Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Old Map Revelations

I have been looking through historic maps of the local area as a possible starting point for a large scale plan of Balintore Castle's gate lodges. A plan of 500:1 or less is required for listed building consent for restoration works on the lodges. Anyhow, the Ordnance Survey 25-inches-to-a-mile maps on the National Library of Scotland's web site seem to provide enough detail for my needs.

In the survey of 1862 the castle is there but the gate lodges are not. This is the first evidence I have had of the gate lodges being later than the official completion date (1860) of the castle. In the survey of 1900 the gate lodges, as expected, are present. 

The most interesting revelation concerns the triangular kitchen structure attached to the side of the eastern gate house, clearly seen in the 1900 map. In the 1862 map there is a pre-existing building in this location. From the angles involved, there seems to be a strong possibility that the gate lodge kitchen is part of the old structure, whereas I had always assumed it was contemporaneous with the gate lodge itself.

1862 - no gate lodges but note pre-existing building on site of east lodge

1900 - gate lodges present with triangular structure attached to east lodge

Between 1862 and 1900 there are also considerable changes in the area of the castle. Most noteworthy is the doubling in width of what are now the castle's stables. And indeed, an inspection of this building several years ago revealed some internal windows that had clearly once been external. The structure was labelled "Offices" in the 1862 map and may well have been the site offices for the construction of the castle. The maps below corroborate this change.

1862 - castle

1900 - castle, note stables have doubled in width

It's amazing how much I have learned about the history of the site in simply trying to draw a plan. :-)

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

2016 has definitely been a year of “pushing” at Balintore Castle. I took a large part of this year off work to try to get the kitchen wing up-and-running as a holiday let. It will be no surprise to readers of the blog that the holiday let is not yet complete for experience shows us that timescales of a restoration are enough of a moving target that one never actually makes plans in the first place. All one can hope for is “good progress”, and this certainly has been made with kitchen wing. The custom windows and doors are now in - well barring one door which is running late! There has been much plastering, painting, wiring and plumbing. These and other finishing touches are what take the time, and one seems to be forever hovering at the 90% done stage.

The turning point will be the screeding of the kitchen wing floor, but the plumbing needs to be fully in place as this is a “one shot” operation. I hope the plumbing will be completed and the screeding done very early in the new year.

Overall, I really enjoyed working on the castle over the summer with Andy my roofer, Gregor my carpenter and of course assorted other workmen and volunteers. Andy decided to move on after an amazing run of 7 years. He has my gratitude and best wishes for the future. It was sad to see him go, and I hope he would still like to come back and do the odd bit of work on the roof when required.

My Dutch friends came over a couple of times during the summer. They worked hard and moved things forward, and it was great to see the castle humming with life and activity. I even had family members come and visit me at the castle and this made me really happy. My sister has wittily said that we don’t have a family tree but a family “twig” as many people have died off, and there have been few children for some generations. So all relatives even distant ones are hugely valued.

This summer has been brilliant in Angus with sunshine and warmth and this miraculously continued through autumn - a gift for the restoration. It was definitely chillier in November, but we had long spells of clear bright days that kept morale high.

It was only really in December that the cold weather struck. I recall going down to the kitchen about 8PM for some evening painting. However, the pain in my hands from the cold was so extreme that I had to give up, and my friends will tell you that I am someone who never gives up. This was a sign that perhaps I should really be earning restoration money in a warm office. We’ll see what the New Year brings.

I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas, and all the best for 2017. I must offer my huge thanks to everyone who has lent their support: by following the blog, helping directly at the castle or simply by being a friend!


P.S. I normally manage to grab a shot of the castle in snow for my Christmas missive. However, the lack of snow this year has thwarted this. Instead I thought this beautiful seasonally wreathed door in my village down south would suffice. With doors having been on the agenda this year at the castle, I have become obsessed with getting the door furniture correct for 1860, we are talking knobs, hinges, letter-boxes and escutcheons! Speaking of escutcheons I shall have to call round at No.9 and offer the occupant one of my spares. :-)

lovely seasonal door at No. 9 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Plumbageddon !

A castle contact mentioned he was clearing out some large sheds belonging to his family before selling the buildings on, and suggested I might be interested in the contents for a small fee. I popped over last Friday evening for a reccie, and my mind was blown by the sheer quantity and variety of plumbing fittings on offer. Given I had just spent a small fortune on a modest order of plumbing bits-and-bobs from ScrewFix, despite this being the cheapest place, I knew immediately that this was the buy of the century. :-) Most of the castle has yet to be plumbed-in, and these represent supplies for many years into the future.

