Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Gate Lodges: Tim's Plans

Having recently purchased the gate lodges of Balintore Castle, thoughts naturally go to how these structures could be brought back into use. So when my friend Tim asked me if he could measure up the buildings and draw up plans as a project for his course on historic building design, I was delighted. Tim is the presiding genius behind "The Big House Instagrammed" which is a Facebook page featuring country houses around the UK, with an emphasis on the ruined and the Welsh.

Tim's project brief was to design a modern element as part of a suggested reuse of a historic structure, and in the three plans below he has succeeded spectacularly. He even got an A for the project! The proposal includes a small glass extension to the east lodge. Due to the size of the lodges Tim did not want to make the extension too big. Ironically, neither of us is a huge fan of the current vogue for adding glass extensions to historic buildings. 

Tim has used both lodges, splitting them up into "day living" and "night living".  Both lodges have a toilet ;-) to avoid any midnight trips across the drive to the other lodge. Little did Tim know that this echos the historic use of the buildings, with a bedroom in the west lodge and east lodge containing the remainder of the domestic accommodation. I recently found this out in a phone conversation with David Storrier who I mention in a previous blog entry.

Click on the images for an enlarged view, and click on the image captions to access the original PDF files.

Balintore gate lodges - proposed external plans 

Balintore gate lodges - proposed floor plan
Tim's plans really work well as a ground level solution. He has obviously thought about the layout very carefully, and the kitchen is a triumph of resourcefulness with units against the existing wall and glass elsewhere. This would definitely appeal to the tourist market, if the gate lodges became holiday lets. Plenty of food for thought in these plans. The gate lodges are surprisingly tall, and there is additional scope for a mezzanine level or an upper floor to relieve the accommodation pressure which forces split-lodge living.

Thank you Tim!

Carpet Reprieve

Sourcing fixtures and fittings for the restoration of Balintore Castle has been an unexpected journey, and that journey, in turn, has been one of unexpected discoveries.

One of the most unlikely and joyous was a friend recently rescuing a vintage Persian carpet from the top of a garden bonfire before it was lit. After realising that the rug was too large for his own living room, he generously donated it to, and then transported it to the castle.

My thanks go to the "carpet-bagging" crew. Somehow, I was away the evening the carpet arrived and needed to be carried to an upper floor room. I have developed the skill of being elsewhere when heavy lifting is required, to such an extent that even I believe it to be just coincidence. :-)

The carpet was rather damp from being outside, but the window was opened to assist the drying process. The carpet looks great and its patina of age is perfect for its new location. Can anyone assist me in dating and identifying the type of the carpet?

rescued Persian carpet

rescued Persian carpet: edge detailing

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Angus Art Fund Visit

Before the blog entry proper, let me leave you pondering a joke which starts "What do you call a Scottish cloakroom attendant?"

Anyhow, today Balintore Castle hosted a visit of some 22 members of the Angus Art Fund. This tour had been organised some time in advance, and I took a few days holiday in order to be around to give the guided tour. My friend Andrew helped out and took one half of the group around. We agreed separate routes through the building, so the two parties wouldn't collide.

It was a wonderfully engaged group and this made the experience a great delight for Andrew and myself. One of the ladies recalled visiting Lady Langman at Balintore Castle when she was a child of 11, and this first hand testimony made my day. A "sit up straight" afternoon tea was held in the dining room for the visiting children, and Lady Langman demonstrated a swimming doll to the kids in a bath! This doll, however improbable this sounds, did the breast stoke. This spectacle of mechanical marvel must have taken place in the top floor bathroom, as this is the only place where there is evidence of a bath. Victorians did not feel the need to have a bath that often, and one-per-castle was more than adequate.

Andrew and I were very kindly invited to the buffet lunch that the group had brought with them. The weather had just faired-up enough, after rain in the morning, to hold the buffet outside on the castle terrace. Any lifestyle option which involves a free lunch, must be instantly accepted of course. The wine, pastries, quiche, salmon and figs were most agreeable - our thanks go to Mike and Viv for catering.

