Royal Deeside Scheduled Monument and artefacts to be restored and made accessible for future generations

A nationally important Scheduled Monument on Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire is at the centre of a new project to ensure it benefits the local community and visitors for years to come.

Tullich, just to the east of Ballater, is an important early Christian site close to the River Dee and in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, with history stretching back more than 600 years.

It was originally one of the main settlements in the area, but was overtaken by the new planned village of Ballater, located at an established crossing of the Dee.

Tullich Kirk was home to an important collection of carved symbol stones, including a class-1 Pictish stone and font. These were removed in the 1990s for safe keeping and conservation.

As part of a new £250,000 heritage project, the historic church, dated to the 15th century, but with elements dating back to the 14th century, will be repaired.

A purpose-built display shelter will also be created to house the large collection of carved symbol stones, which will be conserved and returned to the site.

Two smaller symbol stones have been installed in the newly restored Ballater Old Royal Station, recently opened to the public by Aberdeenshire Council after it was rebuilt following a devastating fire.

The installation includes a video featuring 3D laser scanning of the Tullich Kirk site, developed in partnership with Robert Gordon University.

Interpretation at Tullich and at the installation at the old station will be developed to make the history of the site and its artefacts as accessible as possible, including of course to those with visual impairment.

LDN Architects have been appointed to develop a scheme of repair for the church and also to design a contemporary display for the symbol stones.

Stonemason Stewart Urquhart has been engaged as a specialist contractor capable of the sensitive work at the kirk, and will also deliver training courses in lime pointing and hard hat tours of the site.

The project is expected to begin in the Autumn of this year.

Chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee, Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority and local councillor, Peter Argyle, said: “Deeside has a fascinating history, with settlements dating back thousands of years and many of the visitors who come here want to be able to see and feel connections with the past.

“This project will further enable people to get close to and appreciate the history of our ancestors in this area, what life may have been like for them and what was important to them.

“Winters here can be very hard and Tullich Kirk and the symbol stones have weathered a great many of them, meaning they really need the attention this project will provide to ensure they are there for the benefit of generations to come.”

The project is funded by Aberdeenshire Council in partnership with Wolfson Foundation, Heritage Lottery Fund, Cairngorm LEADER (local Action group) and Historic Environment Scotland, without whom the project would not be possible.

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said: "Tullich Kirk has a significance and importance that extends well beyond its immediate community.

"We have been privileged to fund a number of projects relating to Pictish culture in the last few years, and one of the great joys of this project is the way in which these remarkable stones and font will be returned to their rightful place at the heart of this community.

"We are delighted to be funding such an important part of Scottish heritage in such a beautiful setting - which we hope will continue to be enjoyed by many visitors, from near and far.

"Wolfson is particularly pleased to be funding in a rural area of Scotland – a reminder to us, and to all funders, of the importance of funding beyond towns and cities.”

Chair of the Cairngorms Local Action Group, Roger Clegg, said: “The Cairngorm Local Action Group is glad to have been able to support this community led project with Leader funds.

“Preserving our cultural heritage is important for future generations and the information and interpretation work at Tullich will make this a particularly interesting and accessible site for visitors and locals alike.”

Lucy Casot, Head of HLF Scotland, said: “Uncovering where, and how, our ancestors lived helps communities to understand their own history and identity.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF is able to support projects such as Tullich Church and Carved Stones Collection 2 that produce tantalising clues about the past and provide a variety of people with new skills.”

Development of the project was driven by the North East Scotland Preservation Trust (NESPT), but there is strong support from the local community, including local councillors.

A local steering group is led by Ballater Royal Deeside Ltd and includes Ballater History Group, Victoria and Albert Halls (Ballater) Trust, Marr Area Partnership, Ballater Primary School and Ballater and Crathie Community Council.

The group will help deliver an extensive activity programme of training and outreach events throughout the duration of the project.

The Tullich project has also been working closely with the organisers of a drystone walling project being undertaken at the site to ensure they both work well together.