Cluaran Historical Interpretation Project

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Skippers Log

Brief highlights and a record of Cluaran activities from the early days to now.

Summer begins for 2021

As Lockdown eases we adapt again. Some people are still restricted from travelling. We all need to continue to be cautious,  as the plague needs people to travel. However, some events that were postponed last year are preparing to happen. This has meant a lot of things have come at a rush. Our equipment has been repurposed, networks scattered and some people are still isolating. It is good to be taking part in events though...     

Tales from the Longhouse has been running throughout Lockdown. With a good solid attendance and two skilled resident storytellers this has been a highlight of the month for all involved. We have also enjoyed the company of guest storytellers with a wide range of stories - but all told in a way which woudldn't be out of place in an actual longhouse on the shores fo Galloway. The summer of 2021 is going to be needed to recover from lockdown last year, and work out what we can do next year. It's alsomes as if someone has shouted "Ready About!" and now we are trying to remember which sheets need to be held, and which let go. When we tack though, we look forward to an exciting new course!

Setting sail in 2021

Well, we have made it into 2021. The curraghs have a new rack to stand in. Last year tests on "Max" showed that the sides are too high, and the belly too round for convenient handling. The plan is therefore to lower the sides, but leave a high bow and stern. Using sand bags for ballast works well, and an expedition down the nith and up the cluden by lincluden was successful in the test, so lets see how far we can get next time! Catken has been out of the water for a year now, but experimenting with a simple sail is the plan for this season - covid and weather permitting.

Our online activies have been continuing. The Monthly storytelling session "Tales from the Longhouse" has a regular following. Some have even told us that it is the highlight of their month. We have also been supporting a monthly informal get together for storytellers to practice.There are also rumours of a colouring book, pyrography designs, and a dream of live events augmented by digital technology.

Wordsmithcrafts is currently undergoing a review of it's supported activities, this means that there may be some behind the scenes changes. It also means that there will hopefully be some IcT upgrades and new ways to keep in touch with Cluaran.

Autumn and Winter Surviving 2020

We have continued to develop the "Tales from the Longhouse" storytelling evenings. Since August we have held Monthly sessions with out residents storytellers Cathbad and Olaf. We have also heard stories from four guest storytellers. The learning curve in managing zoom and development of an early medieval atmosphere on modern technology has been a steep one! We have also provided two storytelling sessions for Galloway Gleans landscape partnership as a part of the "Dig It" Archaeology component. Here is the YouTube recording of the first of these. When the second one becomes available we will post that - or come to a tales from the Longhouse evening to see how things have developed!

Summer 2020 ~Covid- 19

August Update

We have a new project "Tales from the Longhouse" Cluaran Interpreters Cathbad and Olaf will be hosting monthly storytelling sessions online. Each month they will have a guest. This will mean three stories and the chance to imagine yourself into the longhouses which have been closed this season.

Buy tickets for Cluaran Haven Longhouse

We moved online for a successful Galloway Glens storytelling event. Olaf and Cathabad told tales from Galloway introducing the myths and legends shared throughout the Irish sea region a thousand years ago.

Since then we have been contacted by several other groups to arrange online sessions. This has allowed us to make knowledge, skills and props available to help interpret history whilst acting to help keep people safe and reduce the spread of Covid-19

This Summer has seen the cancellation of all our planned events. some of our bookings have been moved to 2021 so we have not disappeared. Many of the people who work with Cluaran depend on school visiting for a significant amount of their income. This has obviously stopped for a season as well. Historical interpreters usually have what is known as "portfolio careers" so they have been adapting to provide their skills and services Online and in other ways.
The downside of a flexible work balance is that creative practitioners often fall through the gaps in government support. One of the aims of Cluaran is to provide some stability for individuals like this - we will continue to do so!

An example of this has been made possible with the support of Galloway Glens. We have taken an aspect of our planned village Online! Here is a slide show we will use to welcome people to a storytelling session.

Summer 2019

We were booked for a series of events, starting with some Iron age interpretation of the only two anchors from that time found in the British isles. Drostan and Severus negotiated a deal in Dumfries Museum in May. Under the flag of Cluaran, Simon Lidwell of Wordsmithcrafts and Sam MacNeill provided replicas for the exhibition, a schools worksheet, and four days of craft workshops and drama for Primary schools in both Dumfries and Annan Museums.

Cluaran also provided costumed interpretation for the Sleeping Giants "Hidden Histories" project. Working along the river Nith we arranged to provide clothing advice for costumed interpreters, Monks for Dundrennan abbey, Vikings ready to bury a hoard of Treasure, and Blacksmithing (including school level experimental archaeology) workshops.

