Sunday, 23 December 2012

Happy Christmas 2012

I would like to take this opportunity for wishing my blog readers, whether occasional or regular, a Happy Christmas for 2012, and a Happy New Year for 2013.

So how would I review the year that is almost past? For me, 2012 has seemed like a year on steroids, by which I mean events have powered me through the year without first asking if I wanted to get involved. For if asked, I would assuredly have given the answer "no". 

Most of my time away from work, has been spent embroiled in legal disputes. This is never a good thing. Past experience has told me to stay well away, yet I find myself currently and unwillingly with around 12 different cases on my hands. Most of these are connected with protecting the interests of the castle, when I would much prefer to devote my energies to the restoration. As legal matters emerge from subjudacy, I will be able to talk about them on the blog.

The most public matter was fighting the proposal to put a wind farm adjacent to the castle. Even after 5 years, the matter has stressfully not been settled one way or the other. This year Angus Council said "yes" to the development; the councillors overturned this decision and said "no"; and most recently the developers have submitted an appeal to the Scottish Government. My neighbours and I have rallied several times throughout the year, when our efforts were required. The Dundee Courier called my speech at the councillor's meeting an "impassioned plea": even this was an understatement. Such is the importance of the matter, that I almost burst into tears at this public meeting.

On the positive side, I was delighted to host a visit of my Canadian relatives to Scotland in the summer. This side of the pond, my family has largely died off, so you have no idea how important this visit was. They last visited Scotland when I was 11, er, quite some time ago, but I remember it so well. This time there was a new generation in tow, and the joys of laughing and joking in a family unit again cannot be underestimated.

It was a good opportunity to visit Balmoral Castle for the first time. Even though this is close to Balintore Castle, I have held off as the public only get to see one room inside the palace, and I would have felt short-changed on my own. As it turned out, we visited on a wonderfully sunny day, and the castle and grounds looked amazing. My Canadian relatives are market gardeners, and were entranced by the Queen's vast and immaculately tended flower and vegetable gardens. As a non-gardener, even I was impressed!  Despite looking large in films and TV, the Balmoral ballroom is tiny, and is barely much larger than the great hall at Balintore Castle which is just a shooting lodge rather than a palace. Did I gloat ? I should say so. :-)

What you can only experience by visiting Balmoral, is the way the stress of the outside world drops away as you walk through the entrance gates and up the long drive. It is unexpectedly magical. For the first time, I got a real sense of why the Royal family love Balmoral. And of course, Queen Victoria purposefully would have not wanted a large ballroom, as she escaped from and eschewed the formality of the court.

Other good news over the last year was landing contract work with a company, Schlumberger, that I had worked for before. It is strange rejoining a workplace after an absence of 5 years. There is an argument that one should never go back. I do not subscribe to this, as I was happy working there 5 years ago and if anything even happier working there today. Fortunately, I have a good memory and names came back to me, though often at the very, very last moment.  :-)

I will get back to full hands-on restoration in the spring, but for now funding has to be earned by a day job. Fortunately, my hardy builder keeps things ticking over at the castle in all weathers and seasons.

For my Christmas picture this year, I thought I'd finally stitch together a winter panorama taken in the grand saloon of the castle, during my original photographic survey of the building. While you may be wishing for a White Christmas; there should thankfully be no more White Christmases indoors for Balintore castle, as below.

Happy Christmas!


A White Christmas Past -  Indoors at Balintore Castle !

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Wrap Around Kitchen

One of conditions of buying Balintore Castle was that I had to present a photographic survey of the building at time of purchase to Angus Council. On the principle that it should be possible to do any task oneself to reduce cost, I set off on my £32 Tesco bike to the castle, armed with my Dad's old tripod and a cheap hi-def second-hand camera off eBay. 

I took around 2000 shots altogether and blew a DVD ROM with a website of archive images. Hopefully this satisfies the requirements for an historic archive. The Council requested a new copy of the DVD recently, so it was an interesting opportunity to revisit. Hence this blog entry!

The castle at that stage was extremely dark inside, being all boarded up, so all shots had to be taken with  long exposure on a tripod. The in-built flash would only reach a certain distance, so I wiggled my cycle lights in the dark recesses during the long exposures. Believe it or not, this technique worked.

