Monday, 25 April 2016

Simon Marsden on Balintore Castle

As English author and photographer Simon Marsden (1948-2012) is now himself the other side of the veil, I hope his spirit feels that it is a fitting tribute to his work that I have included his entry on Balintore Castle here. The entry come from his marvellous book “Phantoms of The Isles” which features haunted buildings and places from all over the British Isles. The book is no longer in print and I would like to feel that by digitising the information, and being careful to obtain a high quality scan, I have secured its future. I can definitely recommend the book. My own copy was a gift from a friend of Balintore called Duncan.

I have yet to tell the many ghost stories associated with Balintore Castle on my blog. Simon's own "ghost" story is the first to appear here. In fact, it is quite uncanny: aspects of Simon's tale tallies with other ghost stories I have heard and there would appear to be no way that Simon could have known about these prior to his visit.

I have appended the text from the book entry. This was digitised by opening the scanned image with"Google Docs". This did a reasonable conversion (JPG to TXT), though the output needed some manual tweaking.

I used the "Hugin" stitching software to combine three A4 scans into a single image. This accounts for the distortion, though the scanning quality itself is high.


Angus, Scotland

came upon this mysterious castle unexpectedly, after getting lost in one of the wilder areas of Scotland. It is dramatically situated high up on a remote grouse moor and I instinctively felt drawn towards it. The eccentricity of the architecture and the uniqueness of the setting gave its decaying towers an unearthly atmosphere of impending doom that made it perfect as an illustration for a book that I was preparing on the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe.

I drove slowly through the deserted lodge gates and up the long driveway. At close quarters the castle looked even more forbidding, as if something quite horrible had happened there once. Then, hidden behind the building, I saw a small modern house with a young child playing outside. As I parked my car his mother came out and I asked her if she would mind if I took some photographs. She said that she had no objection but advised me not to go inside as it was unsafe. I then asked her what she knew of the castle's history, but she said she was sorry she knew very little about it except that it had been used as a shooting lodge before being abandoned. I said that I thought it looked very haunted at which point she laughed nervously and seemed to be about to say something, before turning and walking away.

With a sense of both exhilaration and trepidation I walked around to the front of the house and began to take photographs. Unnervingly the hanging wooden shutters would occasionally slam shut in the wind. At one point, I climbed an old iron spiral staircase to look into one of the windows, half expecting to find some awful spectre staring back at me, but it seemed deserted. By now it was slowly beginning to get dark so, happy with the pictures that I had taken, I returned to my car.

As I went back down the driveway I was thinking about writing to the county library in the hope of learning more about the house when I noticed a small boy, about ten years old, standing near the gates on the opposite side of the road. I smiled at him but he didn't smile back. He appeared to be very sad, with a faraway expression on his face. He was dressed like a gypsy and as I turned the car to drive away I felt that something was wrong. I had driven some thirty yards down the road when I looked in my rear-view mirror: he had gone.

I returned but couldn't find him anywhere; he seemed to have vanished into thin air. At first I felt very confused. His clothes had seemed as if they were from another age – perhaps I had seen a ghost? I sat motionless in the car as the idea slowly sank in. Later I felt a strange relief, although still somewhat disturbed by the expression on the boy's face, and I thought how ironic it would be if I should have encountered a spirit there. rather than the terrifying apparitions that I had imagined haunted the castle.

Later that month I received a letter from the library. They too had very little information on the house except that it had been built by a David Lyon, MP, in 1865 and was described as an elegant castellated mansion, in somewhat bleak surroundings. It had then changed hands several times before the end of the nineteenth century. It seemed that nobody wished to stay there for long. Subsequently it was acquired by a Lady Lyell and even then it was only used in the shooting season, until it was finally abandoned in the 1960s. They did not know who the present owner was.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Lost Boating Pond

What most people do not realise is that Balintore Castle had its own boating pond. In fact despite owning the castle for a number of years, I have only recently myself made the discovery.

My friend Andrew was examining some old maps and a body of water near the castle was labelled as "boating pond". We explored the area on foot and everything pointed to this being a man-made feature, and one clearly associated with the castle. There was a boat house, and even an old dedicated driveway running down from the castle to the pond, still there but overgrown and now forming part of a field. I had just never noticed it before. Of course, things are often only obvious with hindsight, and indeed since the discovery other sources have corroborated that this body of water is genuinely the castle's original boating pond.

The pond is visible from the castle and I had thought nothing of this, but the reverse angle tells the full story. This fantastic panorama, taken by my friend Alistair, shows the castle intentionally framed by the pond's designed landscape. And just as the castle was designed to be seen from the pond; the pond was designed to be seen from the castle.

view of Balintore Castle from its lost boating pond

The pond is currently half its original size. There are some breaches in the stone-lined banks that are reducing its size. However, not much work would be required to bring it back: it could be once again a brilliant recreational facility for boating and fishing.

Whilst touring the pond, Andrew and I spotted some large concrete sluice gates sitting high and dry. They seemed to be rather too large and rather too late in period for the pond, but we didn't really think anything of it.

Several months later the last piece in the jig-saw puzzle emerged with a tale from Andrew's father. Before 1957, the whole bottom of the glen in this area had been been dammed to form the top-up reservoir for Lintrathen Loch that supplies Dundee with its drinking water. This explains the large sluice gates - the original boating pond had been submerged under the top-up reservoir, presumably for decades.

In 1957 there was a tremendous storm, the rain fell so heavily that the rush of water off the surrounding mountains totally washed out the top-up reservoir and presumably this natural disaster also perpetrated the current damage to the pond's infrastructure.

Instead of repairing the reservoir, a newer and much larger one was created at Backwater nearby. The project starting in 1964 and the reservoir was opened in 1969.

The moral of this story is how the layout of the landscapes around us can look permanent, but that they can have gone through vast changes even in relatively recent decades. If we look for the clues in old maps; listen to the stories of those who live in the area but above all stay alert to clues on the ground, then history will tantalisingly peel off her layers.