Sunday 17 April 2011

Hard As Nails

After one hundred years, the nails holding the slates on a roof will generally be at the point of giving up. The iron will have rusted, and the slates will start to slip off. The roof is described as being "nail sick".

This is not the case at Balintore Castle. No expense was spared on the construction of the building, and the slates were put on with hand-cut copper nails. There are still in A1 condition after 150 years..

 My trusty roofer sent me off some days ago to buy him a box of new copper roofing nails. This was £200 - cough! Costs restoring a Grade A listed building can be somewhat alarming. I always think what a nice bit of technology I could get for £200! Anyhow, while tidying the castle I passed the box of precious nails and thought I had better run my fingers through them to try and get some pleasure for my money. Inside the box, were a number of the old nails, Andy the roofer, has clearly been recycling these wherever possible which is great.

Here for comparison is an old and a new nail:

Copper nails, I have learned off the web, are also used in boat building as they do not rust.
You can tell from the picture, the glorious sunshine that lasted all day at the castle.

I got so fed up working inside the castle (it is cold), that I took my tea breaks in the warm sun on the castle terrace. Three lovely walkers came up and talked to me. They had been following the fortunes of the building walking past it at least once a year, long before I was on the scene. They were delighted someone was doing something - they said it had been depressing beforehand and they now
think the building looks a lot better. :-)

I also had two regular castle visitors - they brought me a huge sack of tatties as usual as they have a tattie farm!. This is great as I have none in stock - people can be very kind.

I was also visited by one of my yoga teachers called Finlay and his partner. Finlay thought I was still in London, and had just come to see the exterior of the castle, so it was a really unexpected pleasure for both of us to meet up again. They were pleased to see the inside of the building for the first time..  Finlay was shivering in his vest in the cold basement areas of the castle, so I had to lend him a coat.

What with the success of plumbing in a washing machine yesterday, I kept this going all day and washed the entirety of my clothes at the castle, which had gone mouldy from damp in the year I was away. I spent today tidying, so building supplies and tools can be efficiently accessed and stored - very dull but anything I can do to save my roofer's time is to my financial benefit.

I hunted for "quarter round" guttering on the web - it has to be concluded that this is a very rare beast indeed - and getting hold of it in cast iron looks well nigh impossible. Interestingly, it seems to be most common in Australia and New Zealand. But I shall not be writing a Ph.D. on "International Trends in Gutter Profiles". Needless-to-say, the antipodeans are clearly enlightened in the guttering department even if not well stocked in the cultural one. :-)

There is, however, another profile called "Victorian Ogee" which does not possess the flat bottom of standard "Ogee" guttering, and so is close to the profile required. I gave up at this stage, as I was spent with hunting for quarter round, and will tackle Victorian Ogee another day.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Laundry Blues and Karmic Building Supplies

Today I plumbed in the washing machine I had picked up yesterday from Dundee. It was a pretty pathetic spectacle as I dragged it foot-by-foot (interspersed by multiple tea breaks) on a section of carpet from my pick-up truck into the kitchen. That's the most inconveniencing thing about living alone, jobs that would be simple with two people can multiplied in difficultly by a factor of ten.

Anyhow, it seems to be whirring away merrily as I type, so this is the first time I have had proper washing facilities at the castle - hurrah! :-)

This morning, I replaced all the blown fuses mentioned in the previous blog entry, and balanced the loading across different sockets so things should not blow again.

It's amazing how one has often to go back in a chain to get anything done. Before I did the electrical work, I mended my long broken multi-meter, the use of which makes electrical jobs much more efficient. Before I was a gentleman of leisure, I did not have time to mend the multi-meter, very frustrating!

I did not have spanners of the right size to do the plumbing, and my adjustable spanners had rusted up, but I had no WD40 to free them up enough. In the end I had to tighten things by hand, and with a too small pair of pliers. Thankfully nothing leaked when I switched the water back on. The plumber had put the water switch in the loft, so there was much climbing up and down of ladders. I always put in local isolation when I plumb.

