Thursday, 30 May 2019

The Stone of Hernia

Forget your Scone Palace and Stone of Destiny, when there is Balintore Castle and the Stone of Hernia.

One of the Balintore Castle gate lodge piers (i.e. stone gate posts) is missing a stone. Some of the pier stones have fallen off, but these can be clearly identified on the ground underneath. However, this one stone must have fallen off at some time in the past, but because there is nothing on the ground beneath the gap in the stonework, someone has clearly pinched it! :-( How I was ever going to replace this stone has been a long-standing worry at the back of my mind.

Recently, as Gregor and I were walking through the yard of a demolition and reclamation company in Dundee, called Gowrie Contracts, I spotted a pile of large pink blocks of stone that were the same colour as the gate lodges. I was apoplectic with excitement.

On our next visit, naturally soon afterwards, we came equipped with the dimensions of the missing block (7" x 14" x 24") and a tape measure. The missing stone is small, but puzzlingly all the large pink stones in the yard were not big enough. Suddenly, I spotted one block at the bottom and at the back of the pile and I rushed in with the tape measure. It has some carvings at one end which would have to be chopped off, but if this was done it would just make the largest dimension of 24 inches. Amazingly, in the whole pile of blocks, just one was suitable - the relief was palpable. I paid for the stone, but as it was right at the back, the agreement was that we would collect it another day, especially as it was raining.

Today, Gregor and I went to pick up the stone. You've guessed it - it was raining! By a combination of fork-lift and unexpectedly huge reserves of man-power we extracted the stone and got it into Gregor's van. It was only then that I twigged why only one block had been large enough. The missing stone is one of the smallest stones making up the gate lodges - but because everything at the castle is monumental it is easy to miss the fact that this stone is, in absolute terms, MASSIVE. And quite how MASSIVE the stone is, became patently obvious when we tried to move it without herniating a disc.

The replacement stone comes from the recent demolition of the old Brechin High School, and I have found an image of this online.

old Brechin High School

How such quality buildings can be demolished is beyond me. The carving of the stonework in the pile has been extremely well done.

Old Brechin High School is where Robert Watson Watt who invented RADAR was educated, and it amazing to think that a bit of the fabric of history that won WWII, is now being incorporated into Balintore Castle.

The final photo shows the Stone of Hernia back at the castle. You can see from the size of the chair beside it, quite how massive the stone is. The gate lodges were built a couple of years after the castle itself from a different sandstone. The castle sandstone was shipped in from Stirlingshire specially, and it is easy to appreciate why the gate lodges were probably made from a more local stone perhaps even from the same quarry which was used to build old Brechin High School.
the Hernia Stone back at the castle - chair for scale

The morale of this story, boys and girls, is that restoring a castle is as remote from a glamorous lifestyle as you can possibly imagine. Forsooth, it involves crawling over piles of stones in a demolition yard in the rain armed with a borrowed tape measure.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Castle Enters Broadband Era

When I got back to the castle around a month ago, the broadband was so slow that my computer thought the Internet was broken. Roughly 50% of web pages failed, depending on how bandwidth intensive they were. In consequence, I would have to try over and over again to get anything done. A single web transaction could take the whole morning.

For the first week, I was unable to access gmail at all. During the second week a single email would take 5 minutes to open. I would go away and do something else. 

Things have improved somewhat and I am currently running on 0.1 to 0.2 Mbits. However, everything is like wading through treacle. My productivity is right down, and even limiting myself to core web tasks results in me running behind i.e. it will take a whole day to do the things I would normally manage in an hour.

I have tried phoning BT/Orange/EE till I am blue in the face about bandwidth issues at the castle, but nothing has ever been done. When I got the phone line installed initially, broadband was running at 1.7 Mbits which was not ideal but perfectly workable. For all other services a drop in flow by a factor of 20 would be considered unacceptable and I pay the same price for the service as people in town who get 1000 times the flow that I do.

Anyhow, enough of this rant against "rural broadband" which actually should be called "rural  dial-up masquerading as broadband".

Around 5 years ago, I tried tethering my laptop to my mobile to see if I could use broadband over the phone network instead. There was one window in the castle where I could get a mobile signal. The experiment was a failure. I could get broadband but it was the same speed as the landline. In fact, it was essentially unusable as it also cut out every few minutes.