Balintore Castle Kitchen Panorama 2007

For every tripod set-up, I rotated around and took a panorama of images.At some stage in the future these could be stitched together. I only stitched a few panoramas together at the time - including this one of the castle kitchen which I hope you enjoy! Ironically, nowadays the iPhone5 can do real-time panorama in-situ.

The panorama here is actually extremely misleading - it was almost totally dark in the the naked eye and there was a blizzard blowing outside! The cycle trip between my B&B and the castle for the four days the survey took was always during a blizzard. At one stage I stopped cycling as an experiment, and the wind started blowing my bike and me backwards UP a hill. 

Throughout the shoot, my hands were in continual pain due to the extreme cold. My technique was to stick them under my armpits for 30 minutes or so until some semblance of circulation restarted, On the last evening at the B&B,  my fingers swelled up alarmingly and turned bight red. I suspect it was first stage frost bite!

In case anyone wonders why I cycled rather than drove, as would have been sensible in the wintry weather, it was because I had flown up to Dundee for a job interview, courtesy of the company! After the interview, I bought the bike, and cycled to the B&B. This only took 6 hours - and it was the first and last time I cycled from Dundee to Balintore. It looked feasible on the map, but I hadn't factored in the ultra-challenging and lung-busting topology.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Octopus in Armour and Other Halloween Ponderings

At Halloween one's mind is drawn to ghouls and those spirits who are no longer with us. How can this possibly be relevant to Balintore Castle? Well, read on ...

On a recent trip to Westminster Abbey, I unexpectedly bumped into one of my favourite neighbours from Balintore Castle.  I had no idea he had taken up permanent residence in London, so the encounter was one of great delight. And indeed the last place I expected to find Charles Lyell, whose family still owns the land surrounding the castle, was buried under a slab in the main aisle.
Charles Lyell's Tomb

Even before moving to the Angus Glens, I was aware that Lyell was a geologist of great repute, whose seminal work "The Principles of Geology" was responsible for widely establishing the principle of uniformitarianism, which states that the processes that had formed the landscape in the past are still at work today. I also knew that Lyell was an intimate of his namesake Charles Darwin, but even then to have made it to "scientists' corner" in Westminster Abbey is no mean achievement. I understand Lyell's observatory at his family seat of Kinnordy House a few miles from Balintore Castle, is still in existence and is being, or is to be, restored.

octopus in armour?

halibut in space suit?

An eagle-eyed friend who accompanied me on the trip to Westminster Abbey, spotted this extraordinary ghoulish carving on an ancient tomb (above left). What is it? We weren't sure if the head had worn away, but no, it is some kind of putative "octopus in armour". There is but a small leap to Admiral Ackbar (above right) of Star Wars ( a halibut in a space suit?). It just shows you that any CGI monsters we can create nowadays are more than matched by the artists of history. I am thinking particularly of the mediaeval depictions of hell and the outandish creations of Hieronymus Bosch that defy modern understanding. So what does the"octopus in armour" signify? Did it mean the resident of the tomb had died in a battle at sea? Neither my Latin was up to the challenge, nor my friend of other ethnic origin.

red heraldic lion

white heraldic lion

Another creature much in evidence at Westminster Abbey is the heraldic beast, which is one of my very favourite subjects ever. A successful treatment of a heraldic beast is one of the very toughest tests, that will only be passed by the best artists. It is not about the  naturalism in the fantasy, but whether there an animus in the creature, and an observing mind behind the depiction. The heraldic beast may be regal and may be magnificent, but with an additional cadenza of humour or pathos, you know you are seeing the very best of class. Mary Queen of Scots'  tomb features this mercurially disturbing red lion, while the woebegone beast in white marble is a masterful study in misery.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Ring of Bright Terror

I got woken up suddenly in the middle of the night. There was something under my bed ... breathing ... and breathing loudly at that. Eeeek! I could tell it was large when it moved around. I would have put it at the size of a small child or thereabouts.