The story of laundry facilities at the castle is rich in tragedy!  For the first two years at the castle I had no water supply, so I used collected rainwater for washing and brought in drinking water from work. When I finally got permission from the surrounding estate to use the water supply passing by the castle, the irony is that it only took 15 minutes to connect up! The further irony is that the most of the residents of the glen use the castle's water infrastructure (constructed in Victorian times), yet the owner of the castle was himself denied this resource. The water quality is fantastic, by the way, it is supplied by three springs further up the mountain.The estate's factor showed me the exact location of each spring, you can tell by the reeds growing in the vicinity.. I can probably just about find the springs again myself.

I had initially bought a second hand washing machine from a colleague at work but the pressure of the rainwater supply was not enough to drive it - I proved this by emptying, lifting, and then refilling the water butt. The solution was to carry the washing machine down into the basement to get the head of water. I did this on my own and getting the machine down stone steps on my own was horrific, I almost lost my balance several times and the machine would have landed on top of me. However, once I had got it down to the basement it just didn't work, the near topple incidents must have broken it. So I had to carry it up the stairs (even worse) and then buy another washing machine and take this down the stairs. This provided partial washing facilities, but it only worked intermittently, and it always took 15 minutes after switching it off for the door to open - so lots of up and down stairs to continually check on it. This machine had somehow broken completely when I got back to the castle a fortnight ago. Anyone want two broken washing machines?

I think the longest I went without washing clothes was 4 months! I tried to make the entirety of my wardrobe last as long as possible without repelling all boarders. I broke the mauritorium, by going in to work on Christmas morning (figuring no-one would be around) and using the washing machine there.

So laundry blues should now be a thing of the past at the castle.

A few piccies to make this blog less wordy!

Here are the five beams I have just bought from a Dundee reclaim yard. They come from a demolished mill in Dundee and I reckon they are probably date from 1850 or so. I have asked the estate sawmill to cut them up into the correct sizes. The cutting will have to be done carefully to avoid the cracks in the beam, very much like cutting a gemstone and avoiding the flaws. Hopefully delivery and cutting should happen in the next week. This will allow Andy and myself to start rebuilding the floor in the "Dinner Service Room". This will be the first reconstruction work done on the principal floor of the castle, which holds the really big rooms, so it will be really exciting.

This is a sample of hardwood flooring from Eassie Community Hall which will be installed in the castle. Can anyone tell me what type of wood it is? The head forester of the estate could not identify it, and inquiries were sent via him and my architect to two different experts. One expert came back with "Balau" (Malaysian) and the other "Iroko" (African). That's experts for you! However, both Balau and Iroko come under the heading of ironwood, so hopefully this says something positive about its ability to withstand wear - indeed one would never know it has been trampled by the inhabitants of Eassie for 85 years. I have a slight tendency to believe the first expert (Balau), as he sent PDF scans of pages from wood textbooks to back up his identification. But perhaps that is the academic in me being swayed. :-)

And finally, here is Eassie Community Hall being dismantled. Eassie is just 10 miles from the castle, so the flooring has essentially gone to Dundee, and now will be coming back. I like to think it is a way of inviting all the inhabitants of Eassie past and present to tea at the castle. :-) And I think the serendipitous re-instatement of Balintore with materials and objects which almost present themselves - rather than being ordered as bespoke - has good karma.

Friday 15 April 2011

Day One

How to begin a blog?

My approach is to take myself by surprise, so I am not daunted by the responsibility of setting any kind of standard. The motto is "just do it".

So this first entry in my blog to describe the ongoing restoration of Balintore Castle (1860) will be deliberately low key and short.

