A bespoke design for Craigievar Castle re-opening

Photo by John Need

I’m so proud to finally be able to share with you a big secret I’ve been keeping, a very special scarf designed for The National Trust for Scotland to celebrate the re-opening of Craigievar Castle!

This is a project that started life back in Autumn 2023, when I was approached by Gemma from NTS about the relaunch and whether I would be interested in designing a scarf to be part of an amazing collection of products all inspired by The Pink Castle. It was such a thrill to be asked – partly as this is such a big moment in the Castle’s history, but also because my childhood home is ten minutes from the castle and I have a lot of happy memories and nostalgia surrounding this beautiful building. I can remember playing in the grounds and having family picnics there, visiting on primary school trips to learn about the trees and wildlife, and viewing it from afar in it’s fairy tale setting as we’d drive past it regularly going about daily life. Definitely a full circle moment to now be designing a scarf starring this Castle!

My design journey began with a visit to the Castle to meet John, the Castle’s Caretaker, to pick his brains on the history and architecture. I wanted to learn more about the interesting characters who had lived there over the hundreds of years since it was built, and find out about any details in the décor and architecture to use in the design. He was full of stories and information and I came away with a wealth of ideas to use! I also did a bit of foraging while I was there, just like we had as children, and collected some bits of lichen, pine cones, and fallen twigs from the enormous monkey puzzle tree which I had always loved as a child.

Then it was back to the studio and time to get the pencils out. I drew directly from the objects I had collected and photos I had taken – as well as taking inspiration from books on Craigievar Castle I’d managed to get at the central library in Aberdeen – old NTS guides!

I worked on this design at full scale – meaning I drew directly onto a sheet of paper the finished size of the scarf. I quite often work like this now I have my own studio and more space to spread out! But I still like to use collage as part of my process, so some elements were drawn on separate sheets of paper, cut out and then loosely taped on so I can move them around til I’m happy with the composition. I like to be able to play with it in this format before it all goes digital! But it did mean that once I started working on the top of the design I had to fully climb on the table to reach!

Once I was happy with the drawing I had it scanned and began adding the colour digitally. We had a specific colour palette to work to that had been inspired by the pink tones of the castle and the tones of the surroundings, which had been chosen for a Pink Castle Tartan being woven by Locharron of Scotland

We had a few attempts at getting the pink tone just right, so had samples of the scarf printed to make sure it was spot on.

And here she is! Now I thought I’d give you a little virtual tour of the design and a bit of a history lesson too;

Starting on the left hand side is the monkey puzzle tree – these branches were drawn from the photos and pieces of fallen tree branches I took away with me. Then working along the bottom of the border is the little turret outside the castle, a ceramic frog which was part of the huge mid-century ceramics collection curated by Lady Forbes-Sempill, wife of the last Laird of Craigievar. I wanted to include beech tree seeds as I had strong memories of the old beech trees along the track to the castle, and the seed heads crunching under your feet as you walked. The crest is the crest of the castle, featuring three snarling dogs, the castle’s motto is ‘Do not waken sleeping dogs, chosen by Red Sir John, the Laird of the Castle in 1648. The cockerel is one of the symbols that appears on some of the coats of arms; also, Lady Forbes-Sempill, brought into the castle large numbers of ceramic cockerels – it is said that she wanted to ‘reflect’ the one use on the weathervane. The grey ceramic birds were also part of her collection. Then we have some of the foliage I foraged on my visit – these lichen and mushrooms were drawn from actual ones I photographed or gathered in the grounds. Then moving up the right side of the scarf is the carved bust of a woman who features in the huge carved fire place surround in the main hall. I wanted to bring her into the design as the carving is so incredibly detailed and impressive – and she definitely brings an ethereal woodland fairy queen presence to the scarf. Then we have carved filigree details reflecting the high ceiling of the main hall, bringing the inside of the castle to the outside. The cherub I didn’t actually get to see on my visit but I read about it in the guide books, it is situated in the nursery and I loved the idea of it watching over all the babies that had slept and grown up here over the hundreds of years (yep my Mum sentimentality creeping in here!). But of all the stories I picked up on my visit, my favourite story was that of the house martens, they nest in the windows of the castle so during the restorations house marten hotels were put up in the grounds for them to nest in! When I heard that I knew these beautiful birds had to be included in the design, soaring above the turrets. Finally, one of my lasting memories of visiting the castle as a child is how windy it always was! Situated on the side of a hill and quite open to the elements, I remember always the wind roaring through the trees, so I had to include some blustery leaves to create that sense of the surroundings.

Photo by John Need

I’m so pleased with how the design turned out, and so were NTS, so much so we have used the design for the label for the Pink Castle Gin, distilled at Lost Loch Distillery near Aboyne. My first foray into food and drink packaging, this was pretty exciting, particularly as I am quite partial to a G&T – I can’t wait to try it and have a wee celebratory drink to toast the re-opening of the castle and the launch of this project!

I hope you like the design, I’m so proud of it and of being asked to be part of this Pink Castle project marking this moment in Craigievar Castle’s history.