Case Study 33: Rodney’s Stone, Brodie Castle: weaving together conservation, art and education

Shannon Fraser

Rodney’s Stone is a Pictish cross-slab in the grounds of Brodie Castle, Moray, in the care of the NTS. The monument’s original site is unknown, but at various times since its creation it has occupied at least four different locations, picking up along the way a commemorative function connected to the 18th-century naval hero, Admiral Sir George Rodney. Its placement in its current position in the 1830s, alongside one of the estate’s new, picturesque entrance drives, fit into a wider, contemporary phenomenon in which antiquities were introduced into landscaping schemes as contemplative foci, embodying Romantic philosophical conceptions of the historical past and its relationship to place and landscape.

In 2005, a severe winter storm blew down a spruce plantation which had been planted to within 10 m of the monument; it also destroyed a timber shelter which had covered the stone since the 1970s. This provided an opportunity to revisit the monument’s conservation, presentation and interpretation strategies. Due to the particularly resilient nature of the sandstone the monument can remain in its current location without a replacement shelter providing there is no change in climatic conditions. However, given concerns about climate change, 3D laser scanning was undertaken to create an accurate record of the carvings and to act as a baseline for monitoring erosion into the future.

Replanting using native broadleaved trees, at a greater distance from the cross-slab, allowed it more space to breathe and greatly improved both aesthetics and conservation conditions. Since the new woodland would take some 15 years to give renewed protection against the prevailing wind, the potential for increased erosion was mitigated by providing a temporary windbreak. A dried willow screen was chosen for this: among other positive considerations, the textures and colours of natural materials blend in well with the surrounding countryside, and the screen will degrade naturally over time. Created by artist Jon Warnes, the sinuous form of the windbreak mimics the curlicues of the Pictish beasts and sea monsters depicted on the stone; the latter are also reflected in the openwork designs woven into the screen, which permit glimpses of the cross-slab from the woodland trails approaching the site. Pleasingly, the withy-weaving craft technique used would be entirely familiar to the communities for whom the monument was created. So as not to overwhelm the monument, the height of the windbreak decreases at either end, with the area immediately behind the stone deliberately plain.

The screen has been a catalyst for a wide-ranging programme of activities using art as a medium for educating and involving people in heritage conservation. Local primary school pupils wove 50 willow ‘Pictish beasts’ to lead visitors along the woodland path to Rodney’s Stone—as a result, the school chose to centre a full term’s curriculum on a Pictish theme. The intimate, yet theatrical space created by the screen has been utilized for storytelling and for the première of a traditional fiddle composition inspired by the monument’s biography; in turn a Scottish country dance is being choreographed to this new music, adding yet more layers to the meaning of Rodney’s Stone.

A colour photo of a man stood in front of a cross slab in a field. Behind it is a curving wall made of willow.

Figure 1: Rodney’s Stone with sculptural willow screen. © S M Fraser/The National Trust for Scotland

A colour photo of three fiddle players outside, stood in front of a willow, curved wall. An audience is listening to them play.

Figure 2: Traditional fiddlers perform new music composed for Rodney’s Stone by Paul Anderson. © S Morrison/The National Trust for Scotland

Return to Section 2.5.2 Ex situ architectural fragments

Return to Section 4.3.2: Aesthethic

Return to Section 5.2.4: Physical conservation

Leave a Reply