We also navigated our way into the Viking era in Dunstaffnage and Dumbarton. Here in a repeat booking we provided the clinker built boat as a stage for local fishing and international adventure stories. 10 minute craft workshops where the public could make and take home small net bags, twisted copper armbands and hammered replicas from the Galloway hoard.

Later in the summer we returned to remember the treaty of Perth as Gallowglass warriors.

We rounded the summer off with activities in the West of Galloway taking part in the Stranraer "Skiffie World" International event. We told stories of stones and bones with the Whithorn trust. We demonstrated blunt and edged force trauma on a variety of objects to hep interpret finds from the "Cold Case Whithorn" project.

We also helped launch the Rhins coastal path. Two Vikings, or more accurately, a Viking and a monk were sent into the Rhins to investigate the Kilmory stone with it's cross and tongs. We also gave primary school pupils a chance to try some hands on blacksmithing. With plasticine rather than hot metal - but real hammers!

A Roman and a Novantae confront each other

Spring 2019
The School visiting season is getting started. We plan to work closely with Hidden Histories in Dumfries and Galloway this year. This will continue developing the range of eras we cover - connecting people through time as well as space!

The cluaran boat has been inspiring potential Vikings already, and the curragh has provided added interest and the opportunity for pupils to think about how structures can provide form to a boat - and turn an animal hide into the skin that keep you afloat.

Look out for us in Dumfries Museum, Oban and closer to home throughout the summer!
Svenn discusses toy viking boats in a bucket of water

Autumn 2018
We have been back in Annan Museum again. This time digging up evidence and information about one of only two early iron anchors in the British isles. How did it come to be lost in the mud flats of the Solway? Is there a peaceful explanation, was it due to conflict? Will be ever know?

Summer 2018
A quiet summer this year. We worked with Hidden Histories in north west Dumfries. This included a week in Maxwelltown High School, just before it closed and the pupils moved to a new school. We provided a series of curragh building workshops. The pupils worked in groups to make their own mini curragh, and also with us to skin our 6m curragh. At the time of writing the big boat hasn't been float tested yet, but the pupils tested their building skills with a time trialled build and float of the mini craft.

Spring 2018
The season is starting off with a trip to the "Shire of Caer Caledon Beltain Fair" in St Andrews. This event has been running in St Andrews from before the turn of the millennium. It has won awards for linking the student population with the town residents. It is also a great place to meet up with other Scottish reenactment groups.

Many things start there - so lets see what is in store for Cluaran!

Winter 2017

Time to give another coat of boat soup, carry out a few repairs and check the ropes. While the boat is berthed under cover we can plot and plan schemes to increase the range of people Cluaran can involve, and reach out to more schools especially the Smaller rural ones who can't normally afford visits. A scouting trip to Portsoy has already been accomplished!

Look up the facebook page for some more photos of what we have been doing!

Summer 2017

This summer so a return to Perth for another year beached on the high street. Plenty of interested public, and good weather again!
Dunstaffnage Castle was a long drive, but a row round the castle promontory and the photos of it made the trip worthwhile. Seeking relief from the midges, we retreated to Oban for the evening, overland this time.

Spring 2017
Wordsmithcrafts has been continuing to take the boat round schools, and hundreds of school children have no had the chance to practice rowing and get a fishes eye view of a tradition clinker built boat.

During the run up to Easter we experimented with ash laths and built a scale model for a frame for another Curragh. The scale model is 1:1 scale and if skinned, will make and interesting craft! A lot was learned in the process though, not least how handy it is to have a keel and stem and stern posts.

The boat has been bathed in soup ready for the summer. Progress continues in optimising the oars.

We have bookings for events in Oban, Perth and Dumfries, both on and off the water. We will be attending the Loch Fyne Viking festival, but as rowers in other boats (this time).

Summer 2016
Caithness 6iking Festival will feature an artistic exploration of a 6iking Shipyard thanks to Cluaran. There will be sculptural carving, willow ships lines activities, and of course the boat to go fishing in. Have you seen the Herring Dance? 

Novantae may disagree with the Selgovae and all Britons might want to raid cattle from the Cruithne Picts - but when the roman empire conducts a "training exersize" on the prominent Hill fort of Burnswalk who will answer for the suffering resulting from a rain of lead shot? Cluaran has been developing it's school visiting role with Wordsmithcrafts and Visiting Vikings to bring the Annan Museum exhibition to life.

