Sunday, 27 April 2014

Carrach Windfarm Redux

I have just had some awful news: a planning application was submitted at the beginning of this month for a wind farm immediately opposite Balintore Castle.

This is the third application by the same developers since 2008 so you can imagine how ground down my neighbours and I have been fighting these proposals.

Objections have to submitted within a week, so there is little time for action. Please help me object by filling-up the online form provided by Angus Council here. No need to write an essay on why you object, a sentence will be fine.

My own objection letter to the planning officer at Angus Council is appended. This will help you understand my position. The location of the two turbines, reduced in number from the previous application, and their relation to the view from Balintore Castle is shown in the map below.

location of two proposed wind turbines adjacent to Balintore Castle

Letter To Angus Council Planning Department

Dear Mr. Taylor,

I wish to object in the strongest possible terms to planning application 14/00276/FULL henceforth referred to as the Carrach Wind Farm.

The wind turbines will be close to and visible from Balintore Castle. This is a Grade A listed Baronial building (1860) which is the late masterpiece of its Scottish architect William Burn (1789-1870). With the cooperation of Angus Council, I have devoted my life to restoring this building, and the Carrach Wind Farm would devastate the setting. To permit this development would be very much like Angus Council scoring an “own goal”.

The appeal from the developers regarding their previous Carrach Wind Farm application, was rejected by the reporter from the Scottish government. The decision and reasoning can be found in Angus Council Report No 81/13

The reporter’s conclusion was that no wind farm should ever be built in this location. You can imagine how that this third planning application for a Carrach WInd Farm is twisting a knife in a wound that is already deep and longstanding, The blight of the Carrach Wind farm has been hanging over the Glen Quharity since 2008. It is a common tactic of planning applications to scale the development down, in an attempt to look not too bad in the light of the previous application, and this is a feature of 14/00276/FULL . I entreat Angus Council to look at the application on its own (de?)merits: the arguments of the Council’s report 81/13 are still valid and I ask the Council to honour their report and reject 14/00276/FUL.

My neighbours, the residents of this intimate unspoiled glen, thought that with the reporter’s assurance of no more wind farms we were perhaps safe. There is a clear need for a coordinated national policy for dealing with wind farm applications, otherwise Councils and local inhabitants will be exhausted and overwhelmed by successive applications in the same location (as here) or in the same vicinity.,

I quote sections 3.2, 3.59 and 3.65 of the Council’s report 81/13 as my own reasons for recommending refusal.

3.2 Planning permission was refused for the following reasons:

(1) The development would result in unacceptable adverse landscape impacts having regard to landscape character and setting within the immediate and wider landscape and, as such, is contrary to policy 6 of TAYplan and policies ER5 and ER34 (criterion b) of the Angus Local Plan Review 2009.

(2) The development would have an unacceptable visual impact on the occupants of residential properties and the wider landscape and, as such, is contrary to policy 6 of TAYplan and policies S1 criterion (b), S6 criterion (b), ER34 criterion (a) and policy ER35 criterion (c) of the Angus Local Plan Review (2009).

3.59 The significance of the views out from the castle raised by the proprietor in relation to its status as a grade A listed building (as opposed to residential amenity, considered elsewhere in this notice) is a different matter, which appears to be somewhat discounted by Historic Scotland. However I note that the Historic Scotland description of the listed building refers to the “extensive views to the east and south”. The site visit confirmed that the castle tower has a high level balustraded viewing platform, served by a spiral stair and some tiny rooms/stores in the corner turrets, so it is easy to envisage that residents and visitors would visit the platform to enjoy the view. Similarly the castle sits on an extensive terrace, supported by a substantial retaining wall, which also gives panoramic views across the countryside to the east and south. Thus, in the circumstances pertaining to this particular building and chosen site, I accept the argument that the castle has been located and designed so that the occupants can take advantage of these views in a similar manner to enjoying views over an extensive abutting designed landscape. I also agree that given the effort that is going into the restoration of the building, and the public interest in completing the restoration of this listed building, it is important to ensure that the success of the restoration project is not undermined by any harmful changes to the building’s wider setting.