The only downside was moving and storing the haul. My friend Andrew came to my rescue. At one stage the castle's entrance hall was full of plumbing paraphernalia: some items identifiable but others were totally unknown to me. Andrew correctly caught the spirit of the moment and dubbed this "Plumbageddon". Most items have now been put away, but I had to sacrifice one of my wine cellars to ignominiously house sewage fittings and cast iron guttering. 😃

Plumbageddon: looking through castle's front door

Plumbageddon: looking towards castle's front door

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Original Kitchen Colours

In most instances the original colour schemes for Balintore Castle are not hard to fathom. Most of the castle was decorated once in 1860, immediately after construction, and then left. This is the glory of lead paint: it stays on woodwork forever. The powdery high opacity 19th Century paints used on walls also have an impressive tendency to stay attached.

However, in the kitchen, the woodwork is painted a battle-ship grey colour, which looks rather industrial and is not to my taste - though I have come to love it. The curious thing is that when wetted this grey paint looks rather brown, in fact very similar to the colour the kitchen ceiling beams are painted. Wetting a pigment is a good way to find out what it might have looked like when freshly painted. 

Hmm, so was this grey paint actually brown before weathering, and how come the paint on the beams has not weathered in a similar way. It was a conundrum. When I paint the kitchen again do I use a grey or a brown?

However, one day Andy spotted that in a worn region of door lining there was brown paint under the grey. Aha, so the original colour was brown. 

Later I found woodwork where there was just a single coat of grey and no underlying brown. Hmm, so was the original scheme grey and brown, and then regularised to grey? This seems very unlikely. Perhaps the grey woodwork with a single coat was replacement wood? This again seems very unlikely. Curiouser and curiouser.

When I was washing down the timber framing over the serving hatch, a section of brown paint was revealed. This was where an electric cable was installed around 1900. This implies the grey make-over is 20th Century - perhaps when deep Victorian browns went out of fashion? Another possibility is that they thought they were matching the original paint colour, but did so when the new paint was in the tin and still wet.

Given this definitive dating evidence, the balance of probability is thus very highly in favour of original brown woodwork, which does indeed coordinate well with the original yellow/orange colour of the walls.

Before I repaint the serving hatch woodwork brown, I thought would photograph the "before" for the record under CFL lighting and under smart phone LED flash. Hopefully the absolute colour can be inferred, if required in the future, from the two different illuminations.

grey (+ some underlying brown) paint on the serving hatch woodwork under CFL illumination

grey (+ some underlying brown) paint on the serving hatch woodwork under white LED illumination

Monday, 21 November 2016

Frosty Gatehouse Reccie

I have written to Angus Council to ask for listed building consent to make structural repairs to Balintore Castle's gate lodges, which I have recently acquired. The wooden lintels above the windows and doors have rotted totally away, and inserting concrete lintels will ensure there is no further masonry collapse. The classic collapsing pattern of ruins is from the window and door openings upwards, and this simple fix will ensure the future of these structures. 

The Council asked me to provide a few details of the works, so I thought I may as well put the information on the blog, so they are easily accessible at any stage and from any location.

This morning was beautiful and frosty, but very cold. However, I was able to warm-up by being in the sun and walking briskly to the gate lodges to get the blood pumping.

leaving the castle: smoke rising from the wood burner in the kitchen wing
arriving at the gate houses

Technical Details for Angus Council

The names used for window and door openings are shown in the plan view (below) of the two ashlar-detailed octagonal gate lodges. Note the east gatehouse has two door openings, as there is additional domestic accommodation of random rubble construction through D3.

W1, W2 - lintels gone

W3 - lintels gone (small fragment of wood)

D1 - lintel gone

W4, W5 - lintels gone
D3 - lintel rotten, stones above detached

W6 - lintel gone

D3 - lintel present but rotten

west gate pier from north

west gate pier from south

east gate pier from south

east gate pier from north

Schedule of Works for Gate Lodges

(1) remove timber lintels

Note that masonry above lintels is generally sufficient to hold walls up as current lintels have rotted sufficiently that they are no longer providing supporting.

(2) insert re-enforced concrete lintels

This may involve the removal of some surrounding stone. Note that 3 or so lintels will be required to provide the width so these can be inserted in sequence providing intermediate support by using some slate packing.

(3) concrete in lintels and surrounding stones

Schedule of Works for Piers

My masonry consultant reported, after inspection, that no lifting apparatus would be necessary to dismantle the piers. All the stones can be handled by two men. Scaffolding will be erected beside the piers and the stone blocks moved sideways onto this. Reconstruction will consist of the same process in reverse.

