Monday, 21 September 2020

Sheep on the Castle Drive

One of the things I have learned living at Balintore is that the countryside has its own pace. If the single track roads around the castle are blocked by cows or by sheep then there is absolutely nothing one can do, and I no longer fret about it, even though it can take anything from 5 minutes to 30 minutes for the herd to disperse.

When I worked in Dundee, the computer login system would demand a written explanation of you were late for work, and over time my lengthy and defensive descriptions became curtailed to "sheep" or "cows". The management did not seem to need any more information, though I continued to take photographs of the blocked road should I ever need to argue my case in court.

sheep blocking the castle drive yesterday

Yesterday, on returning to the castle I discovered that a herd of sheep were blocking the castle drive: something I had never seen before. Indeed they were gradually heading up the drive to the castle itself. The scene was one of chaos and the shepherd had to retrieve a few sheep that had broached a neighbour's garden.

I settled down in my driver's seat as this situation was obviously going to take a long time to resolve. However, the shepherd got his unusually brown collie on the case. The dog launched itself off the quadbike, and within just a few seconds the sheep has been herded through a gate into a field at the bottom of the castle drive.

I often see dogs working sheep in the fields surrounding round the castle, but I was still awed by the peremptory efficiency of this beautiful sheepdog.

Mists and Ectoplasms

At present, the castle is basking in an almost miraculous late autumnal weather window. The days are sunny and warm, and there are moments during the day when it feels just like summer. Of course, such moments of joy are bitter-sweet at this time of year, as it is a particularly intense reminder that the merciless winter is merely biding its time.

Autumnal mists and sun can combine to give spectacular atmospheric effects and yesterday back-lit mists rolled moodily towards the castle, but were vaporised before the could reach the building.

backlit mists looking south from castle

mist looking west from castle

Yesterday a strange miasma appeared in the women servants' bedroom. You can see the ectoplasm dangling down from the ceiling on a thin thread. We had been using steam to remove the old patchy lining paper from the ceiling. The 50 years-worth of cobwebs which had built up on the ceiling had somehow formed into this eerie structure. The ectoplasm would truly have gifted any spiritualist meeting

ectoplasm dangling from ceiling

The morale of this story is that, for whatever reason, at Balintore there is always something new to see.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Toilet Mirror Repair

I bought a rather fine Victorian toilet mirror from a friend of Balintore who was clearing out a house. One of the finials had been snapped off in this past, but this is surely not a obstacle for a castle restorer! :-)

Gregor stuck the finial back on with what I call "foamy wood glue" but which is properly called "D4 wood adhesive". This is enormously strong and even stronger than the original wood. If you get this on your fingers, it stays for days! :-)  In fact the finial did not connect directly with supporting column, clearly there was missing wood between the two components, but by dint of the glue expanding and a metal peg we got the two pieces re-connected in a good approximation to the original configuration.

Gregor said I should continue the repair with a two part mahogany wood filler. I got carried away with other things for quite some time, but eventually ordered the wood filler by post.

I had no confidence in my ability to effect the repair, but today was the day. I mixed the resin and the hardener and tried to shove it into the places where the wood was missing. There was no way I could fill and mould it at the same time. The spatula was the right tool for applying, but not the right tool for moulding, so in I went with my hands. The filler started sticking to my hands. I poured some of my cup of coffee into the lid of the filler tin, and used this to lubricate my fingers so the filler did not stick - bingo!

toilet mirror with broken finial on right

broken but glued finial

repaired finial

toilet mirror with repaired finial on right

My repair is not perfect, but a favourite new phrase of mine is "perfection is the enemy of good". After a certain amount of moulding, it felt that the law of diminishing returns was cutting in, and that I should stop. I still have to stain or paint the repair a darker brown. Anyhow, this is only my first repair of an antique wooden item, so it can only get better.  I love the way that owning a castle, makes one do things that one would never have imagined doing.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Women Servants' Bed Room II

I bought a set of four oak cabinets from an auction in Bristol, with the intention of fitting these into the former women servant's bedroom at the castle. From the auction photo (below) I initially dismissed the cabinets as being from the wrong period (20's, 30's, 40's?) for Balintore. However, when I viewed the cabinets in person, I realised they were perfect, well-constructed oak units that transcend period. A friend of Balintore later worked out these are 1930's by looking at drawer jointing.

