Friday 10 May 2024

Baby Pheasant

What is it with the pheasants this year? Normally, they are shy retiring creatures that dart into the undergrowth the moment you approach. This year, the area in the immediate vicinity of the castle is alive with the birds. In short they have taken up blatant residence for the season, with all the shameless boldness of nudists on their designated patch of nudist beach.

I have been subject to two unpleasant attacks from the same vicious male terminator pheasant. Thankfully, he is now more concerned about his rivals than me, and I have seen him in a number of "fights" which can more accurately be described as face-offs with the occasional squawk.

The terminator pheasant has also been chasing Maria the housekeeper's red car. We suspect it's a colour thing.

Today, Craig the roofer, spotted a clutch of 5 eggs at the very front of the castle, together with around 10 chicks and a mother. How many babies does a pheasant have?

We suspect daddy is the bird in the bottom photo, as he was parading around protectively today. He sports a very unusual and beautiful blue bloom on his chest feathers, and is quite the dandy! Terminator pheasant is the standard orangey-brown.

Anyhow, my understanding is that pheasants are too stupid even to breed and baby birds have to be brought in from hatcheries in France every year. Balintore is delighted to buck the trend, and host this prodigious native progeny.

As traumatised as I was by the terminator pheasant, the clutch of pheasant babies made Craig's and my day!

clutch of pheasant eggs at the front of the castle

mummy pheasant and two babies

daddy pheasant

Thursday 2 May 2024

Old Pigeons, New Home

One of my recent favorite phrases is "say what you see", because in my humble opinion many of the world's problems can be solved simply by being bold enough to report on what is happening in front of your eyes.

To solve the problem of how to fill today's blog entry, I will say what I see in the three photographs I have taken today. :-)

In the first photo you can see Joe at the top of the scaffolding, plastering the top of the north wall. He is nothing if not ambitious, as he is trying to complete this mammoth wall in a single day.

Ambitions were partially thwarted as Joe reported he had had a cup of coffee first thing this morning to get him going. I was worried as Joe had told me previously, that he was a coffee addict and had given it up a couple of years ago. Needless-to-say, Joe reacted badly to the coffee and looked wretched after an hour or so. Fingers crossed, he is now better and back on track.

Just above the top of the ladder you can see some square openings amongst new wooden supports for the ceiling that Gregor has inserted. Gregor was mortified that the two pigeons who are still living in the castle (Mr. and Mrs. Flappy) are using one of these openings as their new nesting box. Mr. and Mrs. Flappy are nothing if not audacious as they fly through a door into and out of the Great Hall, just a foot or so from our heads. You can feel the draft of their flapping wings on your face.

There was a swift in the Great Hall earlier today, and Joe was escorting out some brightly coloured butterflies. Spring has definitely arrived at Balintore.

In the second photo you can see the fireplace in the Great Hall. The builders were burning some rubbish here today and the smoke came straight back into the room. In just a few days of the fire being off, due to the good weather, birds have built a nest in the chimney! The metal mesh had been ripped off the top of the chimney can by our avian property developers and squatters rights have been claimed. Gregor is on the warpath.

The third photograph was taken at the end of the afternoon. You can see that Joe has almost plastered to ground level. Rest assured that Joe did succeed in his "one wall, one man, one trowel" plastering challenge by the evening shift. I went to take a final photo of the completed work, but it had gone dark, and I could not find the light switch in my own castle! :-)

Sunday 28 April 2024

Servants' Staircase Plastering

For some time, the restoration project at Balintore Castle has been in need of a push on the plastering front. We have been using local plasterers who have kindly donated their evenings and weekends to move things forward gradually, but the larger plastering jobs such as the walls of the servants' staircase have gone untouched.

This is where Joe the plasterer from Airdrie comes in. :-) He sent me an unsolicited email out of the blue, saying he would like to work on the Balintore project, having read a newspaper article about the restoration. As ever offers of help are just that, and it is rare that people actually follow through. However, I believe in giving everyone a chance to prove themselves, and it turns out that Joe is the real deal and he has now been working here for 4 weeks.

Joe says that Balintore is the "Wimbledon" of the plastering world i.e. a chance to make a contribution that means something and that will still be around (fingers crossed) in another couple of hundred years time. Naturally, I am now creatively dismissive about other plastering jobs: "That's just the French Open, Joe!".

Anyhow for now, it's like the universe has cosmically ordered a Joe just when the castle was needing a large amount of plastering done, and Balintore, to mix too many sporting metaphors into the pot, has caught a wave. Let's see how long Ms. Balintore can ride Joe's surfboard. 

I realised that I was not recording the plastering progress in the blog, and today's entry is an attempt to redress this.

Looking towards the upper bedroom floor:


You can see the newest plasterwork on the facing wall - brown indicates the plaster is still wet. The left hand wall is also newly plastered and has just dried to that peach colour.

Looking towards the lower bedroom floor:

The far wall and the wall on the left have been newly plastered. The wall on the right has still to be plastered, but Joe has put on some bonding plaster between the original concrete render at the bottom and the new plasterboard at the top.

Looking towards the principal floor:

The far wall has been newly plastered, but the left and right and walls have still to be started.

