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The Hilton of Cadboll Pictish Stone - a design for a stole

Here in the north of Scotland, we have been in a covid lockdown for a month.  We have been told by the government to work from home if we can, so as I had lots of design work to do and no urgency on any of the making, I brought the computer home - good excuse because it's warmer here than in my workshop!

The only interaction I have had with the rest of humanity has been through the medium of Zoom - for conversations with family, for church services and the occasional face-to-face with a client.

A couple of weeks ago one such meeting took place and my client has commissioned me to design and make her ordination stole.   In the past she had worked on the Hilton of Cadboll project which was a "millenium project" - part archaeological excavations and part having stone mason Barry Grove carve a replica of this famous Pictish stone.

The original stands on display in the National Museum of Scotland.  The "new" one is not so new now.  Looking for my photographs of the replica as a starting point for my stole design I saw that I had taken this photograph September 2003.  I am fairly certain that at this point the cross face was surrounded by a wooden shed to provide shelter for the carver as he was working on the east (cross) face of the stone.  In the intervening 17 years it has weathered in well but the detail is still crisp and clear.

Today, while it was cold with hazy cloud, I decided it was nice enough to venture out and make the 40 mile trip north to visit the stone and get some better quality pictures.  (Digital photography has improved quite a lot during this time!)

The views coming down the hill towards the Cromarty Firth were stunning, so I pulled into the layby just before the causeway and took a couple of pictures.

Then it was onwards to my destination.  The stone stands on the spot that is believed (through archaeological digs) to be its original location beside the site of an old chapel (now just a grassed-over pile of stones).   I arrived at just the right time of day to get the best light for photographs.  The sun was just about breaking through the thin cloud and striking the stone side on, which improves the shadows and helps to see the detail.

The parts of particular interest for this project are the two vinescrolls at either edge of the west face of the stone.  They depict curious beasts feeding on the true vine.  There are 11 different creatures on each side and the two sides are not identical. They are all winged creatures, some have two legs, some four.  Some have long tails, others crests in varying degrees of complexity.

Back in 2005 I made a wall hanging inspired by part of the right-hand side vine.  It was part of an exhibition of my work featuring pieces inspired by the Pictish Stones of Ross-shire.  This piece was done using the process of needlefelting.  I am looking forward to starting work on translating today's photographs into embroidery.

After my "work" taking lots of photographs I went for a quiet stroll along the shore - that's my exercise for the day!


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