Tuesday 17 January 2017


Last summer's restoration season at Balintore Castle was beset by a deluge of plumbing problems! Such was the trauma that I am only now recording the remarkable events for the historic record.

My Dutch friends had come to stay for a few weeks to help out with the restoration. Everything had been moved out of the kitchen wing which was the former "habitation base" as this was being worked on, so we had to fall back on the plumbing in the entrance tower for all domestic purposes. This plumbing had been put in 5 years earlier, but had never really been used in anger ...

With my friends staying, hot water usage was much higher than normal. Anyhow, one day as I flushed the lavatory in the entrance tower a blast of hot air hit me in the face. What on earth was going on? I felt the side of the bowl, it was hot - yup, the lavatory had been flushed with water from the hot water tank for the last 5 years. However, as I had never switched the immersion heater on, this had gone unnoticed. We swapped the pipes round ourselves.

A few days after my friends had arrived certain "odeurs" were wafting around. I checked the plumbing and the soil pipe was being openly vented at a number of locations into the entrance tower. Not good, but because this system had never been under a heavy load before, it had gone unnoticed. We managed to close off the open pipe ends ourselves.

However, within a day the drinking water started tasting vile - so much so that I has to bring clean drinking water up the tower from the single standpipe on the ground floor. Again I checked the plumbing: the cold water tank overflow fed into the soil pipe (!!!!) so now with no other place to go, foul air was entering the cold water tank. This was a step too far, and I insisted the original plumber come back and sort out this disaster area. Thankfully he did this, and working with Andy my roofer, they managed to feed the cold water overflow through a hole onto the roof where it should always have been.

It was mortifyingly embarrassing to have these sanitary problems manifest themselves while guests were visiting.

The other embarrassment was that there was no way to keep clean: no bath, no shower nothing. I had been surviving by begging baths from friends and neighbours, but largely by not washing at all. If you do not wash for sufficiently long, you will actually start not to smell too bad. This is because the natural bacteria come back into balance on your skin (this has been scientifically proven) and I have been through this barrier a number of times. It is noticeable how healthy and self-lubricating your skin becomes - no creams required! :-) However, this was done not out of choice but out of necessity.

Once after rodding a chimney from underneath with a chimney brush, my builder Andy did let me come back for a shower at his house. It was noticeable that the soap suds on my hair were jet-black (not grey but jet-black) from some kind of colloidal effect produced by the very fine soot particles. The next day, I was unexpectedly obliged to do even more chimney sweeping. Oh well, back to square one!

My Dutch friend Bart asked if I had used a "shower bag". I had no idea what he meant and in my mind's eye, a "shower bag" was a human sized bag in transparent plastic from a 70's sci-fi that one climbed inside with a commensurate amount of water, with writhing, suds and sloshing to follow. But no, a shower bag was merely a bag with holes in it that one filled with hot water. One hoists this bag up on a rope and stands underneath. Bart was in the Canadian military in Afghanistan, and setting up impromptu camp-showers was as natural to him as breathing. These showers, in the arid climate of Afghanistan, were beloved by the soldiers as they were a huge boost to moral.

After much sawing and hammering and the purchase of a "shower bag", Bart came up with the goods! 

Bart's impromptu military shower

luxury toiletry shelf

anti-slip map and finely formed duck-tape drain

Bart's shower - shower curtain lifted

One of the miraculous things about Bart's shower is that it refused to be photographed. It took a day for me to twig why the exposure of the photographs was all wrong. As it is made from black sheet plastic, I had to overexpose the photographs by three stops to make it visible. :-)
Bart's military shower in Balintore Castle is well over conventional  luxury size (1.2 m x 1.2 m) and it is remarkable how little water you need to have a good wash. One shower-bag-full will easily do two people. My problem is a paranoia of cold showers, so I always make the water a bit too hot but none-the-less these rather scalding showers is how to-this-day I keep clean at the castle.

The irony is that 5 years ago I was building a proper shower in the entrance tower, and it is all plumbed up ready to connect to the shower head. However, Angus Council come round for an inspection while this was being done and ordered all work on the shower and indeed all work in the entrance tower to be stopped but never explained why. So everything has remained frozen like the "Marie Celeste".  It is incredibly frustrating and at times I want to weep: there is a proper shower almost ready to work and I am forbidden to finish it off and use it i.e. the Council's actions are causing me to live in an insanitary manner. 

I always have to apologise for my lack of hygiene when I am in the proximity of people. Turning up on the doorsteps of friends for a bath is not a good look and I am very embarrassed by doing so. One of my neighbours cleverly invited me round for a meal - but then insisted I had a bath in her bathroom first - she understood that if she had offered me a bath on its own I would have refused out of embarrassment. :-) It feels absolutely wonderful to be properly clean.

On the last night that the Dutch family were staying, there was a tremendous rain storm and around midnight a waterfall of water started pouring down from the roof into the great hall. There was clearly some blockage in the internal down pipe which runs down the wall of the great hall. Water was backing-up and pouring down from the internal hopper at the top of this pipe. I asked Bart for assistance and we tried rodding what bits of the pipework we could access. No joy!

Bart was teetering on the top of a tall ladder, and then bravely hit the down pipe with a length of 2" x 2" wooden batten to try and dislodge the blockage. I was at ground level holding the bottom of the ladder. Unfortunately, the pipe disintegrated and all the backed-up water in the drain pipe which was black with mud, fell down and landed directly on top of Bart. The cold shower I experienced at the bottom of the ladder was bad enough, but Bart had taken the full force. He was totally saturated, black with mud, cold, and exhausted - it was now around 2 AM in the morning. Bart is one of the most upbeat people I know, but at that moment I saw a man who was near the edge and I had done this to him on the last day of his holiday! On top of this, he had an early start the next day to catch the ferry back to Holland. Anyhow, I apologised profusely knowing nothing I could say could improve the situation. Bart went off to use the shower he had just built. We gave up on the plumbing problem: the water was still streaming down into the great hall

Thankfully the next day Andy managed to reconstruct the pipe. A whole section, perhaps 6' long, had been blocked solid with mud off the roof.

So I can only apologise to Bart for supplying such insanitary plumbing during his stay and then attempting to finish him off with a torrential deluge of freezing cold, muddy water in the middle of the night!

How I am dreaming of a finished bathroom at Balintore!


  1. I Love your stories David....never stop telling it like it is...it can't help but be a good leveller for some of us..Well done to you and that Castle...

  2. I was in Namibia supervising the drilling of boreholes. My shower was a black plastic bag. No need to warm it up. Just leave it in the African sun all day. Lovely warm shower at the end of the day.

    1. That shower sounds delicious. Until heating gets installed at Balintore, disrobing for a shower is always going to something of a temperature challenge! :-)

  3. Forgot. In South Africa on the farms we used "donkeys" to heat up water. http://makeplan.info/warm-water-donkey/

  4. Maybe use 'hedgehogs' in you guttering ?