cabinets in auction catalogue

I initially thought the extensive 7.12 m of cabinetry would look good along the far 7.54 m wall, but Gregor thought this would look too regimented, and eventually I agreed with him on the basis that it would narrow the seating area round the fire. Instead we gave ourselves the challenge of fitting the units round the window opening in the photo below, with some walls at 45 degrees. We do not make it easy for ourselves. :-) Eventually, I made paper patterns of the cabinets, so we could shift these around a plan of the room, looking for the best fit. Some cabinet doors are absent, some cabinet doors are different sizes and the cabinets themselves are different sizes, so getting an array of irregular cabinetry to fit round an irregular wall was never going to be easy.

Gregor was his usual cynical self about using drawings, as he much prefers working with the physical and cutting things to fit. However, as I had spent good money on the cabinets, I did not want any false starts resulting in irreversible and incorrect cuts. Playing with the paper patterns showed me there was only one solution, and this was not the one I had expected, or indeed the way Gregor has started laying out the cabinets. I handed the paper patterns to Greg and asked him to work it out for himself. Without looking at my solution, he arrived at the identical layout. Phew! We had just avoided a wrong start.

I tried to convince Gregor that the paper cut-outs were not drawings but little models, :-) but he was having none of it and I had dragged him well off his comfort zone. Before starting, he needed to understand for himself that this was a viable solution. At the end of yesterday, he said he had worked it out for himself with door sizes. :-) He was all for ditching the cabinets and just using the doors and drawers as it would be easier to make things fit by building a new bespoke carcass. I expressed a strong preference for using the units, and eventually Gregor formed a conserving plan of attack: removing the worktops first and using these as a guide for fitting i.e. working with the physical.

This morning, I thought I should take a photo of the cabinets (below) before whole-scale butchery took place. You can see the top of the nearest cabinet has been removed.

cabinets in women servants' bedroom before butchery

Gregor pointed out the "useless" paper patterns which were now lying discarded upon the floor. :-)

discarded paper cut-outs of room and cabinetry

By the end of today, modulo worktops, the butchered cabinets were largely in place (see below). Gregor has done a great job as in making things fit, living up to his catch-phrase of "I can make it fit".

cabinets in women servants' bedroom after butchery

Watch this space for further progress in the women servants' bedroom ...

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Women Servants' Bed Room

The women servants' bedroom on the top floor of Balintore Castle is the room currently undergoing restoration. This would have had, say, four single beds: housing kitchen and household maids very much in the fashion of a dormitory.  There are the remains of bell mechanisms in one corner, which would have been used to summon the young ladies to their duties. There are smaller adjoining rooms which I reckon would have been used as single bedrooms by the older or more senior female staff.

I thought it would be interesting for blog readers to see a pair of snapshots of work in progress. The first photo was taken on the 11th August, and the second photo was taken on the 28th August, which is today.

You can see the plaster-work repair round the dormer window on the left side of the images had been completed. This was done using a combination of plasterboard and also by pressing browning (undercoat plaster) into surviving lath. Greg often gives his plaster-work a coat of white paint to check on the finish, as you can see here.

New floor-boarding was completed over the whole room today. In the earlier photo you can see a small amount of existing flooring as well as OSB (Oriented Strand Board) sheeting which was used as a temporary floor covering so we could move about the room. The original plank flooring was affected by dry rot, but we are going to recycle the good lengths of this to floor smaller rooms.

While the trend is mainly forwards, a section of original plaster-work by the door on the right which looked sound has been stripped away. We discovered dry-rot behind it - water has obviously been running down this section of wall, possibly for decades. Apart from this, plaster-work repairs to walls and the ceiling are essentially complete.

It was very odd today to be able to walk around the entirety of this room. Previously, there were numerous large holes in the floor which one simply did not approach, as one would have dropped a long way down: all the way to the floor of the Great Hall beneath.

