Dunans Steading: A deteriorating, neglected, historic building

We’re working very hard at Dunans, restoring and protecting Castle and Bridge – the castle is a B-listed structure, and the bridge is A-listed. If you have been following my posts you’ll know about our Conservation Plan for Dunans, and how we are moving from feasibility work, through design and investigatory works towards consent.

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Published in April 2014, our Conservation Plan

Associated with the site there are several other historic structures. One is the C-listed Fletcher Mausoleum: this building is the only one remaining in Fletcher ownership – which is entirely appropriate. Another is the old steading to the North-east of the castle, known as Dunans Steading – a building sold apart from the Castle in 1999.

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A 19th Century map showing spatial relation between bridge (top left), castle (bottom middle) and steading (top right)

Built at around the same time as the bridge was built it is believed the Steading was used as accommodation for the workforce who worked on the A-listed structure. Over the subsequent years this courtyard of buildings was utilised variously by the Fletchers as: mill for the timber needed to construct the castle; estate office, running the 40,000 acre estate; stables; hay barn; vehicle storage and general workshop space.

In the mid-2000s an application was submitted which the local authority insisted was accompanied by an application for Listed Building Consent. This Listed Building application was acknowledgement of the very particular place the building plays at Dunans. Not only does it stand in the historic policies of Dunans Castle, and has a direct functional purpose for the castle, but also the only access to it, is Dunans Bridge. This fact of access means that any use the owners of the Steadings make of the bridge has to be cognisant of the listed status of the bridge, the involvement of Historic Scotland and the Dunans Charitable Trust.

The other factor in this story, is the electricity supply to the castle. Originally of course, when both buildings were in the same ownership , the power supply could be routed to the steading and then onto the castle without problem. In fact, when it was installed Colonel Fletcher insisted the meters be sited at the Steading for ease of access by the electricity company, as well as ensuring the privacy of the family and the proximity of the working element of the estate for any queries. A sensible arrangement then.

However, when the Steading was split apart from the castle the meters weren’t similarly split – neither the electricity company or the then owners insisted on this, despite it being a condition of sale. This means then to read our bill – more of which in a subsequent post – I have to venture onto the neighbouring land, and in close proximity to fallen trees, smashed walls and very precarious gable ends pick my way to the meters, prise open the meter door and take the reading. A tri-monthly gauntlet.

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The approach to the Steading!
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The meters and the obstructions!

To record the state of things, and the danger to yours truly, this time I took some photos, and was inspired to write this post when I saw the results – a building in desperate need. The owners have refused us contact details (we believe they are based down in Kent), are not contactable through their agents, have not been onsite to our knowledge for over 2 years, will not talk to us, the owners of their sole access to their building. This is difficult when, as you’ll know, we are presently putting together an application to funders for of the restoration of the A-listed bridge – ie. £750K.

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Work on the bridge, Summer 2014

What is particularly galling is that both the steading and the bridge need work now, and therefore we need to have a reasonable dialogue with the owners about their usage of the bridge to enable work on the Steading and what their contribution will be to the restoration of the bridge.

That conversation is needed because until we have it, forward movement on either project will prove very difficult.

Here’re some more images of the problems …

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Lairds and Ladies Website: Revamped and new content added

We’ve just implemented some long overdue changes to the Lairds’ and Ladies’ website, and more are on the way.

We’ve changed the look, creating a website that uses the same template as the ScottishLaird.com website, but darker (to distinguish it). This is Desktop, tablet and mobile friendly. We’re still working on this, so treat it as a draft …

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We’ve added two new pages as well:

  1. Our plot finder is now part and parcel of the website, and easily accessible.
  2. We’ve created a Tour gallery, where Lairds and Ladies can upload their own photos of visiting Dunans and going on the tour… We’ve put some of our own photos up there already – see if you can spot yourself!!

The next part of the revamp is to include some exclusive content. Our plan is to publish the pdfs and documents that the renovation and refurbishment of Castle and Bridge has occasioned. Much of this you’ll have seen in abbreviated form via newsletters and blog posts here, but this is the full detail.

We’re also getting ready to welcome our new Lairds and Ladies of Dunans Bridge from our ongoing IndieGoGo campaign, as well as trying to streamline our email registration process…

Our #Indiegogo #Campaign Kicks Off: Let’s Restore Historic Dunans Bridge

So very excited to launch our Crowdsource funding campaign today on Indiegogo, with a great video and lots of super pics.

