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Hall of Clestrain Reveals Its Hidden Depths

When The Highland Park distillery is seasonally not operating to capacity, employees do much valued voluntary work for local charities and organisations. The John Rae Society and The Hall of Clestrain  benefited from the generosity of their workforce in June.

The Edrington Trust owns The Highland Park Distillery and this is part of their outreach work in the community to help organisations like The John Rae Society with the mammoth task of restoring The Hall of Clestrain, childhood home of the explorer Dr John Rae.

L to R Graham Duffin, Kevin Firth, Allan Eunson, Ronnie Patterson, Lester Sutherland and Graham Garriock

The society has been working with Historic Environment Scotland, from whom they received a grant, in order to restore the Hall of Clestrain and its grounds to how it once was in John Rae’s day.

Clearing the moat

The Hall of Clestrain is surrounded by a moat which over the years has become completely blocked up. The Highland Park men cleared it of the accumulated weeds, rubble, mud, silt and  dumped rubbish. Working in horrid conditions with the moat partially flooded, they toiled through the obstinate mud, weeds and debris.

After removing the spoil from the area the men then moved on to clearing the ‘D’ sectioned 18th Century sandstone drain stones. These are exactly the same as those found during excavations the previous year on the north side of The Hall. They ran beneath a stone stair installed in the 1850s, which was tied into a large drain structure. This drain was around a meter in height and covered the level which John Rae himself will have been familiar with. The Society are hoping that HES will allow them to remove this dike and bevel the earth back, thus letting light into the ground floor of the Hall.

the south west corner shows the splendid nature of the original design

In John Rae’s time much light would have entered those windows, making it a far better liveable space. The pressure of the dike has forced the drain stones to subside, thus tipping them downwards in jaunty angles… Not what was desired by the original builders. The photo of the south west corner shows the splendid nature of the original design.

HES have recommended that the society volunteers lower the level of the north courtyard to what it would have been like in the early 19thh century. The East and West pavilions were also at that level and with a difference in height of at least 3 feet, the buildings would have appeared much taller than they do today.

JRS volunteers have located the outflow drain on the west side of the Hall. It is blocked with silt meaning that the ‘dry’ moat does flood at times. If it can be unblocked, the moat will drain and the Hall’s ground floor dry out considerably. The drain stones entering this outlet were cleared and they are of exceptional quality.

The careful excavations being done by those working on the site revealed that the moat walls abutted the support walls for the grand forestair. This shows conclusively that it was built later than the time of the stair’s construction. Added evidence of an intrusive and later build.

The next task will be to unblock the outlet drain and whatever might happen when that is done.

The John Rae Society would like to thank The Edrington Trust and their amazing volunteers for the help in this latest step in restoring the Hall of Clestrain.

Click on this link if you would like to find out more and to donate to the John Rae Society

The Orkney News has several videos about Dr John Rae and the excavations at The Hall of Clestrain :

Hall of Clestrain Open Day 2021

Dr John Rae’s 208th Birthday

Ken McGoogan John Rae Society Festival May 2018

Clestrain Hall looking towards Hoy Image credit Martin Laird

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