I have some reclaimed vintage oak units which we will re-purpose to fit out this gratifyingly large room. I can't wait! The transition of ruined space, that one passes through nervously and quickly, to usable accommodation is what it's all about.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Women Servants' Bed Room 11th August 2020

Women Servants' Bed Room 28th August 2020

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Fornethy House

Fornethy House frontage

It is rare nowadays that I get the chance to explore old, interesting and abandoned buildings, but when friend of Balintore Duncan invited me to view just such a building only 7 miles away from the castle, how could I refuse? As incredible as it may seem, I was totally unaware of the existence of Fornethy House, yet it is an intriguing architectural conundrum built as a summer residence for the Coats' family in 1915. Between the 1950's and 1993, it was used as a residential girls' school. You can see how close Fornethy is to Balintore from the map below:

At the entrance to Fornethy, where the drive turns off the road, there is a wonderful square-on view of Balintore Castle on the horizon. Anyhow, the most astonishing thing about Fortnethy is that it is built in 16th century Scottish style over-laid with a veneer of 1915 Arts and Crafts. Academically it is a very clever building and will appeal to architecture nuts like myself. Aesthetically, it is rather blocky and far from conventionally beautiful, but the balance and refinement of the detailing is superb.

It is too severe for a country house, and one wonders how comfortable the Coats felt staying here. Often such buildings can be relieved by rich interiors or landscaped settings, but Fornethy is currently surrounded by woods with no outlook and googling for images suggests the interior was rather plain. 

Although I like Fornethy, I would hesitate to say it is a success as a building though I refuse to make a final judgement until the ground surrounding it is cleared, and one is able to view it in a landscape. Much of the surrounding forest is for timber production, and presumably it would originally have sat more comfortably in its surroundings.

On returning to my car, I saw for the first time in my life what I thought where Chanterelles growing on the side of the Fornethy drive. I have been looking for these for decades! Thanks to the Seek app for confirming the identification, and thanks to Duncan for saying that my Chanterelle dish that evening was delish! It is a subtle flavour in my humble opinion but a good one, and the golden orange colour, enhanced by frying, makes for a beautiful presentation.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

abandoned greenhouse with vine

active bee hives

abandoned greenhouse

abandoned cars

carriage door on side of Fornethy

mural of Disney's animated "Robin Hood" (1973)

door on rear

rear of Fornethy

elevated rear entrance (stair now missing)

feature on left is later (lift?)

feature on right is later (lift?)

front entrance with lantern


Golden Chanterelles on Fornethy drive

Golden Chanterelles back in the Balintore kitchen

Dog Vomit Slime Mold

Recently I guided a photographer friend through the woods at the back of Balintore Castle. He wants to take some wedding photos at the castle, and there is a very good angle looking down at the castle from these woods. The magic viewpoint occurs in a particular clearing, but of course all I could find were nearby clearings where the view was just OK. After dragging my friend in a wedding dress unfriendly manner through the woods, we decided just to leave it there. ;-)

When some later visitors expressed an interest in a walk, I decided a second reconnaissance to find the magic viewpoint would be my way of not admitting defeat. What's more: the first reccie had revealed some interesting fungi. Perhaps something edible could be found?

Many thanks to friend of Balintore and vlogger extraordinaire Brian for finding a bright yellow marvel of natural history deep in these woods. This revels in the name of the Dog Vomit Slime Mold. It was once thought that slime molds were fungi, but these are now regarded as something else. Generally, slime molds live as individual cells, but they can come together and move as a colonial animal.

Dog Vomit Slime Mold at Balintore

Eventually, we did find the correct clearing. Pictured are my friends Allan and Jacki decorating the view. Jacki was returning a Victorian armchair which she had kindly repaired for me for free. A young visitor to Balintore had started bouncing on it, and had gone all the way through. I was really upset as it had taken me over 6 years to find an Victorian suite with original upholstery. Jacki re-webbed and re-upholstered the seat so it is even better than it was before, with a much more comfortable and sprung, rather than saggy, sit. 

magic view of castle from the woods

None of the fungi proper we found on the second reccie turned out to be edible, but watch this space for a more successful fungi update!

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Thanks to the Seek app for identifying the mold.