recorded – not only for immediate consumption online and onsite but in the form of a book similar to the one we are publishing for the Conservation Plan Consultation. We will also be inviting local Primary schools (including Kilmodan, Strachur and Tighnabruaich) to visit at appropriate times to understand this work. Furthermore, once the work is complete we will hold a series of celebratory events for locals and visitors alike. Of course once the castle is restored too, there will be permanent exhibitions on the restoration of bridge and castle. We will of course also tie-in with ongoing successful local heritage endeavours like the recent Heritage Lottery Fund project, Glen of the Red River, the first stage of which was completed by the Kilmodan Primary School and which offers an online resource which the work on the bridge can contribute to (see www.glenoftheredriver.com).

Members of the public are able to access the bridge on foot from the main road freely. In 2006 the Trust obtained grant funding from SFGS and Highland Birchwoods to create and recover pathways around the policies, and part of this was the creation of a flattened area to the side of the bridge to enable the full glory of the structure to be visible. Our view is that Dunans Bridge will be a highly visible, highly visitable structure and a boon to the local tourist economy. We also intend to enable virtual access through webcam and video.

Rash razing over the weekend: a perilous quest for wildflower rich pasture…

By Dixon-Spain


I finally got the pasture topper running on the back of our dinky orange tractor and made a good start to the big paddock. I suspect it will take the rest of the week around my other duties, but it put me in mind of my upbringing on an arable farm in Lincolnshire where things are a lot flatter and the tractors a lot bigger. Rash razing in contrast to the wheat harvest, seems to take forever – I am just hoping I’ll only have to do it once more this year – turning the tractor at bottom and top feels particularly perilous. I am not sure how hill farmers do it year-on-year.