I was petrified. What could it possibly be? Anything this large had to be a mammal. The next thing I heard was foxes barking outside my bedroom window. Aha! It was a fox under my bed, which could ... which could easily savage my throat. Eeeek! I made certain the duvet was pulled well-up over my head in strategically ludicrous defence. I was too frightened to investigate in case, whatever it was, attacked. I stayed as still as I possibly could, rigid with terror, in the hope it would go away. Eventually, I dropped off to sleep again.

The next time I spoke to the gamekeeper, who lives next-door, I described my experience and asked if the creature under my bed had been a fox. He told me a fox would not approach a human, and that it would be an otter taking refuge from the foxes outside. How shall I put it? The castle is not hermetically sealed from the fauna of the neighbourhood by any stretch of the imagination, so anything and everything has come a-visiting at some stage. More animal tales will follow ...

I had read "Ring of Bight Water" as a child and knew that otters were not to be trifled with, as these creatures took off the fingers of the author (Gavin Maxwell) and his young assistant (Terry Nutkins). Indeed I had thought the author's choice of pet to be highly unsound. The duvet over the head was definitely a good move. :-)

the other otter encounter

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Beelzebub the Sheep

The first time I saw Beelzebub, he scared the bejasus out of me. As I was driving home to the castle one night in the utter dark of the countryside, Beelzebub's diabolic visage suddenly appeared out of nowhere just feet in front of my car's windscreen.

His eyes were glowing red, his powerful horns curved round, in the very physiognomy of "Auld Nick" himself! It took me a few moments to rationalise the experience, and that this was actually "just" a sheep by the very edge of the road.

The problem was that Beelzebub, was not your normal "sheep in a field" type of sheep, with eyes that glow green in car headlights. No, he loved standing by the side of the road and given passing motorists, particularly at night, the collywobbles. And for whatever reason, his eyes glowed red in car headlights!

It wasn't just me - he would spook visitors to the castle as well who arrived by night.  My thoughts were that if the devil really did manifest himself in animal form, then that animal would be indistinguishable from Beelzebub.

Beelzebub The Sheep

Midnight The Bunny

Driving back home to the castle at night after work, I would often spot a "midnight black" rabbit at the same spot: on the right hand side of the single-track road, just on the approach to Balintore House - reputed to be the earlier mediaeval incarnation of Balintore Castle.

Anyhow, as I was often passing this spot at midnight, the rabbit was clearly "Midnight the Bunny", and a sighting of "Midnight at midnight" would greatly gladden my heart. 

I am an animal lover, not in the sense of putting polka-dot dresses on chihuahuas, but in the sense of taking great joy from my fellow creatures with whom I share this planet.

I was explaining to an acquaintance that this must be a  biological "sport", given that the colouration differs from the normal "wild" one. I was told that this was rubbish, and that the rabbit must be the descendant of a Dutch Rabbit that had lived at Balintore House in the past !!

The web and an animal expert neighbour have told me this mutation is indeed quite common, and one can find parts of the country where black is more prevalent that others colours.

A wild black bunny!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Jeepers Creepers: A Tale of Two Castles

Each Autumn the Scottish Military Vehicle Group takes its Jeeps on a "Quarter Ton Fun Run". I am led to understand that stops are required to ease leg cramps and aching buttocks, as these vehicles were built to take on and defeat the Third Reich not to give comfort and a good driving experience!

This year's stops were at Glamis and Balintore Castles. I think the mutually-flattering spectacle of vehicles and architecture is magnificent. If anything, methinks Ms. Balintore wears her khakis somewhat better than Glamis. :-)

Jeeps at Balintore Castle

Jeeps at Glamis Castle

Monday, 24 September 2012

Permanent Quality Temporary Roof

There was a single storey walkway on the north side of the main body of the castle with a lead covered roof. Duh! Naturally this was the amongst the first lead to be stripped when the building was abandoned. The walkway did not stand a chance. The paperwork to get this fixed up has been a nightmare of delay-after-delay, all the while water has been dripping through here into the basement below. This is the only place water is still getting into the building en masse albeit by percolation. It has been a source of considerable distress: this part of the basement is permanently wet.