And now the time is right to come back to the riddle "What do you call a Scottish cloakroom attendant?" The answer is "Angus Mc Coat-Up". :-)

I was able to introduce the group to the two newest residents of Balintore Castle. At the back of the photo below is "Taylor" a fine and large fellow of a ten-pointer.  He is called Taylor because he was mounted in the main hall at Taylor's Auction Rooms in Montrose for around 6 months, but never came up for sale. However, I finally spotted him for sale on their online catalogue when I was in England, and put on a low commission bid, without any expectation of winning him.

Another low bid at the same sale also "bagged" the rather useful deer in the foreground who functions as a coat stand. I guess you know where I am going now? This deer's name could not be anything else but "Angus". :-)

The Angus Art Fund brought me an amazing bottle of whisky (a Fettercairn Fasque Malt) as a thank-you present. This will be gratefully shared with Andrew and some Dutch guests who will be arriving in a couple of days. Angus is modelling the whisky and accompanying card, in best game-show tradition. One guest suggested that Angus had somewhat of a "fey" look about him, and that he would only be holding ladies' coats. Trust me to have bought taxidermy with attitude. :-)

please join me in welcoming Taylor and Angus to Balintore Castle

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Joined in Putting

I was delighted to be sent some scans of an article in last week's Dundee Courier, dated 6th April.  This was a letter sent in by a David Storrier of Edinburgh, reminiscing on time he spend with his grandfather at Burnside of Balintore, opposite the gate lodges at Balintore Castle. David enjoyed games of putting with Lady Langman, who stayed at the castle during the summer season.

Lady Langman just so happens to be my favourite previous occupant of the castle. She is the one person who seems to have injected some positive energy into the building, during its long history of neglect. The fact that she played putting with the locals supports the stories I have heard that she liked to throw parties! The article also mentions the gardener Will Crowe. I have heard from other sources that "Willie" was the last person who actually lived in the castle, using the still room in the basement as his bedroom.

The first photograph shows David's grandfather James Storrier. In the background is a clear view of the gates that once existed between the gate lodges. I have never seen these before - they are presumed long gone. I have manged to find digital copies of the article's text and photographs online, and have included these below. Finally, there is camera shot of the printed article showing the components in their published configuration. I would love to know if David Storrier has any more information, does anyone out there have a contact?

James Storrier in front of the castle's gate lodges

Joined in putting

“An item in a recent Courier Weekend magazine about Balintore Castle interested me,” writes David Storrier of Edinburgh.
“My grandparents lived across the road from the castle gates at Burnside of Balintore where my grandfather, James Storrier, bred blackface sheep.
“I spent many summer holidays from Glasgow staying with my Aunt Susan and going up to the castle with her to visit Will Fenton the gamekeeper and his wife. They lived in a cottage behind the castle.
“On a summer evening, Will Fenton, Will Crowe the gardener, Joe Lindsay the farmer at Balintore Farm and his shepherd Duncan Brown and myself would play a game of putting on the green beside the castle.
“A Lady Langman, who I think was a sister of Lord Lyell, would come up from England and stay for a few weeks and very often joined in the putting.
“The castle had its own hydro electric supply provided by a dam on the hill behind the castle, the water flowing down to a generator at the foot of the hill below Balintore Farm. This was many years before electricity came to the glen in the 1950s.”

historic photo of Balintore Castle

scan of article in Dundee Courier

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Fireplace Finally Installed

A replacement marble fire surround has been successfully installed at Balintore Castle over this weekend as shown in the photograph. The original marble surround must have been removed many decades ago. However, the metal insert is original to this location as is the hearthstone, and with so much of the fireplace structure in place, it felt right to get a suitable surround installed as soon as possible.  

However, finding a fire surround of the right dimensions to suit the abnormally large insert proved problematic as described in a previous blog post. I bought an abnormally large marble chimney piece at an architectural antiques auction outside Ascot with this location specifically in mind, but was it or was it not going to fit?

When Andy and Gregor held it in position some time ago, all the dimensions were correct except that there was a one inch gap between the fireplace and the wall, even with the fireplace as far back as it could go. Should one fill this gap with plaster or what? Back to the drawing board.

Eventually, we decided to do the job properly and explored whether the insert could be moved further back into the wall. Barrie tackled this manfully. By removing the old infill and by re-seating the insert as far back as it would go, we got roughly an inch, but it was definitely going to be touch and go.