3.65 On balance, taking account of the very attractive rural landscape character of this area and the serious visual intrusion that would be obvious in the locality on a daily basis for a very long period, I consider that the modest contribution that would be made to renewable energy targets by this relatively small wind farm together with the temporary benefit to the local economy during construction and the continuing income to the two farm businesses during the operational period are insufficient to outweigh the harm resulting from landscape impact, and hence to do not justify a departure from the planning policies. This outcome is in line with national policy (Scottish Planning Policy paragraph 187) which states that wind farm proposals should be supported where environmental impacts can be satisfactorily addressed, which I consider is not the case at this site.

These three sections can be summarised as valid planning objection criteria of “setting of listed building” and “bad neighbour”.

My immediate neighbours and I were not on the developer’s list of notified neighbours. This is despite the fact that the developers are keenly aware, as stated in their documentation, that a large part of the previous rejection was based on the impact on Balintore Castle. It is distressing that they they have not done the courtesy of communicating with me, especially when the timescales as here are very tight i.e. there is only around a month for objections to be lodged. Thankfully, I was informed by some eagle-eyed neighbours,

Yours sincerely,

Dr. David Johnston
Balintore Castle

Monday, 21 April 2014

Balintore Fiction

My friend Madeleine has written a short ghost story about Balintore Castle. It is based on a story that her parents made up to scare her. Because Madeleine to too young to be a blogger, she has asked me to put the story on my blog! 

The New Servant

There was a new servant at Balintore Castle. Mae was her name; she looked of the wild sort, messy hair, twinkling eyes, merry laugh but she was hopeless. Victoria the housekeeper would have to confine her to the kitchen even though she was she was the house maid. The kitchen maid was always frowning at her or shaking her head and even though Mae seemed always happy, she felt excluded from all the other servants.

David Lyon was coming to the castle for autumn shooting and the place needed tidying up. Victoria shoved Mae out of the kitchen, thinking she would trip and fall in the jelly or put salt in the cake instead of sugar, and told her to make herself useful by dusting the top room of the great tower. Mae climbed the never ending circle of spiral stairs armed with dusters and brooms. Reaching the top, Mae busied herself with sweeping away the dust.

She glanced at the window, it was a horrific sight to anyone who was a servant or had been in domestic service. You could not see anything, the dirt and grime covered the glass and filth ran in streaks over the wood. Mae set to work and after an hour there was no improvement. She opened the window thinking the problem was on the outside, the window started to clear. But lo!

The wood was slightly unstable and she slipped and fell to her death. Her ghost still haunts the tower replaying the moment just before she died.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

New Lintels for Old

Lintels are horizontal beams that run across the top of wall openings, such as doors and windows. They transfer the load of the wall above to the sides of the opening. We are all familiar with the re-enforced concrete lintels of modern construction.

At Balintore Castle most of the openings are topped by arches, which survive the test of time well: witness the Norman cathedrals which are still with us. The few lintels at Balintore Castle (8 in number) are unfortunately wood, and as water has poured into the building for many decades these are all suffering, to a greater or lesser extent, from dry rot.

Over the past few months, the wooden lintels have all been replaced by concrete ones. This has been a major job, but one which will keep the building standing well into the future. 

How do you take out a wooden lintel and put in a concrete one without a building falling down? Here's how. The silver attachment on top of the rather rusty accro-prop is called a "strong boy". This holds the wall up while the lintels are swapped - you can see the wooden lintel in the photo is in a very bad condition indeed.

strong boy supporting wall

Removing a lintel is no trivial task. It is embedded in a wall so the surrounding masonry has to be chopped out. Don't forget that the lintels in Balintore are massive. The one lying on the stairs below was above a drawing room window: a glove is shown for scale. This lintel is in pretty good nick, but there is dry rot at the ends.

wooden lintel removed from drawing room window

The wooden lintels above the bay windows were further connected by massive cast iron angle brackets: a glove is shown for scale. This made the task of getting the lintels out the wall even more complicated.