My builder and I finally snapped and we decided to build a temporary roof here. I hate wasting time and resources on something that is not the final solution - but enough was enough. The temporary roof will protect the building and it is cleverly a couple of feet above the original roof. so we can eventually construct the proper replacement underneath in the dry.

The photos show the step-by-step construction of the roof. My builder has achieved an amazing quality of build, and has chased it exceptionally neatly into the contours of the building. He assures me it will last for decades, which made me laugh. And certainly, it buys genuine time for the building. :-)

roof beams in position; sheeting before affixing

roof from the inside
roof now felted
windows blocked, roof in place
roof drains into this light well below - fortunately we excavated working drains!

Don't Look Down !

'Tis the season for roof repairs! We suspected a residual leak high up on the east elevation was coming from a box gutter above the (collapsed) oriel window. This rather vertiginous image looking down the sharp pitch of the castle's roof, shows the location of the gutter in question behind a section of the lead covered stone parapet which extends all the way round the castle.

box gutter in poor condition - don't look down!

The gutter was indeed shot - here exposed is the "wall head" a wooden beam on top of the wall to which the rafters attach. You can see that due to the leaky gutter, it has been wet for a few decades too many and is now an inappropriate shape.

rotten wall head in situ

The wall head has been removed here - fortunately the roof of the castle is over-engineered to the max and obligingly stays in position.

wall head removed

 New wall head in place:

new wall head in place

Box gutter is fixed on the outside - yes you can look down now!

repaired box gutter

It is likely that the box gutter will have to fixed-up like this all the way round the castle and this is ongoing work. Fortunately, this (fingers crossed) is the only one which is actively leaking and so had to be sorted ASAP.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Moi, Unsightly? 2

Many thanks for the feedback on my letter in the previous blog entry. Taking all
views into account, including those of sensitive and intelligent souls I particularly
respect, I have decided to change the text of the letter that I actually do send.

While I enjoyed writing the previous letter, and was delighted when other people
said they enjoyed reading it, perhaps enjoyment is not always the morally correct
criterion in communication.

I often refer to Ernest Hemingway's words on the art of writing. I paraphrase "One should
kill one's children." Hemingway's children are those sentences or turns of phrase of which
one is proud. Is anyone able to supply the proper quote?

Anyhow, I have appended the rephrased letter. If I manage to make it past the age of 70
I will permit myself the indulgence of sending the earlier letter, but claim senility. :-)

Dear Mr. and Mrs.  <XXX>,

I notice that amongst the publicly distributed and collated submissions sent to Angus Council both for and against the development of the Carrach Windfarm, that you describe my house "Balintore Castle" as unsightly:

The (windfarm) project is well sited away from high hills and walking trails and is far more likely to attract visitors than the unsightly Ballintore (sp) Castle as recently featured on the STV news.

Please accept this letter as an invitation to visit Balintore Castle. I shall be happy to provide a personal guided tour of the building with refreshments. It gives me great pleasure to show people round a building that I am restoring. that I love and that I find beautiful.

Kind regards,

Dr. David Johnston

Monday, 3 September 2012

Moi, Unsightly?

This blog entry is part of a far larger story that has yet to emerge. However, the basic rationale goes as follows: when one is the victim of criticism that one feels is unwarranted then it is correct to use some appropriate channel of communication to put forward the case in one's defence. I am appending the text of a letter that I have written and will be sending, that illustrates this principle in microcosm.

Dear Mr. and Mrs.  <XXX>,

I notice that amongst the publicly distributed and collated submissions sent to Angus Council both for and against the development of the Carrach Windfarm, that you describe my house "Balintore Castle" as unsightly:

The (windfarm) project is well sited away from high hills and walking trails and is far more likely to attract visitors than the unsightly Ballintore (sp) Castle as recently featured on the STV news.

Please accept this letter as an invitation to visit Balintore Castle. I shall be happy to provide a personal guided tour of the building with refreshments. And if it proves impossible to extend your aesthetic boundaries to encompass this masterpiece of the Scottish Baronial style, then I daresay that I shall rest assured that your continued condemnation is firmly based upon the evidence of a visit.

Kind regards,

Dr. David Johnston

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Last Downpipe !