The piers do not require total dismantling as in some places they are intact and square.

Appearance and Materials

There is no mortar between the close-fitting stone blocks of the piers (which may explain their spreading apart) but some adhesion from the rubble infill. There is pointing to help stop water ingress. Any loose rubble infill will be removed and replaced with equivalent mortar and stone/brick material. Repointing will use the same lime/concrete mix as the original.

The lintels will appear as grey concrete rectangular inclusions in the internal stonework i.e. these will not be visible from outside the structures. Internal wall cladding will eventually hide the lintels totally.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Indae Windaes

To install two humongous steel I-beams, which will be the starting point for the rebuilding of a top floor bedroom, some serious lifting power was required. Cue Gary and his Manitou telehandler.

To amortise costs, what else could one do with a telehandler? In fact, there was no shortage of other jobs at the castle needing muscle and Gary completed these extremely efficiently on Saturday morning. I had assumed the following tasks would take all day:

  • installing a Victorian bath through a window at the front of the castle
  • installing an Edwardian bath through a window at the back of the castle
  • lifting beams for the new floor through a window
  • moving several piles of castle rubble to "tip areas"
  • moving reclaimed wood supplies nearer to the storage room

bath entering front window (from north)
bath entering front window (from west)
bath entering from window (from south)

bath entering back window

And finally a video of the floor beams being moved from the front to the back of the castle, prior to lifting them through a window. It is a bit of a tight squeeze going round the castle. Hold your breath! This is the first outing of the HD video camera on my new mobile phone. For some reason YouTube insisted on taking the shakes out of my camera work - they certainly know how to crush a newbie. :-)

Temperature Inversion Wonders

Despite the dropping temperatures, morale at Balintore Castle has been running high due to the brilliant sunshine of the last few days. In this photograph, taken today, the sun is lighting up the tops of clouds nestling in the Vale of Strathmore to the south of the castle.

I have witnessed this phenomenon of temperature inversion in Glen Quharity itself a couple of times from the castle. Instead of looking down into the valley, one is looking across an ocean of white beginning at the edge of the castle terrace. This is even more special when lit by the sun, like a magic and glowing sea coming inland.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Cannibalising Nottingham

One of my absolute bug-bears is people stripping out bathrooms and kitchens in historic buildings, and refitting these with modern units, yet taking great pains to conserve/preserve/restore the other rooms. Why should the heritage of bathrooms and kitchens be of any lesser value? The end result of this cumulative process, which is particularly prevalent now, is that very few period bathrooms will remain. 

Anyhow, when it came to refitting the rather bare kitchen wing at Balintore Castle, where most items had been stripped out decades ago, the approach was going to be rather different. Modern units were of course out of the question. After discussions with my carpenters it became clear that instead of going 100% bespoke, it was going to be more economic to cannibalise antique or vintage units. The other benefits are getting better quality wood and an instant period feel. Some people may consider the end result a "fake", but to my mind it is about creating something of good quality that compliments the building and is "period credible". That is to say, a casual observer might think that the cannibalised units were original to the building.

Of course, Victorians did not have fitted worktops of the modern form, but I have decided to install 3: one in the kitchen; another in the utility room (once the dairy larder) and yet another in the scullery. But how to source the under-counter units? For months and months, I was looking at vintage shop units, antique drawer units, and even large Victorian dressers. These proved either too expensive or too small. The kitchen wall is 24' long and to put units along the full length requires a large amount of matching antique timber. Not an easy quest!

When I was in the depths of despair, I spotted 22 salvaged cabinet doors from the Nottingham Natural History Museum. These are pretty massive: 3' 10" (H) x 2' 4" (W). These are far too tall for kitchen cabinet doors as a standard work surface is just 3' high. However, could the top horizontal panel be cut off and used as a drawer front? Could the bottom two vertical panels be used as a kitchen cabinet door? I messaged the seller for the panels sizes, and while not ideal, these seemed just within the appropriate limits to cannibalise as described.

museum cabinet doors

So on my last drive from England to Scotland, I swung past Nottingham and loaded the back of my pick-up with the goodies from the museum.

door pick-up in Nottingham

In fact there were many more doors than I needed. :-) However, the surfeit provided an opportunity to tie together stylistically the various rooms in the kitchen wing. I had been considering some wall cabinets in the utility room, so why not just make them from the same batch of wood? 