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Here’s the text of our Press Release:

Dunans Bridge Bicentenary Restoration takes huge step forward

New IndieGogo Campaign to Restore A-listed, Thomas-Telford-designed, Dunans Bridge

Today sees the launch of a crowdfund campaign to accelerate the restoration of one of Argyll’s architectural jewels, the 16m (45ft) high Dunans Bridge in Glendaruel, Cowal. The bridge which gives access to B-Listed Dunans Castle and crosses Argyll’s-own “Grand Canyon”, the Chaol Ghleann gorge, is in need of serious repair, and is the first stage in the recently published Conservation Plan for Dunans written by eminent conservation architect Robin Kent, which culminates in the restoration of B-listed Dunans Castle in 2019 into a public building with Visitor Centre, Event space and Lairds’ and Ladies’ accommodation.

Over the last six months the team at Dunans has been working through the preliminaries to get the restoration of the bridge going, including producing drawings, defining specifications, undertaking investigatory works and clearing vegetation. The bridge is now ready for the works, and these works need to happen urgently.

As Charles says, “We’re hoping to gift the bridge the best 200th birthday present it could possibly get – a complete restoration. Sadie and myself are very excited to think that in 8 or 9 months time, the bridge’s future will be assured and we can celebrate our achievement with a huge Bridge Birthday celebration!”

Grant-funding applications are being made for this project by the Dunans Charitable Trust to Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund, but because funding streams are never certain, Charles and Sadie Dixon-Spain decided that an Indiegogo campaign would be the ideal way of raising the profile of the bridge and also raising funds for the restoration and events programme that will be delivered alongside the works.

Culminating in a Bridge party in late summer 2015, the works will last between 6 and 8 months, and restore the bridge to a pristine state in its bicentenary year. The 200th anniversary of Thomas Telford completing the bridge is worth celebrating in itself, and preparing the bridge for a further 200 years of service is a fitting gift to the structure.

The IndieGogo campaign will also mark the first and only time that the title Laird or Lady of Dunans Bridge will be available. As a perk of contributing to the campaign, the title, and sundry other benefits, like scarves, ties and personalised email addresses, will be augmented with a permanent record of the names of Contributors, online, by the Bridge and, once restored, inside the castle too.

The page for our Indiegogo campaign is http://igg.me/at/dunans-bridge

Charles and Sadie, along with the team at Dunans, have been working tirelessly over the last few years, particularly since the beginning of the Scottishlaird Project in December 2007 to restore Castle and Bridge. With over 120,000 Lairds and Ladies now supporting the project, and providing over 5,000 visits* to the site in 2014 alone, this campaign has every chance of reaching its target of £411,600 as well as making a significant and lasting contribution to the local and regional economy.

*VisitScotland figures show that these 5,000 visits are worth a total of £2M to the local economy, with visits to Dunans being the primary motivation behind the visitors trip to Argyll (from within the UK) and Scotland (for our international Lairds and Ladies)

 

Scottish Laird Calendar for 2015 is published!

For everyone who has entered our competition to vote for all the photos included in this gorgeous calendar, it is now for sale at the Scottish Laird website!

I’m really very proud of this – not least because it uses photographs from both myself and our redoubtable in-house professional photographer, Jean Donaldson (powan.co.uk). We do have one archive shot, not used before, to show what Dunans was like c. 1930. …. And we couldn’t resist a shot of the Scotties too, looking delightful in the frost this January.

I wonder if you can guess which are Jean’s and which are mine? Confirmation when you buy the calendar and look at the credits at the end!

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Investigating Dunans Bridge: Checking the underlying structure of our Thomas Telford-designed A-listed structure

This week the bridge is being investigated – carefully, slowly and with due regard for its age, possible infirmaties and status.

Our structural engineer, Steve Wood (David Narro Associates) , Heritage Consolidation, the contractors, our QS Gordon Brown (Brown & Wallace), our Planning advisor, John Paton (Paton Planning & Development) and of course our architect, Robin Kent (Robin Kent Architecture & Conservation), along with the scaffolders had a day working on and planning for the bridge – as well as the rest of the site.

Of course we took lots of photos, see below, and the initial conclusions were very interesting.

