Thousands of tourists visit Scotland each year to soak up the scenery, culture and warm welcome we Scots are famous for. For most, their to-do list will include a visit to a castle or grand country home.
It’s a popular pastime with locals too, and every week people flock with family and friends to wonderful properties being looked after by The National Trust for Scotland (NTS).
The NTS is one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, caring for over 76,000 hectares of scenic landscapes and wildlife habitat, gardens, birthplaces and battlefields. But for so many it is the castles and stately homes in their care that grab the imagination, and offer the chance of learning about Scotland’s rich history.
However, caring for these properties wouldn’t be possible without help.
Anyone who owns a property will know that even minor repairs can cost a small fortune, so it doesn’t bear thinking about how much it would cost to maintain a historic building.
This is why it’s vital to support The National Trust for Scotland, an independent charity set up in 1931.
One way to support it is by leaving a legacy in your will. It’s something the late Elizabeth Burrows did, and as a result of her generosity the traditional skills of stonemasonry are being protected and passed on to a new generation.
Miss Burrows, a member of the NTS since the year 2000, wanted to support young people, principally in something creative and “hands on”, as she had always wished she had worked with her hands.
The NTS works to preserve a number of specialist skills, such as heritage gardening, milling and printing through apprenticeships, but Miss Burrows was particularly interested in the work of the stonemasons, and left her house to the charity to help support this.
Thanks to her gift, a new endowment is being created to support a new apprentice and is galvanising support from other sources of funding to grow this small team from a single mason and apprentice to two full time masons and up to three apprentices, offering opportunities to the young and further protecting the Trust’s built heritage.
The Culzean Stonemasonry Workshop opened in 1991 and, since then, has nurtured 10 young people through four-year apprenticeships. The shrinking numbers of stonemasons with traditional skills, such as hand tooling, carving or the use of lime mortars, mean that it’s challenging for the Trust to ensure its buildings are maintained with the appropriate level of care and quality, and also makes it more costly.
“Since the 1980s we have seen a decline in the number of traditionally skilled stonemasons in Scotland” notes Kinlay Laidlaw, NTS lead surveyor for Ayrshire properties. “Teaching a new generation these skills is helping to keep the knowledge alive, so the wider industry can benefit too.”
The Trust looks after more than 1600 buildings in its portfolio, and numerous historic masonry structure, from fountains to boundary walls, which need attention and conservation meaning there will be plenty of work for the new apprentice.
John Crawford, 22, from the village of Coylton, just 15 miles from the Culzean workshop, has just finished a four-year apprenticeship with the Trust and is now employed as a full-time stonemason at Culzean.
“I absolutely love it,” said John. “Not many people are able to say that they’ve created something with their own hands that will last for hundreds of years, but that’s what I’m doing here. “When I first started I could barely even sling a mallet, but I’ve learned a lot about the conservation of historic buildings.
“I want to have a workshop like this one day and train up another young person, like me, to keep the traditional skills going. “Without donations, the workshop could close. We’re dependent on donations to help fund projects, tools, equipment and apprentices like me.”
Interviews for a new apprentice have already taken place, with 66 applicants keen to learn the craft. “The support and interest generated by the stonemasonry apprenticeship scheme has been reassuring. The enthusiasm towards craft skills tells us there is still a desire and demand to work using traditional materials and techniques,” said Justin Egerton, NTS Stonemason.
The Burrows legacy has already made a dramatic contribution to the Trust by guaranteeing a future income to support a stonemason apprentice position at Culzean in the long term.
In future years, that individual should help stem the national decline in skilled masons and will hopefully go on to train apprentices themselves.
“The educational work of the Trust is a key part of what we do,” continued Kinlay Laidlaw, lead surveyor at Ayrshire Properties.
“Whether it is the opportunity of an apprenticeship or a school visit here to Culzean. Experiencing our heritage through gardens, natural landscapes and historic buildings is an opportunity we have thanks to the efforts of those who went before us.
Our children and grandchildren deserve to enjoy these places too, and that is why we need the support of legacies to help us continue conserving the fantastic heritage of Scotland for years to come.”
Contact: Give a Gift: www.nts.org.uk