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