The roof of Balintore Castle is a complex landscape of apexes, valleys, eaves, towers, finials, viewing platforms and turrets. While this gives delight to the eye, stemming leaks is an on-going endeavour. The recent torrential summer rains have been a good opportunity to run about the interior, and spotting the remaining places where rain comes in. Despite the major and highly effective fix to a box gutter described in the last blog entry, a new leak has been spotted in another location on the east elevation. Fingers crossed there will be some time to sort this out before winter makes this impossible.

Other roof work is more deterministic, such as the replacement over the last few days of the last missing downpipe. Below is the "before" photograph showing the ferns growing in the damp gully created by the absence of a downpipe. Before, I bought the castle there were ferns growing like this all over the building.

gully before clearing

Below is the "after" photograph, showing the cleared gully - just before the new downpipe and hopper head were put in place. The scaffolding was erected to provide high-level access.

gully after clearing

Friday, 17 August 2012

November 1963

The picture below shows the external scaffolding currently in place on the east elevation, that has been erected to fix a leak in the lead box gutter built into the parapet wall. The small but continual leak has, over decades of neglect, destroyed the wooden floors all along the east elevation, so we also had to build a scaffolding tower on the inside to the same height to give internal roof access. Doing anything at Balintore Castle is hard! Using a combination of internal and external access: rotten timbers were replaced; the box gutter was "jacked up" by the 4 inches it had dropped, the roof was stripped, felted and re-slated. Now the box gutter is so firmly supported you can walk in this.  If you had tried to do so last week, you would have fallen through and dropped four floors accompanied by a shower of rotten wood.

Scaffolding on East Elevation

The internal scaffolding allowed unprecedented access to one of the attic bedrooms, and we found the following "graffiti" on the walls. It had clearly been under some wallpapering done in November 1963. I'm surprised decoration had been done this recently, but suspect it was virtually the last such. 

The text, which has been contrast enhanced for legibility, reads as follows:

FOR B&G K. Nov 5TH 1963

FOR B&G K. NOV 1963

I know Petrie is a local name - does anyone know the paperer or paste boy?  Who are B&G K? :-)

Historic Graffiti Discovered on Attic Bedroom Wall

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Intactus Orielus

Many thanks to the friends who emailed this scanned image to me today. This is the first time I have seen a detailed picture of the dining room's oriel window. Given that this collapsed around 14 years ago, this photograph is as invaluable resource for reconstruction.

I've just shown my builder. His response was "That's horrible, looks like it has just been stuck on as an afterthought!". Interestingly, this is also how my architect (and an expert on the castle's architect William Burn) feels.

The previous image I had seen, a postcard from the 1920's with a distant view of this east elevation, did not make the oriel look quite as bad. Because the oriel is picked out by sunlight here, it looks even more detached from the main structure. The story of why the oriel window collapsed, a much speculated-upon conundrum, deserves a blog entry to itself.

In a similar vein, if anyone reading this has any interior images of Balintore Castle, please, please get in touch! I am trying to stay very faithful to the original look of the building.

Oriel Window at Balintore Pre-collapse.

Gosh, this Internet thing is kool! An hour after posting this blog entry, a friend alerted me to this further image on the Web of the oriel window:

Another Oriel Image Pre-collapse.
I would have to pay for a non-watermarked, high-resolution copy, but the information is out there.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Number One Owner

Balintore Castle was built in 1860 for a David Lyon (1794-1872). His name is still to be found on the building as the initials "D. L." appear on the guttering hopper heads. Why did be build the castle, and why, as rumoured, did he sell it after just a year? 

Every so often I check-up what information there is on the Internet and it is remarkable what has turned up. There is portrait of 1825, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, which is now to be found in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

The family had made a considerable fortune from interests in the West Indies, but David Lyon was the only one of the five brothers who joined the family business.  He had a brief parliamentary career (1831-1832); married late (1848); and became High Sheriff of Sussex (1851). There is a clear connection to the Queen Mum's family (Bowes-Lyon) and I guess it is no accident that Glamis Castle is only a few miles away from Balintore Castle.