Spring 2016
School visiting again! And a trip to on a research trip. At a meeting of EXARC and IMTAL members with Destination Viking a load of new plans are being cooked up for Cluaran. Pict - Monk - Viking - Scot! what links all of them? The Sea. 

Winter 2015
The boat is tucked away in a garage with a new roof. Another coat of boat soup and she will be ready for 2016

Summer 2015
Dumfries Museum for the Festival of Museums, Erskine Biker rally with Glasgow Vike, Rowing on Loch Arthur and Lake Windermere. Wood obtained to construct a steer oar and tiller/rudder. Youthbeatz in Dumfries.

Easter 2015
The school visiting season is over now. Time to take a breath! The boat is booked in for the Festival of Museums on May the 16th and work is progressing with Wordsmithcrafts using a combination of volunteers and professionals to make this resource available to primary schools throughout Scotland. We have even had a Norwegian volunteer with us already this year!

Winter 2014
School visiting with the boat went well in Spring this year. Repeat bookings are expected in spring 2015 for George Watson School in Edinburgh as well as various Dumfries schools. The project has shifted from the original intention to build boats, but is doing well in it's mission of raising awareness of the shared tradition of boat building.

Summer 2014
The Boat has been to Thurso and back! A week of setting up and down everyday was tiring, but well worth it. Alex McNeill has taken some amazing photos, and there is even video of us rowing with the Old Man of Hoy in the (distant) background.

January 2014

You can find the project newsletter here 

December 2013

Time to give the boat another does of soup to keep it cozy this winter. A newsletter is doing the rounds, so if you are a settler and haven't got one yet , please let us know and we will get it to you. Photos of what we have accomplished can be found on the photos page and there will be a general meeting to decide the future of the project on Sunday the 12th of  January at Wordsmithcrafts Workshop.

August 2013
Things have been quite busy over the summer, and I'm afraid this log hasn't been kept up to date. However, with Largs Viking village just about to happen, here is a summary of what we have achieved so far:

Boat building 

Gal Gael Ness Yole repaired and made water ready 

Road trailer obtained 

6 oars usable, at least 8 more in preparation 

Curraghs and coracles researched, one curragh built and available to the project another in process of being built.

Exploration of shared culture 

Theme birthday party and fundraising event 

(including feast food, clothing, falconry, Viking quiz) 

Family Open afternoons; 
January, March, April, May 

Activities explored include, embroidery, natural dyeing (Alison Fair-Bixler), weaving, cooking, shared history timeline, dog breeds, oar making, hull treatment (boat soup), games. 

On The Water 

Buoyancy aids collected 

Three rowing sessions 

(Wiston lodge, Milton Loch X2) 

Basic commands worked out, and at least six Cluaran members trained in rowing. About three times that number have had the opportunity to “mess about in boats” and have a pull on an oar. 

Public displays 

£150 has been raised raised from use of boat at educational events including a Wordsmithcrafts school visit to Georgetown primary school and a “Vikings” living history display at Crocketford Gala 
High quality publicity photos (Alex McNeil photography)
April 2013
Research into cloth and natural dyes, Inquiries in progress about access to water to train on.
March 2013
We have a trailer, and one complete oar. Work is continuing.
February 2013
Update on the trailer. The boat weighs about 250kg including oars mast and spar. This means that a lighter trailer will do. Also we only need to support 15' of keel, the rest is overhang at the bow and stern.
January 2013
We are looking for a trailer! 
Something that will take about 700kg and 5.48 X 1.6M (or  22'X 6')  of boat.
10th November
Boat Repairs nearing completion

28th April 2012
Medieval Crafts and Fundraising Feast
Thank you to everyone  that helped to make the feast a success! new pictures are Online.

Next event on the water in Dumfries 30/06 -01/07 save the date!

9th April 2012
Medieval Crafts and Fundraising Feast
This is a feast run by volunteers, funds raised will go towards the Cluaran Boat Building Project

When: sat 21st April from 3pm
Where: West Hurlet House, G53 7TH
 Feast tickets £35 in advance (BYOB) email

5th Feb 2012
A successful first settlers feast


Iron Age/ Roman

Before Scotland was Scotland. We explore the roots of the people who have contributed to the country Scotland is today.


Nestled Between Hills and the Solway, Dumfries and Galloway shares a lot in Common with Norway and other Scandinavian countries. We find out how the sea links those that travel by boat.


From St Nininian to the present day, there has been a monastic presence in these Islands. We use this as a mirror within which people can sense spirituality and find time to reflect.


Whether it is the building of castles and the wars of independence, or the transformation of the kingdom of the isles into Gallowglass warriors you are interested in - we can bring the stories to life!