Protect this place always.
A simple script, carved into a stunning Pictish stone and capturing the message of the modern-day environmental warrior in whose honour it has been erected.
The sudden death of Ralph Coutts in May 2020 at the age of just 53 shocked the Angus area, included many who worked alongside the popular figure on community and conservation projects.
Those included litter sweeps of the Brothock Burn from the north side of Arbroath to where it meets the sea, and the relentless fight against the blight of fly-tipping.
St Vigeans – where he led the work of the local conservation network – was Ralph’s special place and it is there the new monument has been placed in the historically-important hamlet.
Created by Angus sculptor David McGovern, it is his second new-design cross slab to be installed in the county in more than 1,000 years.
That project laid the foundations for a friendship cut tragically short by Ralph’s death whilst out cycling on the Angus coastal path.
Professional stone-carver David, of Monikie Rock Art said: “Ralph was instrumental in getting it installed there, he wanted the 700th anniversary stone in St Vigeans.
“We just became friends. He was a new pal of mine and I think anyone who knew Ralph realised how special a man he was,” said David.
Ralph’s sudden passing left his partner of 14 years, Nicky McLean, heartbroken and stunned the wider Tayside and Fife community, including golfing friends at St Andrews where he caddied.
The tragedy prompted the idea of a permanent memorial and within less than 24 hours a crowdfunder raised the money to commission the standing stone.
David said: “We have called it a hero stone, it is to remember a fallen hero.
“I wanted it to be in the Pictish style of a cross slab, but with the other side bearing features which related to Ralph.”
Harmony and nature
A riderless horse is a metaphor for a warrior who has gone, with a running dog in front symbolising harmony and nature.
A highland fox signifies sanctuary and, at the request of Ralph’s partner, a wolf also graces the stone.
The important inscription and Ralph’s initials are on the base of the main sculpted Pictish cross.
David continued: “St Vigeans is a very important place in Pictish history so to be installing another new stone in 2021 is pretty special.
“For me, personally, it is also a great honour to create this stone as a tribute to Ralph.
“The wee message on it is so simple, but one which captures what he felt.
“Ralph just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to throw a can in the burn or drop litter. I hope people take the message on board.”
Morag Lindsay, the treasurer of St Vigeans Conservation Network and part of the Keptie Friends group which Ralph also worked closely with, said the new stone was a fitting tribute to the much-missed figure.
“We were just all so upset by the loss of Ralph, who was taken away too soon,” said Morag.
“We all felt strongly that we had to do something in tribute to his work and different people suggested a Pictish stone,” she added.
“The crowdfunder managed to raise the money in less than 24 hours, which I think shows how much love and respect there was for Ralph.
“It was such a shock to lose him, but the stone is unbelievably good and it is wonderful to see it now in St Vigeans.”