The biggest "risk" was whether the doors could be sawn into two without splintering or damage, and indeed whether the aesthetics would be lost. Gregor, my carpenter, cut off two putative drawer fronts and we arranged them on the floor, in the planned set-up, against a putative kitchen cabinet door. The effect (below) looked not too bad, some trimming, in-filling and jiggery-pokery with the sizing would be required but it was basically a go-er.

experimenting with cutting up doors

The first unit built, finished today, is the wall cabinet. This uses a number of full length museum doors and so is a good test bed as considerably fewer variables are involved. To our amazement, despite the impressive carpentry, which I suspect is from 1926, we discovered the museum doors were slightly different sizes and not even square and true. In short, they had been cut-to-fit. Likewise, Gregor had to cut them to fit once again for their new home.

We improvised with modern solid brass cup handles. Hopefully, these are "period credible". The next task is to stain and varnish the new timber to match the old.

wall cupboards in castle's utility room - completed today!

To conclude this post are the future plans for the remaining cabinet doors.

Here is the design for the kitchen (with cabinet door for reference). The work surface will fit into the three window reveals, shown in plan view, at the top.

Here is the design for the scullery. Again the work surface will fit into the window reveal.

Finally, here is the design for the left-hand wall in the utility room. This room is essentially going to become a mini-kitchen. Squeezing everything in proved quite a challenge.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

New Finial for Balintore Castle: The Video

Many thanks to friends of Balintore, Andrew and his father George, for ingeniously constructing a new replacement finial for the square turret at Balintore Castle. The story I heard was that the original final was pulled off to salvage the lead around 50 years ago. This makes sense as it is the lowest turret, so the lead was definitely the low hanging fruit. I did not even ask Andrew to do this! My own best approach would have been a balloon and papier-mâché! The video tells the whole story:


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Blairquhan Castle

Many thanks to a friend of Balintore Castle called Peter for sending me these scans of a 1971 Scottish Field magazine article on Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland. Blairquhan was completed in 1824 to the design of William Burn, the architect who also designed Balintore. Stylistically the buildings are different: Blairquhan is Tudor-Gothic and Balintore is Baronical. Internally, however, Burn's layouts are often very similar in order to provide extremely practical living accommodation for his wealthy clients.

Peter rewired Blairquhan in 1968/1969, so has a close connection with the building. My own connection is rather shameful: I grew up just 17 miles from Blairquhan and yet I have never visited. The name "Blairquhan", of course, has been in my consciousness since childhood.

The article makes for interesting "period" reading with the implicit assumption that the Hunter-Blair family, who originally commisioned the building, would go on living there for ever. Now we know differently, Blairquhan was sold to a Chinese Company in 2012.

Click on the scans below to read the article. I felt that putting Peter's much treasured article on this blog would preserve it for posterity.

Scottish Field January 1971, Page 33 
Scottish Field January 1971, Page 34 
Scottish Field January 1971, Page 35

Scottish Field January 1971, Page 36

Scottish Field January 1971, Page 37

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Painting Windows in The Sun

Painting is one of the joys of life. It means that all the hard work of preparation has been done, and the easy but maximally transformative part is now at hand. Painting has its own rhythm: it cannot be rushed. The calm deliberation of the activity is intrinically meditative. I never understand why anyone would employ a painter. :-)

And what is better than painting bespoke artisan gothic sash-and-case windows for a Baronical castle in sunshine in the Scottish Highlands? Today was one of the rare days when landscape, task and weather come together to create memorable moments of great pleasure. Adherents of this blog will recall that castle restoration normally involves me rushing about in a state of hysteria in a howling gale. 

painting a window in today's sunshine
The window being under-coated in white in the picture is one of three matching windows that will give light onto the broad guest entrance stairs that lead into the great hall. Of course, being wooden and exposed to the elements for many decades the entrance stairs are no longer there, but the underlying brick slope still remains.

under-coated gothic sash-and-case window for guest entrance stairway
Once the windows are painted, the window openings can be-unboarded and the windows installed. Who knows, there be even be enough light to rebuild the staircase. :-)

Scaffolding The Kitchen

With the third turret restoration recently completed, a considerable amount of scaffolding has been freed-up. This is being put to immediate re-use inside the kitchen, so the walls and ceiling can be plastered and then painted.  The kitchen is such an enormous and tall room that scaffolding the entirety of the space is the only option when employing a plasterer. Plasterers like to do whole walls at a time and they can't wait for scaffolding to be moved about, and I wouldn't want to pay them for doing so either.
kitchen scaffolding: ground level view

When Andy and Gregor were insulating and plaster-boarding the walls and ceiling, they kept moving a small amount of scaffolding around - but they are jacks of all trades! :-) Clearly, it would have been more efficient to have set-up all the scaffolding at the start, but the turret was still being worked on at that time. As far as my memory serves, the restoration of the third turret started last summer - even just one turret at Balintore is a considerable restoration exercise.