Anyhow, as I am at the castle for longer than usual and the Internet pain was grinding me down, action was required. Time had moved on, and I tried tethering to my mobile phone again. At some windows on the top two floors of the castle I could get a signal. Sometimes there was an E associated with the signal bars, which I understand is 2G+. In one room there was an H, which I understand is 3G+. I measured the bandwidth in the H room which is essentially the top of one of the towers: 3.5 Mbits ! The castle has never had it so fast.

Sticking my phone to a window pane with a sucker and working in an attic room was not the most comfortable or convenient web browsing experience, so following the advice of a friend I purchased a 4G router. This arrived late yesterday.

Anyhow, today was commissioning the router. Much pain as it was second hand and was password protected. I had to download a manual (very slowly!) to find out how to do a factory reset. Eventually, success in the attic room, but how to get the signal down to the kitchen wing for guests and indeed my main desktop computer there?

I normally use mains wiring to get Internet around the castle, as a single stone wall will kill WiFi, but this was not working for some reason. :-( Again much debugging. I walked round the castle testing which sockets worked with power line plugs and which didn't. Gregor had talked about "new" and "old" wires when I complained about networking not working through the wiring. This seemed nonsensical to me i.e. how can an Ethernet packet know the difference between an old and a new wire? In fact Gregor was totally right. From which sockets were working and which were not I deduced the signal was not getting through the new fuse box which is wired off the old fuse box.  

Essentially, through relatively recent improvements in the castle wiring, it no longer worked as a single network! :-) This is not strictly true, as during my testing, the odd Ethernet packet would successfully jump from the new wires to the old wires. It was about 1 in 4. This phenomenon would also appear to be intermittent, as it might explain why my media sever on my old wiring does not always talk to my media client on my new wiring. 

My proposed solution was to run a 50m mains cable from the boiler room in the kitchen wing to the attic room all the way up the servant's staircase to ensure the powerline plug connected to my 4G modem and the powerline plug connected to my desktop computer were on the same mains circuit. Would this work?

Hurrah, it did! I lost a few Ethernet packets in initial testing but then this soon stopped. I took some bandwidth measurements on my desktop, comparing the landline "broadband" with the mobile broadband. These came out at 0.2 Mbits and 10 Mbits respectively. For most people 10 Mbits is slow, but at the castle this is a factor of 50 improvement! In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

before: existing landline bandwidth test result

after: new mobile network bandwidth test result

new Internet journey 1/5: 4G router in tower window talks to powerline plug on extension cable
new Internet journey 2/5: 50m blue extension cable drops down servants' staircase


new Internet journey 3/5: extension cable plugs into socket in boiler room

new Internet journey 4/5: powerline plug takes signal from mains wiring (by-passing landline router on left)

new Internet journey 5/5: signal makes final hop to desktop NUC computer via yellow Internet cable 

As all mobile broadband users know, unlimited data is so expensive that it is not the norm and having a monthly data allowance puts this fear of God (and excess data charges) into uber-geeks like myself who eat bandwidth like hot dinners. Giff-Gaff do an "unlimited" package for £25: 20 Gbytes at full speed over a month, throttled back to 0.386 Mbits for any data over this but with no extra charges. While the throttled speed would be a problem for most users, it is still faster than the castle's landline, so here the package is a good option and this was instrumental in the 4G router purchase.

I will be making a claim against EE for a broken Internet service for the last 6 months, which is the period of time that the bandwidth has definitely been too low to be usable.

So the outcome is that the castle has workable Internet for the first time in 10 years. The larger picture is that the Internet is so important to basic life operation nowadays, that I have been through extreme pain over the last month and my mission to get something workable over the last week, has been like a drug addict trying to get a fix. The problem, of course, is with the service providers who know perfectly well their service is broken, but neither fix this, inform their customers nor provide compensation.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Seasonal Flowers

There's nothing like the imminent arrival of guests at the weekend to motivate some flower arranging. Out with the virtually dried daffodils from the Open Day, and in with what's currently in season: yellow Azalea and the first Rhododendron in flower here which is of a pink/purple variety. All free and all growing in the castle gardens.

kitchen counter 

Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Faking It

Strike me off the register of antique aficionados. I have just created a composite fake i.e. putting together two unrelated pieces to form a third that deceives the purchaser! During some recent home-making at the castle, I discovered that my £10 Victorian bookcase and my £20 Georgian bureau were the same width. I got Gregor to screw the two together. So while Gregor committed the act, it was my incitement that was decidedly criminal. :-) Gregor had previously fixed up the drawers of the bureau, as they had already fallen apart when the item was for sale.

