For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a wonderful bespoke project for The Draper’s Shop at Dunollie Castle, and I recently visited there to discuss how things were going.
Dunollie is just outside of Oban, and the ruined castle stands proud on a cliff overlooking Oban Bay, a beacon to those coming and going from the islands. They say that people have inhabited the area for 8000 years, and this medieval castle is the pin that connects that long history to the present.
Once the home of the Kings of Dal Riada, Dunollie now houses thousands of letters in the archives, which tell the fascinating tale of the MacDougalls, who have occupied the castle and house for the past 900 years. In the Laird’s House, below the castle, is the 1745 House Museum, and surrounding both is an historic woodland and extensive grounds. There is a wonderful display of textiles, and many interesting artefacts relating to Clan MacDougall.
As well as the MacDougall tartan, the Dalraida tartan is specific to Dunollie, being based on an early 18 th century tartan discovered there in 2010. This historic find was woven from the wool of the ancient Scottish Dunface breed of sheep, which are now extinct. The wool was locally spun and dyed, using native plants for the green, and indigo and madder for the blue and red colours. Pre- dating clan tartans, its pattern of equal amounts of red and green is said to be characteristic of West Coast tartans of that time, and elements of this are found in the later MacDougall and MacColl tartans.
This interesting story, and this beautiful tartan, forms one part of the project, but a second ancient artifact became the focus. The Brooch of Lorn is one of three 16 th century ‘turreted’ brooches with central charmstones – the others are the Lochbuie Brooch, in the British Museum, and the Ugadale or Lossit Brooch, in private hands. Charmstones appear in the 13 century and were said to have healing powers. Underneath the stone is an empty space, thought once to have held a relic. The turrets are each topped with a freshwater pearl and the brooch is decorated with detailed filigree and cabled borders. It is an unusual and arresting object, and I can see why it was valued.
It is hard to distil so much history and significance into a bar of soap, especially when the history is so interesting and visiting the museum so inspiring, but I think I’m getting there. While so much has changed at Dunollie during the centuries, one of the things that has stayed the same is an obvious belief in craftmanship and local handiwork, from ancient tartans and jewellery to modern day clothing and soaps. It’s a project I’m proud to be part of and have had such fun doing.
I would definitely recommend a visit to the Castle and grounds; it is a great place to take children (I have taken mine), there is a cafe, and they offer a variety of seasonal events. It is also within walking distance of Oban.
When you’re there, be sure to check out The Draper’s Shop – who knows what you might find?