The good news from this weekend is that the surround actually does now fit! :-) 

The replacement fire surround is probably 1880 rather than 1860 when the castle was constructed. This statement in green serpentine, and brown breccia marbles is more elaborate in design than the original would have been. However, I think it captures the spirit of Balintore, and one could easily believe the fire surround has always been in that location.

marble fire surround installed this weekend at Balintore Castle

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Last summer's restoration season at Balintore Castle was beset by a deluge of plumbing problems! Such was the trauma that I am only now recording the remarkable events for the historic record.

My Dutch friends had come to stay for a few weeks to help out with the restoration. Everything had been moved out of the kitchen wing which was the former "habitation base" as this was being worked on, so we had to fall back on the plumbing in the entrance tower for all domestic purposes. This plumbing had been put in 5 years earlier, but had never really been used in anger ...

With my friends staying, hot water usage was much higher than normal. Anyhow, one day as I flushed the lavatory in the entrance tower a blast of hot air hit me in the face. What on earth was going on? I felt the side of the bowl, it was hot - yup, the lavatory had been flushed with water from the hot water tank for the last 5 years. However, as I had never switched the immersion heater on, this had gone unnoticed. We swapped the pipes round ourselves.

A few days after my friends had arrived certain "odeurs" were wafting around. I checked the plumbing and the soil pipe was being openly vented at a number of locations into the entrance tower. Not good, but because this system had never been under a heavy load before, it had gone unnoticed. We managed to close off the open pipe ends ourselves.

However, within a day the drinking water started tasting vile - so much so that I has to bring clean drinking water up the tower from the single standpipe on the ground floor. Again I checked the plumbing: the cold water tank overflow fed into the soil pipe (!!!!) so now with no other place to go, foul air was entering the cold water tank. This was a step too far, and I insisted the original plumber come back and sort out this disaster area. Thankfully he did this, and working with Andy my roofer, they managed to feed the cold water overflow through a hole onto the roof where it should always have been.

It was mortifyingly embarrassing to have these sanitary problems manifest themselves while guests were visiting.

The other embarrassment was that there was no way to keep clean: no bath, no shower nothing. I had been surviving by begging baths from friends and neighbours, but largely by not washing at all. If you do not wash for sufficiently long, you will actually start not to smell too bad. This is because the natural bacteria come back into balance on your skin (this has been scientifically proven) and I have been through this barrier a number of times. It is noticeable how healthy and self-lubricating your skin becomes - no creams required! :-) However, this was done not out of choice but out of necessity.

Once after rodding a chimney from underneath with a chimney brush, my builder Andy did let me come back for a shower at his house. It was noticeable that the soap suds on my hair were jet-black (not grey but jet-black) from some kind of colloidal effect produced by the very fine soot particles. The next day, I was unexpectedly obliged to do even more chimney sweeping. Oh well, back to square one!

My Dutch friend Bart asked if I had used a "shower bag". I had no idea what he meant and in my mind's eye, a "shower bag" was a human sized bag in transparent plastic from a 70's sci-fi that one climbed inside with a commensurate amount of water, with writhing, suds and sloshing to follow. But no, a shower bag was merely a bag with holes in it that one filled with hot water. One hoists this bag up on a rope and stands underneath. Bart was in the Canadian military in Afghanistan, and setting up impromptu camp-showers was as natural to him as breathing. These showers, in the arid climate of Afghanistan, were beloved by the soldiers as they were a huge boost to moral.

After much sawing and hammering and the purchase of a "shower bag", Bart came up with the goods! 

Bart's impromptu military shower

luxury toiletry shelf

anti-slip map and finely formed duck-tape drain

Bart's shower - shower curtain lifted

One of the miraculous things about Bart's shower is that it refused to be photographed. It took a day for me to twig why the exposure of the photographs was all wrong. As it is made from black sheet plastic, I had to overexpose the photographs by three stops to make it visible. :-)
Bart's military shower in Balintore Castle is well over conventional  luxury size (1.2 m x 1.2 m) and it is remarkable how little water you need to have a good wash. One shower-bag-full will easily do two people. My problem is a paranoia of cold showers, so I always make the water a bit too hot but none-the-less these rather scalding showers is how to-this-day I keep clean at the castle.

