Congratulations to the ScottishLaird Team: #DunansCastle is a Groupon Local Star in Poland!

This is really testament to the hard work and good humour of our ScottishLaird team, big congratulations to Jean Donaldson (Powanmedia) and Colin Steedman who work tirelessly to make our promotions to Europe and beyond the success they are!

Watch out for new Scottish Laird promotions for Groupon UK and Ireland before the month is out!

In the meantime, we’ll let the email we just received speak for itself(!):

localstarpoland

 

Double-Double Yolker! Two eggs, four yolks …

Working lunch today at ScottishLaird was delicious and amazing at the same time.

Highly appropriate given that my dear old Grandfather was chairman of the Egg Board during the “Go to Work on an Egg” campaign in the 70s.

Cracking story to make a meal of, eh?*

*all jokes thanks to Jean

 

A Valentines Day Gift: Chocolates from ScottishLaird

Not sure we need to say much more, except that our sensational selection of six Scottish chocolates were made as a special commission for us by the excellent Caramiche Chocolatiers who can be found in Dunoon in a gorgeous haze of chocolateness … Chocolates helping restore a castle in Scotland – wonderful!

1000-box
1000-box-opened
1000-collection 1000-overhead-box

There’s the Dunans Dram, the Castle Cranachan, Wild River Raspberry, Highland Honeybee, the Laird’s Retreat and the Lady’s Secret …

Now at our website, ScottishLaird.com, but hurry, we have only very limited stocks!

 

New Products on ScottishLaird: In time for Christmas, Caps, Waistcoats, Ladies Kilts and Sashes

We had a lot of fun putting together our Dunans Rising tartan range this year, and here’s the final batch – all available at the revamped ScottishLaird.com in time for Christmas!!

waistcoat_web
Waistcoat for Ladies and Gentlemen
ladies_kilt_front
Ladies kilt
sash_fringe_web
The fringes of our Dunans Rising Sash

cap_threequarters

Adding Festive Baubles: Our ScottishLaird.com site gets a refresh for the sheer merriness of it!

A good day today for a lot of reasons, not least the creation of three picture baubles for the Scottish Laird website. Also, watch out on the 10th December for new offers both from the site and Groupon UK.

With the top page of the slightly restructured website I had thought about a background of a Christmas tree with the baubles hanging from it, but it all got a little unnecessary visually! This very calm, bauble adorned front page provides a really clear route to the titles, our tartans and our accessories. We also refreshed the title circles which were looking a little retired. They’re now sharp sharp.

refreshed-scottishlaird

I particularly like these three picture baubles, utilising photography both from myself (the deed) and Jean Donaldson (teddy and tartan). The interaction of fonts (helvetica neue and zapfino) and image are particularly chocolatey (and yes that is a technical graphic design term… )

decorativetitles-400
our_tartan our-gifts

Refining the Special Sauce: A pinch of SQL, a peck of PHP, a dash of CSS. Delicious.

Silence on this blog over the last day or so, as I have been refining our production process – the Special Sauce of the title – by tinkering with the mix of PHP / MySQL / CSS which form the basis for the websites we run. That and using applescripts and folder actions to automagically print jobs saved from orders – a mouth-watering topping if you will.

If this sounds like unpalatable gobbledegook, then saying collation is my next challenge, and after that some insecure headers,  might make you think  I have lost it – either that or  I am making headway with improving Scottish Laird’s online infrastructure. In any event, it is certain to ensure the business copes with the oncoming Christmas tsunami more elegantly than it did with the last …

And once all of these technical considerations have been broiled into an elegant soupçon, I’ll be heating up the latest iteration of our business plan for serving in a week or so to HIE – a very slow-cooked dish indeed!

Now, time for supper.

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 …

lectern-scottishlaird

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 

Making email newsletters more elastic and more cost effective: @elasticemail

elasticemailSo Scottishlaird.com has over 11,000 subscribers divided into three separate lists, and frankly we were growing tired of an ever-inflating monthly charge from our old supplier – a rather overgrown simian. Now, don’t get me wrong the service was excellent, the templates great and creating an html email a breeze to put together and design, but the cost was ridiculous.

So yesterday, in email dialogue with Julie from ACT around the mailing list for that charity, the contractor recommended Elastic Email. So me having the technicals, I gave the system a once over.  So impressed was I, that I have converted our entire list to Elastic Email and dumped Mailchimp back down to the free account.

Why keep the free gorilla account? The wonderful integration between it and my e-commerce software – we’ll be using it to collect subscribers and then transfer them over to EE. Security-wise we’re fine, given that both companies are at the top of their game, but it is a bind to have to migrate users over ….

The only word of caution I’d give, is that EE isn’t quite as user-friendly as MC – but then I *think* that’s what you’d be paying extra for with when you go ape!

(… and all of this rather explains why there has been a hiatus on the email newsletter front with Scottish Laird – sorry!)

#FabulousFriday: finally closed out the Dunans Conservation Plan books, and redesigned the greeting pack for Lairds & Ladies

interiorspread-bluefolderWatch the Scottish Laird site for news on the books (in particular our Lairds’ and Ladies’ and the PDF versions), and in the meantime enjoy the inside of the ScottishLaird welcome pack A4 folder. Gorgeous isn’t it? Lots of Dunans Rising tartan, lots of Lairds and Ladies taking the tour, and lots of new information researched through the plan.

ScottishLaird tour season has well and truly kicked off with 6 tours in 8 days!

Today I gave a tour for six lairds and ladies – a couple from Aberdeen, another from down south with lovely pooch Oliver and the last all the way over from Australia.

Oliver and people had stayed at Sandra and Michael’s at the Watermill and gave great reviews, particularly for the ever-popular big breakfast that is Michael’s speciality.

Then, given their itineraries, we recommended The George in Inveraray, The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, The Colintraive Hotel and Inver Cottage! I always feel lucky to have so many great places to recommend in such an isolated spot.

For more information about tours and where to stay and go near us, please click here.