In the second trench (this sounds SO like Time Team) we discovered an extraordinary structural indicator that would, if confirmed by historical experts, mean that Thomas Telford did indeed design and build the bridge (there’s no extant paperwork). Needless to say Architect, Structural Engineer, Heritage Consolidation and ScottishLaird are all very, very excited.

We’ll post more via our Lairds and Ladies newsletter later next week!

Gloriously Sunny September Sunday at Dunans

We’re awaiting the arrival of contractors for the investigatory works on the bridge, a meeting with the architect, and the reports on laser and bat surveys. In the meantime I am writing the business plan the bridge in order to consolidate the funding application to Historic Scotland. Its concentrated desk work, and for relief I took a walk in the pasture at the back of the castle yesterday, these photos are the result.

The Bridge gets a shave and we finally meet “Speak-no-evil” and “Hear-no-evil” our beautiful gargoyles!

Bank Holiday weekend and we persuaded some friends to volunteer their climbing and rope-access skills to help us begin the process of restoring the bridge to its former glory. Working flat out Pos, Trish, Rory, Diana, Dan, Georgie, and H made a real difference to the structure. Thanks to everyone for their efforts.

One of the highlights was finding  that the Gargoyles are indeed a set of three: from the photo below we have “Speak no evil” nearest us, with his hand over his mouth and “Hear no evil”, with her hand over her ear, in the middle. We presume that “See no evil” is the one closest to the road, but we couldn’t get to her in the time we had available – although Trish nearly got there!

What we have also established is that they are beautifully carved in great detail – we’ll try and get some detailed shots soon!

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Tender for the Bridge in hand: We’ve just received the specifications for the first stage of the restoration of Dunans Bridge

Robin Kent, our architect, has just sent over these plans for the first stage of works to the bridge. The works will include two trial pits, with one being dug nearly through the structure. There will be scaffolding to shore up the deeper pit, and there will also be investigations into the construction of the top of the buttress so we can work out how to proceed with them.

This is all very exciting and presages works beginning sometime in August for a week or so, as necessary.

Here’s the plan and the elevation showing where and how the works will be executed (they are copyright Robin Kent Ltd. and may not be reproduced without permission from the architect).

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ScottishLaird: The Story So Far … A New Sign for the Castle

The third sign in our growing collection of lectern interpretation tells the story of how ScottishLaird has developed from a small idea into a castle-saving enterprise. The draft sign, pictured below – and in part, above – will be printed at the end of the week, once I have properly proofed the whole design.

I’ve also included the text of the sign as its a great summary of how the Scottish Laird project has developed …

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DRAFT TEXT
Please note that this text is subject to change, not only because we will be editing it for the first printing of the sign, but because as we develop our ideas with regard to both the end use of the castle and the method we’ll use to effect the restoration, the narrative will perforce change. Not only that, over the next year or two we’ll encounter some pretty big decision points which may affect both absolute progress and our timetable.

The Scottish Laird Project
Since 1st December 2007, when the Scottish Laird Project began, over 100,000 Lairds and Ladies have taken up the offer to support the project to restore Dunans Castle, the bridge and grounds. The project has Lairds and Ladies from all over the world, including countries where Scots have emigated to, like the US, Canada and Australia, as well as regions which evidently feels kinship through climate, location and topography, like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. All are welcome, both to enjoy our decorative titles, but also, and most importantly to visit Dunans, in person or via the internet, and learn about the restoration.

The intention was always to create a community of interest around the castle, while also providing a fun and original gift idea. We hope we have been successful in the latter, but know from our tours and feedback online, that the community is a thriving, engaged and above all, interested stakeholder in what we do at Dunans.

By necessity the Lairds and Ladies contributions were small to begin with. The maintenance of paths, the creation of signage, the planting of trees and the management of the policies in general. With contributions from the project in the first 4 years we’ve improved steps, created benches, repaired the worst of nature’s depredations and ensured that year round we can work on improving our visitor experience.

Harrods, WHSmith et al.
One of our early successes in getting the project to a larger audience was our involvement with Gift Republic, a distributor with connections across the globe, and in particular, in high streets across the US and the UK. We immediately saw a significant hike in folks becoming involved in the project, particularly with the introduction of titles to the likes of Harrods and WHSmith. Gift Republic also helped us make our tours a regular fixture during the summer, with 2011 bringing over a thousand Lairds and Ladies to Dunans.