Not only did Lyon own Balintore Castle, he also owned Goring Hall and kept a town house at 31 South Street, Grosvenor Square. My only challenges now, are how to channel such over-achievement and how to cut such a considerable dash as "number one owner" does in the portrait below. In short, how do I fop? :-)

David Lyon painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Friday, 10 August 2012

Message from Beyond the Grave


This is a story from 2009. I put it on Facebook at the time, but decided it also

deserves to be on this blog,  to remain as a more permanent account
for reasons that will become apparent.

Message from Beyond The Grave Returns to Scottish Castle 149 Years To The Day

A small wooden tablet was found a few days ago in a plastic bag at the back of a
shed that was being cleared out. On it, is a message from three of the workmen
who constructed Balintore Castle (1860), by Kirriemuir:

         --- o O o ---

Balintore Nov 28th. 1860.


               Whoever (may have
luck to) finds this tame Epistle
will at once be led to think of
the operatives Who Erected
this Building.  Ere this falls
into your hand the grass may

         --- o O o ---

Be Growing over the most of
our Graves, unles the destructive
eliment fire, consume it, to
the World it will Never then
Be Known. Our Names
are as follows,

Alexander Willis     Joiner
James Young          Joiner.
Ale'ner Brodie       Apprentice Joiner

         --- o O o ---

Its a cold morning with snow on the ground.

         --- o O o ---

A good friend of Balintore Castle, who has been voluntarily assisting
in its restoration, brought the plaque back to the castle on the
day following its rediscovery: Saturday 28th November 2009, 149 years
to the day.

The discoverer of the message from beyond the grave was the neighbour
of the friend of Balintore, and knowing his involvement brought the
artifact round proudly that very evening.

The tablet had been known about, but was considered lost. It was originally
found many years ago in the sawdust between a lead water tank and its
surrounding wooden box, at the top of a spiral staircase.

Ironic therefore, that it has only now been rediscovered, and has come
back into the hands of the restoring owner, who wants to save the building
and thereby the craftsmanship of those very men who are now long dead.

The scans of the tablet are below. You will have to click on them to read 
the text. The pencil writing is faint so a high resolution image helps a great deal.


I thought this story was sufficiently remarkable that I sent it to the Dundee
Courier. The descents of the workmen, are likely to still be around, so I
thought it was important that local people were made aware of the discovery.

The chap from the press asked if it was OK if he talked to me on the phone.
I consented, provided the story was not about me, and only about the tablet.
The journalist agreed.

When the story appeared it was the clich├ęd "eccentric individual restores
ruined castle" and there was absolutely nothing about the tablet. It was
journalism of the cheapest and laziest form, as much of the content has been
stolen from an article which had appeared in another paper several years earlier,
and many of the facts used were no longer true.

Indeed, as I spoke on the phone, I realised sound-bites of tabloid quality were
departing my lips. I recall explaining that it was SO cold that multiple duvets
had to be used at night to prevent death. However, the fourth duvet made no
difference. For a long time if you googled "David 'Three Duvets' Johnston" this
article would appear. Thankfully no longer. Looked at objectively, provided
the mendaciousness of the journalist was ignored, the article was harmless
enough and did report on some of the progress at the castle which was good to get
out there.

Thanksfully blogs allow us to be our own journalists and editors, and I can communicate
exactly what I want here!  :-)

Reading my original account, I did not convey my emotions when holding the
tablet in my hand, simultaneously reading the prose from beyond the grave
that described my very act of holding. It was both spooky and moving. 
My hand was trembling and there were tears welling in my eyes.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A Narrow Escape

A chilling tale of what could have happened at Balintore Castle, had not the vote at Tuesday's meeting gone our way ......

Anyone who knows me well, knows that Balintore Castle Mark One was actually Inchdrewer Castle (15C) in Aberdeenshire. The owner had agreed to sell it to me, but when I went to pay the money, he said he had changed his mind. I was devastated as I had spent the months leading up to the purchase, researching and costing the project carefully.

The restoration project would have been of a more sensible scale. The exterior of the building had been restored in the 70's but the internal restoration had stopped after concrete floors had been put in. It has always been a mystery to me why this restoration was not completed as most of the work had been done. Sadly the building is now slipping into genuine decay , but when I visited around 12 years ago the roof was still holding on.

