Every self-respecting village has its own dragon legend, and Dornoch is no exception.
The tale of St Gilbert slaying a dragon which terrorised Dornoch residents in the 13th Century so captured the imagination of resident Catherine MacCulloch that she decided to capture it in a children’s book – with a modern twist.
A rhyming picture book is the result, featuring the smallest, and potentially cutest, new resident of Dornoch, Winston the Bear.
Catherine, 44, a keen amateur photographer, and local illustrator Jude Holden have combined forces to create a unique combination of photos and artwork for Winston the Bear and the Dragon of the Black Firs.
Catherine’s gift for rhyming keeps the story romping along as Winston decides to find out if there is any truth in the dragon legend, and sets out with a dragon-hunting kit to leave no stone unturned in his quest.
Winston himself was born in collaboration with local crafter Jo Shepherd, who created a bear which exactly sums up Winston’s character, Catherine says.
“He need to stand up, be posable, and have lots of personality, and she got him just right.”
He sports a tweed cap and waistcoat, also made by Jo.
His natty bowtie features fabric specially designed by Jude for the book frontispiece, featuring views of Dornoch’s jail, cathedral, golf club and castle.
It’s Catherine’s first venture into children’s book writing after years as a full-time mum bringing up Fynn, 11, and eight-year-old twins Freya and Isla.
Before that she worked for 20 years with the Forestry Commission on policy and recreational forestry in Edinburgh and Dornoch.
Avid book readers
She said: “We’re a family of avid book readers, and I’ve always written funny poems and been drawn to rhyme.
“So are all the kids, but especially Freya. She’s adding little rhymes to Winston’s social media.”
The seed of the book was planted when Catherine’s children were tiny.
“I’m a keen amateur photographer and wanted to use my photos in a story.
“I thought very carefully about my main character and what it should be.”
In the end she plumped for an old-fashioned, traditional style of bear, fitting for the Highlands.
“It wasn’t until I saw a display in HistoryLinks museum about St Gilbert and the dragon that the story fell into place.
“St Gilbert was Bishop of Caithness in the 13th Century.
“He carried out miracles and built the cathedral with ‘enchanted tools’.
“The story goes that the villagers were being terrorised by the ‘beast of the black firs’ who was burning down buildings and eating people.
“Gilbert lay in wait for him in a hole near Camore woods and jumped out and killed the dragon with a bow and arrow.
“There’s a stone to this day under which he apparently buried the dragon.
“Or under which the last witch of Dornoch is buried, according to another legend.”
She originally wanted to put a treasure hunt at the heart of her story, but realised that hunting for a dragon would serve the same purpose to take readers around the village, and perhaps inspire them to come visit.
Winston’s story is set in and around Dornoch, including the cathedral, beach and golf course, but Catherine stresses the book is not just for Dornoch, but of Highland-wide appeal.
She’s hoping it will soon be available in Highland stockists.
At the moment it’s available at the Historylinks Museum, Dornoch Bookshop, Dunrobin Castle and on Winston’s website.
Illustrating Winston the Bear
The book is Jude Holden’s first venture into book illustration.
Dornoch born and bred, Jude, 39, has been drawing since she could hold a pencil.
She did a fine art course at Aberdeen University, followed by an inter-disciplinary design course at Napier University.
She said: “This helped me develop my own style and be very adaptable as an artist.”
Perfect skills when it came to creating the illustrations for Catherine’s book.
The newbie author and newbie illustrator met and gelled through their children.
Jude, who currently works at JailDornoch, has four – Erin, 14, Faye, 13, Ruaridh, 11 and Robyn, 9.
She said: “I was able to continue my art when the children were very young, snatching time here and there to draw.
“They are all very creative, and Robyn in particular is interested in art, she likes making comic book illustrations.”
Jude has built up a reputation for her animal portraits, creating her own modern style alongside more traditional portraiture.
Jude says she loved illustrating Catherine’s book and the pair hope to carry on creating more Winston stories together.