To take on the restoration of a large Grade A listed building as a individual of particularly modest means is on the face of it insane. However, you might be surprised to learn, that it is one of the most calculated things I have ever done. I could write pages on my motivations, and probably shall in later entries, suffice it to say that the restoration is pretty much the key to my "lock" of what I think is important in life. You may think that once the reality of such a project hits (the two years spent in a miniscule caravan was little fun) that I would be demoralised or flee! And others have indeed flown, and indeed many have doubted and criticised.

But for reasons unknown, my commitment and enthusiasm remain.

I have made so many good friends during this project, and indeed many as a direct result of being at the castle, that this blog is primarily for them and all other "Balintore friends" around the world who take an interest.

Ms. Balintore acts as a social introduction agency, and she also instantly assesses their character for me. I can now tell from how someone looks at the building whether they appreciate the beauty of the architecture or are casing the joint. :-) Their character is shaken out by their response.

I have just returned to the castle after a year in London earning restoration funds, and for the six months of "summer" of 2011, I have become a gentleman of leisure to help my stalwart roofer Andy push forward with progress. I feel privileged that I am able to take time off work. I know every moment that I am able to work on the building has been hard fought for, and I must not waste it.

So what happened today?

I blew the fuse on the water immersion heater (electrics are a work in progress) but worked around this so I was able to take my  first bath at the castle - ever! Before, I used the showers at work in Dundee - but the company is no more. The bath is set-up temporarily under a window in the kitchen. I placed a cardboard box in the hallway with the words "DAVID IN BATH" so Andy would not enter inadvertently and get more than the cup of tea he bargained for. Be warned hill walkers - do not look in castle windows!

I picked up a washing machine in Dundee (laundry facilities are a work in progress).
In consequence, clean towels are an unattained luxury, so the towel I used to dry
myself after the bath seemed to have been used by someone as an oily rag. I used the other side.

In the absence of clean clothes, I had to buy some emergency pants yesterday - these set off the beeper as I left Tesco's - I did not notice the security tag.
So I waited outside to be defused/arrested but no staff came. However, today
the tag proved to be a real handicap. It dug into my lower lumber region and buttocks
rather painfully while driving. I beeped entering and exiting Asda's. I have become
an object of ridicule. Andy noted my new shop-lifting career and the lovely lady
at Customer Services in Asda (I was charged £2 for the £1 packet of fuses to fix
the immersion heater) pointed out in the most well-intentioned way - the fact of my newly sprouted tail-like appendage.

Can I just smash it with a hammer? Not sure I can find the pants receipt.

Andy finished the flooring in the small room at the top of the great tower today - hurrah!
This is five stories high - so getting things up to the top is a major performance.
Andy and I passed things hand to hand up the tower. One of these items was
a huge sheet of wood. I took hold. Andy instructed "Just lift it through".

I had reached my strength limit, there was no way I could lift the wood and just
managed to reply "There's only two things I can do Andy, one is hold it here, the other
is drop it down five stories, you'll have to come to the top of the tower and lift
it out of my hands". Andy, as ever, came to my rescue.

I paid the first lot of money to purchase the reclaimed hardwood floor of the now demolished Eassie Village Hall (1925). This was a lucky find in a reclaim yard in Dundee - I just turned up at the right time and did my best to alert the staff to the other items I desperately need - chief amongst these is reclaimed HUGE timber beams. These are simply not used in construction nowadays, and getting these new is very expensive.

I called in at five plumbing shops in Dundee and failed to locate any quarter round guttering. It seems to be a "fabled" item and no-one had heard of it. I could not help myself from responding in an uber-geek way "But it must exist, I have found it on the Internet". Getting the "right" look for a Grade-A building can tax the ingenuity. I understand, from my intimates, that I have become the most interminable bore on drainage hoppers. And before I bore you, that seems an apt place to finish.

Oh yes, I emailed a seller on eBay that their "mediaeval oak fireplace" should be re-titled as "provincial gothic revival oak fireplace". Have you worked out that I am a bit naughty? But then I did compliment him on the diminishing quadrefoil detailing of his corbels.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.