Meeting with Charlie Allan and the Clanranald Trust for Scotland
At the time I am writing, people in the UK, as well as in most countries affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, are experiencing some sort of lockdown. I did not think this would be the time to be able to make new acquaintances, considering the social distancing measures in place. But I now think it is actually the best time to “meet” new people and take the time to discover the many wonderful projects, businesses, and initiatives around us.
Today, I have the pleasure to write about a man who has dedicated the last 25 years of his life working on fantastic projects aiming to promote Scottish culture and heritage through entertainment and education.
All the pictures used in the article belong to Charlie Allan and Clanranald trust for Scotland.
The Clanranald trust for Scotland
Charlie Allan founded the Clanranald Trust, an educational non-profit organisation, back in 1995.
They are involved in various activities including Historical hands-on displays, public events and major Film and TV work. Being an independent organisation, this is also how they fundraise their projects.
I had (surprisingly) not heard of the trust itself until recently; but I had seen, witnessed, and listened to the work of its team and volunteers on many occasions over the last few years, without realising it! They do an incredible job and, through this post, I am hoping to reach people who, like me, might have come across the trust’s projects without knowing it, through its three pillars.
Duncarron medieval village
Charlie Allan and his team of volunteers have been doing educational visits to schools since the beginning. But in order to be able to provide “hands-on” education, they have been working on constructing a full-scale replica of an early medieval fortified village, which had its grand opening last year in June.
Duncarron medieval fort, located in the forest of the Carron Valley, close to Stirling, is based on a 20 acres site, entirely hand built by the volunteers. Along with longhouses, cabins, and workshops the attractions also include a great collection of authentic replica weapons, costumes and equipment, including a prop battering-ram used on Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood set donated by Russel Crowe, and a working trebuchet catapult donated by the crew of Netflix’s Outlaw King.
Before creating Atelier Escapades, I have been sewing costumes replicas from TV shows, films and other media as my main hobby. I have never quite been into re-enactment myself (yet!), but having made several Outlander costume replicas in the last few years and previously worked on various Viking and medieval era costumes, I got hooked by historical costumes and truly hope I will be able to visit this stunning place soon and see what they do live!
Combat International was formed by Charlie, as a way of funding the construction of Duncarron medieval village. Their passionate, highly skilled team of professional actors and combat re-enactment specialists have been working on major film and TV productions including Gladiator, Robin Hood, Outlaw King, and all five seasons of Outlander.
Recreating the fighting styles and looks of warriors from many different eras, they have also worked for The National Trust for Scotland on their Visitor Center for the Culloden Battlefield Experience.
I have a weakness for historical films and TV shows. In my opinion, whatever the period and scenario, a well fought, realistic battle does make a tremendous difference in being caught up in the show. “Experiencing” the battle immersion 360-degree film they worked on for the Culloden Battlefield Experience back in 2017, was a truly poignant experience. They did an incredible performance, recreating the horror of this battle in a very brutal and authentic way.
After teaching himself bagpipes while working on the film set of Gladiator (as you do!) Charlie formed a Scottish medieval rock band with other members of the Clanranald Trust: Saor Patrol.
Bagpipes, electric guitar and drums, their unique sound is powerful, energetic and combines old musical Celtic roots with the new. They regularly perform in many different countries, raising funds for Duncarron and promoting the Clanranald Trust.
I had come across their music several years ago (and loved it!), when trying to discover new music bands from Scotland! But I did not know about the projects behind it and their commitment to promote Scottish Heritage.
A challenging year for the Clanranald Trust and its projects
Following my first post on How to support Scottish businesses in 2020, this post is my small contribution to try and spread the word for them.
The pandemic we are facing this year has brought many cancellations of events, tours and festivals. For the trust and its volunteers, it means that no events, concert or filming is happening for the foreseeable future, meaning they cannot raise their usual funds for Duncarron.
They have set up a funding campaign “Education through living History” in the hope to get help to pursue their fantastic project. If you would like to support their project, you can either make a donation or share their work!
Meeting Charlie Allan:
Now that I have briefly explained what Charlie and his cracking team are doing, let’s dive in Charlie’s personal perspective.
Atelier Escapades: What inspired you to create the Clanranald Trust?
Charlie Allan: I never set out to create the diverse institution that the Clanranald Trust is today, my core goal was much simpler 30 years ago.