cast iron bracket for joining wooden lintels

Basement Lintel

You can see from the before photograph that this lintel at the bottom of the entrance tower in the basement was in an appalling condition.

before: wooden basement lintel

Here's the concrete replacement, photographed from the same side:

after: basement concrete lintel from front

Looking underneath you can see that three concrete lintels are required side-by-side to replace the massive old wooden one:

after: basement concrete lintel from back

Entrance Hall Lintel

The entrance hall lintel is also in a shocking state:

before: wooden entrance hall lintel from back

after: concrete entrance hall lintel from the front

after: concrete entrance hall lintel from the back

Three Drawing Room Window Lintels

before: wooden drawing room window lintels

after: concrete drawing room window lintels

Three Dressing Room Window Lintels

As the wall finished a foot or so above the dressing room window lintels, it was simpler to dismantle the top of the wall, replace the lintels and then rebuild:

during: first concrete lintel positioned after removing stone

after: concrete dressing room window lintels with wall above rebuilt

Thanks to Adam and Barrie (ably assisted by Andy) for all their hard work.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Slating !

My roofer Andy is by profession a slater. He once said to me that he gets fed up of putting one slate on after another, and "thankfully" the restoration work at Balintore stops this from ever happening i.e. he works on all aspects of the restoration and indeed often has to rebuild the roof first before re-slating!  :-) However, given the sheer hard work in rebuilding the turret, I think Andy was pleased enough to get started with the re-slating. I can imagine this being the icing on the cake!

You can see the bottom row of slates being positioned. On the turrets at Balintore Castle, the first row of slates is square cut, subsequent rows are cut on the round - the so-called fish-scale slates that are very much the look of Scottish Baronial architecture.

Notice there is a little "kick" outwards in the shape at the bottom of the turret. This is called a bell curve, because it echos the shape of bell. This is labour intensive to achieve, but it is precisely the small details like this which give a building its class.

bottom square-cut row of slates on turret

It is fascinating that slating is one of the few remaining professions where hand tools still hold sway, and methods have stayed the same since time immemorial. In other fields such as carpentry, power tools have taken over. The photo below shows the three basic tools of slating.  There are two edging tools: the slater's knife and a "sage" to strike against, which put an edge on the slate; and a hammer to nail the slates in place.

the tools of slating

Below you can see how the knife and the sage are used to put a curve on the bottom of the slate. The speed Andy can put a curve on a slate is phenomenal: a few sharp chops at the right angles and of the right force are all that are required. If the slate is hit too hard or too softly, it could shatter! You chop the slate at the back surface to give a sharp edge here and a bezel on the front. If the bezel was at the back, it would draw the water underneath by capillary action, and cause the wood in the roof to rot.

how to cut a slate on the curve

It is important to sort the slates by size before laying. The roof at Balintore consists of "layered courses" i.e. the higher you go up the smaller the slate gets. This looks classy but is very labour intensive. I was intrigued by Andy's yellow rule - it didn't seem to be marked in either centimetres or inches. I have since found out it is marked in 3/4 inches, which is how you size slates! Historically there are regional variations: the slaters of Dundee used whole inches: the slaters of Fife used 1/2 inches. So Andy was apprenticed to use a sizing system, which would be reasonably compatible with either. 

the mystery markings on a slater's rule

If you have made it this far, you are much the better informed about slating. :-)

Monday, 14 April 2014

A-spire-ing !

Here are some pictures from the first turret restoration at Balintore Castle. If you do not like heights, do not look at this photograph taken by roofer Andy from the very top of the turret, looking down at carpenter Graeme! I have assisted on the scaffolding battens below, but I may give climbing the spire myself a miss. :-)

looking down turret from the pinnacle

One side of the turret was rotten and had to be completely rebuilt - the new wood here is a lighter yellow colour. After the former was rebuilt. this had to be reclad in elongated triangular slivers of sarking. The next photo shows the resarking half-way through.

wooden internal structure for turret

Once the sarking was complete, Grame engaged in a very pagan "topping out" ceremony with a frond of yew.

