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.


  1. a turret toilet! a turlet?? :)

  2. This is the stuff dreams are made of! Glad you didn't fall all the way through and get stranded, but at least the view would have been grand!