When I went to school our history class only briefly touched on our Pictish/Celtic heritage and after my questions about the picts and where they came from were quickly brushed off, it became my goal to find a way to reconnect myself and later our Scottish children with their heritage and history through more tactile, practical and hands on experience. The idea of a living history village was born. But building a medieval fortified village is a costly endeavour so It took nearly 8 years for it to be started.
Atelier Escapades: Did you know from the beginning what shape it would take, what and how exactly you wanted to achieve it?
Charlie Allan: No we did not. But while the idea of a medieval fortified village was my dream, I and a few friends were visiting schools, in full highland or medieval dress, to raise awareness most of all for our heritage and funds towards the village project.
Simultaneously I found my way on movie sets as an extra and discovered the lack in historically accurate use of weapons and combat skills. I benefited greatly from my background in martial arts and knowledge of medieval combat and decided to put together a group of skilled fighters. Combat International was born.
We became quite popular and the funds raised through movie work allowed us to start building Duncarron. I thought myself to play the bagpipes while on the set of Gladiator in the evenings and we had this lightbulb moment that Scottish tribal music would be a great way to spread the word about Duncarron. Saor Patrol was born! 😀
So to answer your question, no I had no idea how it would grow to what it is today, but everything is connected. Without a dissatisfying history class 40 years ago we would not have this chat today.
Atelier Escapades: Recreating a 12th-century medieval fort surely requires a wide variety of skills and people. Can you tell us what kind of people you worked with to design and build it, both among your volunteers and outside?
Charlie Allan: We had involved within the group historians and archaeologists, people with woodworking skills and insight to help us keep the construction as historically accurate as possible. Having no prior building experience and having only a few who had (bearing in mind we were all quite young when we started). We researched and learned new skills and some of it was trial and error. But what stands before us today is testimony to our determination.
Atelier Escapades: What was the biggest challenge to make your projects happen, Duncarron especially?
Charlie Allan: Finding the finances. Because we did not receive the help and support we expected from the lottery fund or government. Which made us all the more eager to find the work ourselves and do it despite the lack of help.
Atelier Escapades: You and the professionals performers of Combat International have been involved in several major film and TV productions focusing on Scotland’s History and cultural heritage such as Outlander and the Outlaw King. Do you think these productions and their worldwide success had an impact on (some?) Scottish people’s vision of their own country and culture?
Charlie Allan: Very much so! But it started way before that with the movie Braveheart. Despite it not being very historically accurate it drew attention to one of our most famous freedom fighters, William Wallace, and in turn had a rippling effect across the world.
These movies continuously encourage new generations of Scots to have a more in depth look at their rich heritage and history that has been too often suppressed or twisted in the past.
What are you hoping to achieve if you get the support you need through your crowdfunding campaigns? Can you tell us about the trust’s exciting projects for the future?
Charlie Allan: If we are fortunate enough to meet our target, not only would we be able to cover our running costs for the year, but we will be able to continue developing the site to enhance the visitors experience. Primarily installing electricity to Duncarron.
As far as future projects go we hope to develop an arena outside Duncarron’s gates with a tilt yard for jousting. Also a purpose built area to stage various live battle displays to create a more dynamic spectacle hopefully involving war machines of various eras, fire stunts and quality performances from our Combat International team.
Inspiring the young (and less young!) generation
As a child, I had the chance to visit Guédelon castle several times, in my native Burgundy in France. It is a project involving a team of fifty master-builders who have taken the challenge to build a castle using medieval techniques and materials. I remember being fascinated to see all these people trying to build something so big with their hands, in something that would have taken maybe a couple of years using modern techniques and machinery. That really inspired me and gave me a great example of how incredible working with your hands is. Duncarron is even more special and unique in my humble opinion, as it is being built by volunteers who dedicate their own time to it.
This kind of project is so important to inspire children (and adults!) and give them a concrete experience of what their own country’s history was and what it felt like. I wish all the best to Clanranald Trust with their crowdfunding campaign and am so happy to have discovered their work. I cannot thank enough Charlie and his wife Chara for their kindness .
Visiting them is another thing to add to my list of exciting things to do when it is possible and safe again for everyone. In the meantime, if you would like to follow their latest news and stories, you can follow Duncarron and the Clanranald trust on their Instagram account.