Many thanks to Andrew (Andy fils) for moving and setting up the scaffolding in the kitchen. This is a heavy task and there is still some to do.

kitchen scaffolding: high level view

In fact I am having the ceiling of the kitchen "taped" rather than plastered. New build houses are no longer plastered. Instead, the joins between the sheets of plasterboard are taped-over with special tape. Then the screw holes and joins are hidden with filler. This is cheaper than plastering, and makes sense on the ceilings where the end result looks no different. Walls are another matter as these are subject to some wear - and of course plasterboards feels different to an old-fashioned plaster finish.

I will be doing the painting myself to save money, so I shall shortly be swinging Tarzan-like on these "adult" monkey bars. :-)

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Farewell to Rascal

There has been a bit of a delay in publishing this blog entry which I actually wrote 6 months ago. I was hoping to get hold of some better quality versions of some of the photographs. However, it felt timely to publish anyhow, and update the photos if necessary. Reading over what I wrote then, has made me cry again! This should give you some indication of how heartfelt the subject is.

It is with deep sadness that I have to let you know of the passing of Rascal, the delightful wee Jack Russell that has featured in this blog over the years. Before Christmas the vet suggested his time might be up, because at the age of 14 most things were giving up. However, on a diet of pure chicken (Rascal could no longer manage his solid dog food) and with great care and love from his family, he rallied a bit and there was still some quality of life. However, on the 2nd of February this year, after a last turn round his garden and a final meal of ham and roast beef, Rascal was put to sleep. 

Rascal in his element: Backwater Reservoir by Balintore Castle

Rascal at home: on a gold cushion in front of the fire
It is unbelievable how upset I am, and he is not even my dog. Rascal belongs to Carly, the daughter of my builder Andy. However, Rascal came to work every day with Andy at the castle, where he could experience the countryside and fresh air. In fact, Rascal became such a fitting, that I hope I am not too presumptuous in thinking of him as the "castle dog".

Rascal with Carly

Whenever I needed some fresh air myself or went on a walk with visitors, I would bring Rascal along. A dog enhances the pleasure of a walk many-fold, and I only wish I had had time to have done more of this. His energy levels were unbelievable, even after the longest walk when I was exhausted, Rascal would still be bounding along by my side. He was always as fit as a butcher's dog, and it is only really in the last couple of years that age caught up with him. His hearing went first, then other things including his sight, but he always managed to rouse himself for a walk almost to the end. It is sad and alarming how quickly dogs can age on a human timescale, and it shows that the castle restoration has taken half a dog's lifetime. 

Rascal with a young castle guest called Meghan
I first recall Rascal, when I guess he was 8 or so, sitting up on the scaffolding while Andy was slating the roof beside him. Rascal would occasionally look over the edge and give a little shiver, just like myself. :-) Rascal was a self-contained, independent dog. He was not a "rub my tummy" type. However, if you got his confidence and worked at it, you could still rub his tummy, He seemed to enjoy it, but there was always a bit of suspicion there.

He would guard Andy's car, parked in front of the castle, fiercely while he was sitting on the back seat.  It was all to easy to forget this because of the tinted windows, and if you passed too close, Rascal would throw himself against the glass snarling fiercely. It never failed to give one quite a turn! However, open the door and there would be much tail wagging instead.

On dog walks, he would do the normal thing of marking the territory. However, the "tank" tended to run out on the first 20% of the walk, and it would never cease to amuse me that the remaining 80% of the marking events were dry and ineffectual.

When Rascal disappeared from his garden last year, I was bereft. It turns out he must have got confused in his old age and instead of going back to his house along the country path in the dark, he had walked all the way to the main road and was standing in the middle of this. Thankfully, a passer-by retrieved him, and by the miracle of Facebook he was picked up from a police station very late that evening. The incident showed me how much Rascal had got under my skin.

Rascal had a wonderful life, thanks to Andy, Carly and family and I pass them my sympathy as well as gratitude, that they brought such a lovely dog into my own life. To say I loved Rascal to bits is a complete understatement. Andy knows how attached I was, and understood that I would want to see Rascal in his final resting place in his garden, with the many rosettes he won at the Scone Game Fare. When I went to say goodbye to Andy at the end of my last stay at Balintore, I had just said goodbye to Rascal for what pure instinct told me was the last time. I tried to then say some words of farewell to Andy, but nothing came out as I was so choked-up. 

Rascal in his final resting place at home
Thank you Rascal for being there as the "castle dog" for much of your life, and for bringing joy to us all.

Jack Russell figure marking where Rascal is buried