A Great Leap Forward
In early 2012 the project took another great leap forward with the first of our many offers via Groupon. That year, while providing tours for over two and a half thousand people, we were able to invest in a more thorough-going grounds management policy, investing both in plant and drainage.

It was at this stage we realised that the project needed its own office space, and moved everything to our specially-built, but temporary, green shed (you’ll have seen it as you arrived, partially screened by Rhododendron and Rowan). Since late 2012 this has been centre of operations for Scottish Laird.

Creating a Conservation Plan
By the end of that year it became obvious that our increasing success meant we were going to be in a position to move the project forward in more definite terms for both castle and bridge. We started looking for an architect to help us. By the middle of 2013 we’d found architect and conservation specialist Robin Kent, and since then he has been working with us to realise plans which will encapsulate both our vision for Dunans, and that expressed to us by the Lairds and Ladies when they visited.

Our first task was to create a structure around which we could create a timescale and a budget for the renovations, one which would also answer to the method we’d use. Robin therefore began work on a Conservation Plan for Dunans, and over the winter of 2013/14 produced a document with which we could base our planning and listed building consents. The plan was published in April 2014 as a book for consultation with our Lairds and Ladies.

Preparing the Ground
To date this work – the creation of the Conservation Plan, the professional input from Structural Engineer and Quantity Surveyor, the ongoing meetings with planners, the clearing of the castle wall-tops and much else besides – has been paid for by the project.

In a similar way in the second half of 2014 the Laird project with be financing two major preparatory works: firstly, the bridge will be subject to a detailed examination with trial pits being dug to ascertain the level of intervention the structure requires; and secondly, we will be engaging a team of clearance experts to take all the detritus from the castle. Like the trial pits for the bridge, clearing the castle is an essential prerequisite – in this case for the detailed surveys we will need to create the drawings for applications to the local planning department as well as Historic Scotland.

The Bridge’s Birthday Party
During 2015, its bicentennial, the bridge will be restored, but because it is an A-listed structure, we hope to obtain full funding from Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Includingwithin the £1M total funding package will be a 5% contribution from Scottish Laird to enable a complete record of the works to be made, as well as a programme of celebrations and events around the restoration of the structure. Local Schools, History and Archaeology Groups, Lairds and Ladies will all be involved in what will prove to be a really significant moment in the life of the site and the project.

With the funding in place for the restoration of the bridge (and it is by no means certain) we will then be in a position to start the works on the castle by early 2016. And it is this work which the ScottishLaird Project will have been most instrumental in funding.

Restoring the Castle
As the Conservation Plan for Dunans shows the indicative budget for a restoration of the castle into a mixed-use visitor attraction and accommodation venue is £4M. This figure would not have been achievable without the credibility the Scottish Laird project lends the site. We anticipate that given good financial results for the year 2014-15, and continuing success in marketing both our titles and the associated merchandise, we will be able to borrow the £2.5M we will need to complete the project.

The programme of works, as the timeline above indicates, will take approximately 3 years, and finish around April 2019 – all things having occurred as envisaged. In that time, we’ll have worked on the castle in two distinct phases: first, the recovery and second, the renovation.

The Recovery
In the recovery phase, beginning with the preparatory works already mentioned, the castle will be cleared, the walls, gables, chimneys and wall-tops will be consolidated. The structure will then be roofed. We did consider a temporary roof, but we felt that this was an added and needless expense. Once roofed the castle would be fenestrated and then left for c. 18 months to dry out. It may be that during this time it will be necessary to create floors in the space. Of course once roofed and drying it may be possible to hold events in the structure.

The Restoration
Taking approximately a year, the restoration will bring in services, first and second fix, all the appurtenances of a modern visitor attraction, as well as the facilities on the first and second storeys to cater for guests. We will of course include sustainable energy sources where possible – microhydro and photovoltaics being favoured at the time of writing.

Once completed, our Lairds and Ladies will be able to stay in one of three gorgeous self-catering apartments in the Castle, and enjoy visitor facilities, like a restaurant/cafe, an archive room, a Castle shop and, of course, the lovely grounds. By the time the project is completed we will have created together a sustainable castle which will maintain itself for generations to come.

CSDS, July 2014