The irony is that 5 years ago I was building a proper shower in the entrance tower, and it is all plumbed up ready to connect to the shower head. However, Angus Council come round for an inspection while this was being done and ordered all work on the shower and indeed all work in the entrance tower to be stopped but never explained why. So everything has remained frozen like the "Marie Celeste".  It is incredibly frustrating and at times I want to weep: there is a proper shower almost ready to work and I am forbidden to finish it off and use it i.e. the Council's actions are causing me to live in an insanitary manner. 

I always have to apologise for my lack of hygiene when I am in the proximity of people. Turning up on the doorsteps of friends for a bath is not a good look and I am very embarrassed by doing so. One of my neighbours cleverly invited me round for a meal - but then insisted I had a bath in her bathroom first - she understood that if she had offered me a bath on its own I would have refused out of embarrassment. :-) It feels absolutely wonderful to be properly clean.

On the last night that the Dutch family were staying, there was a tremendous rain storm and around midnight a waterfall of water started pouring down from the roof into the great hall. There was clearly some blockage in the internal down pipe which runs down the wall of the great hall. Water was backing-up and pouring down from the internal hopper at the top of this pipe. I asked Bart for assistance and we tried rodding what bits of the pipework we could access. No joy!

Bart was teetering on the top of a tall ladder, and then bravely hit the down pipe with a length of 2" x 2" wooden batten to try and dislodge the blockage. I was at ground level holding the bottom of the ladder. Unfortunately, the pipe disintegrated and all the backed-up water in the drain pipe which was black with mud, fell down and landed directly on top of Bart. The cold shower I experienced at the bottom of the ladder was bad enough, but Bart had taken the full force. He was totally saturated, black with mud, cold, and exhausted - it was now around 2 AM in the morning. Bart is one of the most upbeat people I know, but at that moment I saw a man who was near the edge and I had done this to him on the last day of his holiday! On top of this, he had an early start the next day to catch the ferry back to Holland. Anyhow, I apologised profusely knowing nothing I could say could improve the situation. Bart went off to use the shower he had just built. We gave up on the plumbing problem: the water was still streaming down into the great hall

Thankfully the next day Andy managed to reconstruct the pipe. A whole section, perhaps 6' long, had been blocked solid with mud off the roof.

So I can only apologise to Bart for supplying such insanitary plumbing during his stay and then attempting to finish him off with a torrential deluge of freezing cold, muddy water in the middle of the night!

How I am dreaming of a finished bathroom at Balintore!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Old Map Revelations

I have been looking through historic maps of the local area as a possible starting point for a large scale plan of Balintore Castle's gate lodges. A plan of 500:1 or less is required for listed building consent for restoration works on the lodges. Anyhow, the Ordnance Survey 25-inches-to-a-mile maps on the National Library of Scotland's web site seem to provide enough detail for my needs.

In the survey of 1862 the castle is there but the gate lodges are not. This is the first evidence I have had of the gate lodges being later than the official completion date (1860) of the castle. In the survey of 1900 the gate lodges, as expected, are present. 

The most interesting revelation concerns the triangular kitchen structure attached to the side of the eastern gate house, clearly seen in the 1900 map. In the 1862 map there is a pre-existing building in this location. From the angles involved, there seems to be a strong possibility that the gate lodge kitchen is part of the old structure, whereas I had always assumed it was contemporaneous with the gate lodge itself.

1862 - no gate lodges but note pre-existing building on site of east lodge

1900 - gate lodges present with triangular structure attached to east lodge

Between 1862 and 1900 there are also considerable changes in the area of the castle. Most noteworthy is the doubling in width of what are now the castle's stables. And indeed, an inspection of this building several years ago revealed some internal windows that had clearly once been external. The structure was labelled "Offices" in the 1862 map and may well have been the site offices for the construction of the castle. The maps below corroborate this change.

1862 - castle

1900 - castle, note stables have doubled in width

It's amazing how much I have learned about the history of the site in simply trying to draw a plan. :-)