The decision to "go for a building" creates an emotional bond, and though one may lose out in the bidding or lose the building due to other circumstances, that bond continues. And I have followed the fortunes of these "also-rans" ever since.

A friend is currently holidaying in Aberdeenshire, and I suggested he may like to check up on the building for me. Nothing could have prepared me for the photos he sent to me today. I thought it was some kind of bad photo-shop joke, but no, the same type of insensitive wind farm development that threatened Balintore Castle until this very Tuesday, has ironically befallen Inchdrewer Castle. The web suggests this happened around 2008, and while Historic Scotland expressed its dismay, the development went ahead anyway.

The images show philistinism is alive and well, and that as individuals we have to be vigilant and fight against commercial interests that seem intent to wreck our heritage and landscape. Government and Councils are not enough to protect these.

Three Wind Turbines at Inchdrewer Castle

Wind Turbine at Inchdrewer Castle

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Victory is Ours !

Angus Council recently recommended proceeding with Carrach Wind Farm :-( . Our four year struggle to save the natural beauty of this area and the historic setting of the castle had been lost. :-( However, at the meeting of counsellors today in Forfar, a last minute miracle occurred. The Council's recommendation was rejected by 8 votes to 3. The atmosphere was electric, and when the decision came through I burst into tears. Many thanks to everyone who wrote or spoke in defence of the glen. There were fantastic speakers on our side who were amazing and saved the day. My own speech was rather without their merit, but I almost burst into tears halfway through, so at least my strength of feeling was visible.

I will blog more when the dust has settled, but I wanted to let people know ASAP.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

3D Carrach Windfarm Model

Today, I created a 3D Google Earth model of the proposed Carrach Wind Farm. Angus Council has just recommended that this development goes ahead immediately adjacent to Balintore Castle. I find it almost inconceivable that planners want to do this to a Grade A listed building that is currently being saved as for the nation.

You can find the model here:!topic/gec-models-annotations/Y2YczuthQ44 

You will have to install Google Earth on your PC to view it: this software will allow you to "fly" between selected viewpoints.

You can download the software here:

One such selected view is given below.  Tragically, Balintore Castle would have a grandstand view of all 9 turbines dominating the skyline.

Carrach Wind-Farm turbines as they would appear on Balintore Castle skyline

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Dumb and Dumber

I've just had a couple of hands-on days at the castle as my summer holiday - hurrah! There's nothing like the satisfaction of actual hands-on work, however minor, when one is fighting with restoration bureaucracy and trying to earn the money to pay for it.

Some friends and I finally dug out the bottom of the dumb waiter shaft, which was five feet deep with hard-to -excavate rubble, due to the mechanism in there. The picture shows the large crank wheel devoid of rubble. One day I will be winding my cups of cocoa up to my bedroom level. :-)

Some  member of the public has claimed that no work is going on at the castle and reported me to the Scottish Civic Trust on the 25th June! This is patently untrue as work has been continuous at the castle since I acquired it in 2007. I am a loss to know how this member of the public knows what is going on inside the castle or on the roof. I can only conclude that this is a vindictive act - but I have found that the castle brings the best out of some people and the worst in others. I have written to the Scottish Civic Trust to ask them to correct their website.

I received a letter today from the company that make "The Restoration Man" on Channel 4. They want to feature Balintore which is gratifying - as "The Restoration Man" has had some absolutely superb episodes on fascinating projects. I shall reply that my timescales are probably longer than theirs.

dumb waiter crank - now clear of rubble!

my shaft is in excellent condition

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Hell Hall !

Now that Balintore Castle has been rendered wind- and water-proof, the long outstanding task of reconditioning the remaining windows has begun. After a good clean, loose woodwork has to be screwed, followed by re-glazing, puttying and painting. You don't want to know the cost of a new bespoke sash window, so re-use is good conservation and good economics.

entrance tower with reconditioned windows

The entrance tower, with its reconditioned windows, looks so different. While contemplating the tranformative effect on a building of mending broken windows, my mind went back to a favourite book of childhood: Dodie Smith's "The One Hundred and One Dalmatians" with its superlative black and white illustrations by twins Janet and Anne Graham Johnstone.