You can see that Joe is working his way down the servants' staircase. The walls are enormously high, and Joe has been working off scaffolding and off ladders. When the staircase is blocked by scaffolding, moving between floors sometimes requires going up and down different staircases, so one is expending even more effort than usual. Needless to say, one simply postpones unnecessary journeys as a result. :-)

Anyhow, the photos above form a real snapshot of the plastering work in progress: some walls are completed; some walls are work-in-progress; and others have yet to be started. I was considering getting a plastering firm in to "blitz" the servants' staircase. However, I am delighted that Joe is having a go on his own, though he wistfully describes some of the work at the castle as "two trowel" jobs which I presume means he would like some help from a colleague. :-)

Joe is forever troweling up plastering lingo which is like a foreign language to me. He was going to "dot and dab" but has now thought the better of it, and is instead waiting to pounce on my "ingos". :-)

Thursday 25 April 2024

Great Hall's North Wall Plaster-Boarded

Today Gavin and Gregor completed the plaster-boarding of the north wall of the Great Hall. You can see the before photo from Monday 22nd April at the bottom, and the after photo which was taken at the end of today (Thursday 25th April) at the top. The two G's have recently started taking Fridays off, and work longer hours Monday through Thursday, so I am particularly delighted they managed to get finished today on a week boundary.

north wall plaster-boarding: after

north wall plaster boarding: before

The wall has started to take on the appearance that the architect originally intended: transitioning from dark bare stone to a light facetted plaster surface. The wall is much the better for this.

Gregor said this week has been hard work with much climbing of the scaffolding and much reaching above head-height. As Gregor was most often spotted at the upper level of scaffolding over the last few days, I called him a "top shelf gentleman". :-)

Gregor says he could plasterboard a whole new-build house with his colleague Scott in 4 days, but that the north wall alone has taken even longer. Despite the scale of the wall, only two sheets of plasterboard were used whole, all the rest had to be laboriously cut-up. Modern houses are designed around the size of plasterboard sheets to minimise labour costs. Balintore Castle was simply proportioned to look good!

Monday 22 April 2024

Gregor's Arch

The photograph below was taken today, and shows how the recladding of the north and west walls of the Great Hall is progressing. You have to realise that all the plaster was lost on these walls, so the only clues as to the internal appearance are the original plans, and the surviving plasterwork on the south and east walls.

Great Hall today

In the top right of the image above is Gregor's first ever Gothic arch. :-) He cut the shape first out of oriented strand board (OSB) and then out of plasterboard. He was originally going to cut a circular arch, until I pointed out that there was a subtle but distinct point to the arch, which became even clearer once we dug out the original plans (see below).

original plans for north wall

Gregor instructed me to mock up the shape, but before I could even begin, he had bent another piece of plasterboard to form a curve, and had traced along this with a pencil. Amazingly enough, Gregor got the shape pretty spot on, even before he had seen the original plans. I told him, that he had morphed into a Gothic architect. :-)

There is a fancy horizontal moulding running round the Great Hall at two levels. It arcs over the windows, but we could not work out what this did between the windows on the north wall because the windows are so close together. The mystery was solved by the original plans where you can see the moulding in a "Y" configuration, that appears nowhere else in the room.

The arches at Balintore are closer to the Tudor arch rather than the more traditional Lancet arch, that most people associate with Gothic architecture. However, writing this blog article makes me realise that the Balintore arch is actually a Four-centred arch, used widely in Islamic architecture. The Tudor arch is a sometimes considered a type of Four-centred arch, but strictly speaking this is incorrect.

arch types

And the last picture shows the "before" prior to any wall strapping or plaster boarding. Gregor and his brother Gavin are literally climbing the walls, and hoisting up buckets of supplies using a rope from ground level in the best tradition of mediaeval builders.

Great Hall before strapping

Saturday 13 April 2024

Tallow and Stookie

Joe and his brother Chris are at the castle today restoring some ornamental plasterwork: the first new ornamental plasterwork in Balintore Castle since 1860.

The technique is called "running a mould". Instead of buying lengths of coving, you draw a former along the wall on wooden battens lubricated with tallow. No doubt Viking long ships were launched using the same technology. 

The former is cut from sheet metal, and the shape is a careful copy of the surviving moulding on the top floor of the castle.

the mould or former for Balintore's top floor coving

The tallow comes in something like a margarine tub, and who knows I may be having the left-overs on toast this evening. :-)

There are three passes:

(1) a troweled-on bonding coat of gypsum plaster

first bonding coat

(2) a run-in mix of plaster of Paris (stookie) and one-coat (gypsum) plaster 

Chris running and Joe bending

Mixing with gypsum plaster slows down the setting period to an hour or so, giving a good working time window.

(3)  one or two run-in coats of pure plaster of Paris

Pure plaster of Paris sets within 5 minutes, so there is not a lot of working time with this - you can only make up small batches - so it is used for the final, very smooth and very hard outer layer.

I was confused when Joe first started talking about "stookie". The only "stookie" I know is the Scottish dialect word for scarecrow e.g. "Everyone else was helping out, but he was just standing there like a stookie.". I think the word has a little hint of the gormless about it too. 

Joe is from the west coast of Scotland. My east coast friends, on interrogation, had heard of "stookie" meaning "plaster cast" for a broken limb. Aha! I may have a possible entomology: a scarecrow is "stuck" (stookie?) in the one position very much like a limb in a plaster cast.

Friday 12 April 2024

Plaster Panels

Work on the Great Hall at Balintore Castle continues apace. There are 5 internal window structures in the room. Each of these consists of 3 glass panels at the top and 3 blank plaster panels at the bottom.

Joe, the plaster, is currently repairing the plaster panels. You can see today's repaired plaster panels on the right and the panels awaiting repair on the left.

So while this is "small beer" compared to the large amount of new plaster work required in the Great Hall, it is still another step forwards.

In an old photograph, each set of three plaster panels is covered rather clumsily in a Paisley tapestry-type fabric, which looks to my eye like an after thought to make the blank panels look a little better. The panels are there to balance the form of the external windows.

Anyhow, my plan is to make a feature of these 15 panels, which form essentially 5 triptychs, to give them intention rather than their current troubling design passivity i.e. what are those for?

It is not a huge leap from a triptych to a work of art, so keep following the blog for, fingers crossed, some novel artistic creativity. :-)

repairing the plaster panels