cladding of turret now complete - Graeme celebrates

After the sarking, comes the roofing felt!

roofing felt cladding

From inside the restored turret you can see how carefully the new woodwork matches the old. There are 20 vertical struts to give the round shape, but note that these are not radially symmetric. There are 4 principal struts, with two subordinate struts attaching to each side. I understand this is a French method of construction for the more pointy turret. Anyhow, this makes each horizontal curved noggin between the struts almost a bespoke piece of joinery!

interior shot shows blending of old and new woodwork

Anyhow, I am delighted with the quality of the craftsmanship. Andy is now slating this turret - photos will follow. I can't wait to proceed with the other turrets.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

In the Lair of the Roc

Given that the main roof of Balintore Castle has largely been fixed-up, attention has turned to the 12 turrets. These pinnacles of iconic baronial-ism are very much the worse for wear.

They are technically a "cosmetic problem" rather than a "structural problem". Despite leaking they do not let water into the main building or threaten the castle itself in any way. Of course, given the scale of these "ornaments" - some are perhaps 12 feet height - fixing-up the wooden framework could be considered a structural challenge in themselves. 

Some of the turrets are listing badly and need a total rebuild. The slates have been taken off these to keep them from falling and smashing. Others turrets don't look too bad from the outside, with the majority of their slate covering still in place. However, the hard learned lesson at Balintore is that "looking OK" is not the same as "is OK".

We are now trying to save the turrets that look OK, and started with the north-east turret, where it looked like just one of the sarking planks, running from top to bottom, had rotted.

Building up scaffolding and then peering through the slot where the plank had been revealed that the entirety of the turret cone from top to bottom had been filled with birds nests over the last, however many, decades. Removing the birds nests took 4 solid days! Initially, I reached through the slot to access the nesting material. Then I had to climb inside the turret to excavate further, this required taking off the adjacent plank, which was the worse for wear as well. 

My friend Andrew helped one afternoon, and this speeded up matters enormously. Instead, of continually collecting twigs inside the turret, and then climbing outside to dispose of them, one of us stayed inside collecting and the other stayed outside disposing. I say "disposing" but this entailed throwing the twigs off the roof. The ground around here is now covered feet-deep in jackdaw twigs. There were dead birds and dead rabbits a-plenty amount the nesting material. Amongst the jackdaw "objets" were brass curtain rings from the castle, fragments of a sex-education comic (from the 80's?) and a "Topic" wrapper.

As I was gathering nesting twigs inside the turret, I casually remarked to Andrew "I'm not sure what is holding us up, I have a nasty image of me pulling out one twig, the nest collapsing and me dropping down the tower". Given the number of rotten floors in the castle, it did seem like a distinct possibility. I was indeed like Sinbad in the nest of the giant Roc, only instead of finding diamonds the only real treasure was a lovely brass Victorian WC flushing mechanism !

cast iron and brass flushing mechanism discovered in turret

The next morning as I was still emptying the turret, this time on my own, I pulled up some twigs, something gave way, and my body indeed dropped down the tower! I shot my arms out instinctively to save myself and took stock, My body was dangling down a loft hatch,  my fall arrested by my out-stretched arms holding on to the wooden frame of the hatch. As I looked down at my legs swinging in free space, the dust eventually cleared and I was peering into a room in the castle I had never seen before!

legs swinging in free space

discovery of a new room in the castle - feet first !

It was a circular turret room - the plaster was intact, the wooden paneling was intact, and there were even some mahogany fragments of the Victorian "thunder box" lavatory. An almost perfectly preserved Victorian bathroom, which will help in the restoration of other such rooms. The room had never been approached from the inside of the building because intervening floors were simply too dangerous and the door of the room had always been closed. How remarkable to find a new room after owning a building for six years, the experience made me feel like Indiana Jones or Howard Carter. The unexpected damaged sections of turret roof discovered were almost offset by the joy of discovering the intact bathroom. The carpenter says the turret can be saved, but it was more  touch and go than I would have liked.