Hell Hall : before makeover

Pictured is "Hell Hall": the black-painted and distinctly unhealthy erstwhile Georgian residence of Cruella de Vil. This image haunted me as a child. The text refers to the broken windows acting as intimidating staring eyes. What distinguishes Georgian architecture is its extreme symmetry. The unbalanced bays of Hell Hall tell us that all is not well.

Hell Hall : after makeover

Also pictured is a white-painted Hell Hall redemptively re-glazed by Mr. and Mrs. Dearly and turned into their canine-friendly family home at the end of the story. Interestingly, I suspect the naming of the Dearlys is a conscious nod to the Darlings - the parents in Peter Pan. For me "Hell Hall" has been over-restored: the "before" is the more sinfully appealing! :-) Thankfully, you cannot totally whitewash an "evil lair" and Hell Hall retains its asymmetry.

However, the play on black and white: Cruella's hair is half white and half black;  the dalmatians have black spots on a white ground; Hell Hall is transformed by the paint colour change from black to white and indeed the two-tone theme of the illustrations themselves, is satisfyingly thematically.

So while Balintore is being re-glazed, fans of Cruella de Vil can rest easy that I won't be painting it white. And don't let me get started on that other Dodie Smith book, richly imbued with a sense of place, "I Capture The Castle".

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Let There be Light

Let There Be Light

Further work on the attic room today, namely wiring and plaster-boarding. I have some brave friends who will be attempting to sleep in the room on Saturday night, so the rush has been on this week to get things as habitable as possible beforehand. With just one work day to go, I shall be delighted if the plaster-boarding gets finished - though the schedule is pretty tight. In any case, the plastering proper will have to be for another time. Overall, working to such a deadline has been fun - the less one does the more one's friends have to slum it. It's win-win for me! :-)

My builder started to become very fussy indeed when electrical fittings appeared on the scene today. :-) I don't think he wants anything in bad taste to spoil his excellent work. The torchier wall lights with flambeau shades (pictured) were declared to be horrendous, and I must admit I bought them in a weak moment, when I called in at a warehouse full of lighting reclaimed during pub refits. However, I stand by my view that they give the attic room, largely devoid of character, a little lift and of course they have a suitable castley feel!. When we wired them up and switched them on (lower picture), he acquiesced that they looked better "on", and he had no end of fun at my expense: "Will the Mr. Whippy tune start, when you switch on the lights?". You get the picture. :-)

We changed the light switch 6 times, as the builder become concerned about possible non-coordination of  the brass fittings, and I wanted to make sure he was happy. :-)

The light switch in the first picture was plain white plastic (just to test the circuit) and after moving through both showy and plain antique switches, we settled on a repro brass one (£1.99) shown in the second picture - which looks fairly period but is understated and should fit in with modern brass sockets. The "Victorian" and especially the "Georgian" sockets you can buy on eBay, etc, most certainly aren't! :-)

today's plaster-boarding and wall light installation

the wall lights' grand "switch-on"

Elegant in Ermine

As I walked through the castle courtyard today, a stoat in its white winter pelt crossed my path and dashed into the wood pile for refuge. Whoa - this is the first time I had seen a stoat in ermine. :-) What a beautiful animal. I had been hearing a creature moving in the castle's loft during the night above my bedroom, and had assumed it was a mouse even though it had seemed a lot bigger and louder than usual. Mystery solved - it was the stoat. This would also explain why the mouse numbers have been down inside the castle of late - this is a good thing.

It was also in the mountains above Balintore, a couple of winters ago, that I first saw hares in their white winter coats. My friends pointed them out. Up to this point I had been thinking "Most unusual for sheep to be up here.". :-)

The Ugly Mystery

Today, I received a DVD through the post of the horror film "The Ugly". I did not order this and know of no-one who would send me this. I am somewhat concerned - ID theft or insult? :-( Did you send me this film, or know who did? The envelope was empty apart from the DVD - no documentation whatsoever. Even Sherlock Holmes would be stumped. :-) I will have to view for clues!

"The Ugly" mystery - do you know anything?