I created a thing!

My part was to stain and polish the bureau and bookcase to get them to match as much as possible. You can still see a colour difference, but at least the bureau has been brought back to life in terms of tone: previously it had an almost bleached yellow appearance.

The moral of the story is that you can furnish a castle on a budget. You can buy lovely oak bureau/bookcase combinations from around the 1920's very inexpensively, but these have a somewhat domestic look and lack the muscularity of the 19th Century pieces that Balintore seems to need. The muscularity in this instance is only on the surface; the components are rather rickety! :-)

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Mediaeval Well Stone Deciphered

My previous blog entry on the mediaeval well stone discovered in the area prompted a flurry of communications on the topic, and I have been given an extensive update on the findings of the academics by a Kevin Greig. Kevin, amongst seemingly endless talents, is a local historian whose specialities are Glen Isla and producing beautiful beautiful pen and ink drawings of significant stones in the area. The link is here.

I am indebted to Kevin for bringing all the information together, and I have used his text in the following with only minor edits for clarity. My personal theory that the person whose grave the stone marked then lent their magic to the healing well, is not supported by the archaeological evidence, and in fact the archaeology tells a quite different story! I was amazed that the actual story could be so clearly read from the stone itself, and to find out what this story is, please read on.

St Andrew's Well Update

the recently discovered well stone - the small square hole is modern

The recently discovered stone is the same slab mentioned in 1862 (by the Ordnance Survey) as being over St Andrew's Well: the description and location are too similar for this to be in any doubt. The Ordnance Survey describes the well as being built of stone rather than turf and marked by a cross-inscribed slab.

The geology of the slab is sedimentary and not local so it was worked at some distance from the site, most likely past the highland boundary fault. The stone is accurately dressed flat on the front and on the right edge leading in to a curved top. The left edge being worked but rough and unfinished. The top left has a sheer undulating side profile which is as worn as the rest of the slab but the undulation suggests a natural split in the rock.

The incised cross is thought to be either Cistercian (Cuper Angus Abbey) or Cluniac (Arbroath Abbey). The descending line of the cross was added in a cruder fashion later than the initial square "cross potent", though this is interpreted as a simplified "cross pattée".
the cross design was produced in two stages

The square hole incised at the base point of the cross is a modern addition. It started life as a grave slab. The date is unknown principally because it has been removed from its setting both as a worked grave slab and as a well marker but the work is described as an early example. The Cistercian period in Glenisla was circa 1230 - 1550; the Cluniac order was 1197 - 1522.

The associations with the different Abbeys helps no further, though Arbroath is associated with St. Andrew, Cuper is associated with Lintrathen through the Durwards of Peel. Monks from the Abbeys traveled to Glenisla and were accommodated, rather than residing there and the Abbey records have no documented interments in the Glens of Angus. The effort involved in transporting the carved stone a great distance and the cutting and lining of the lade from the Craig of Balloch as well as the religious dedication made the well of some considerable importance in its heyday.

Conjecture Based on the Above

The slab was originally tooled as a grave slab (the right hand edge and curves top and bottom make this likely) and was completed on the face, right edge and top right curve. It was also roughly hewn to shape on the left, but it this process the top left portion split off and was likely abandoned as a grave slab. The red line in the diagram below shows the rough worked left edge when the finished edge is reflected through the middle of the cross.

detailed diagram of well stone

The abandoned worked stone was no longer good enough for the precincts of the Abbey but was deemed appropriate for use in the distant consecrated well. Its unnecessary rounded base being sunk into the shallow water in an upright position at the back of the recess in the embankment setting.

The square hole held a leaded fixture which was nothing to do with its latter use in the sheep dip and is not documented anywhere as a Victorian attraction. This is supported by the 1862 documentation as it being much defaced. This makes it pre-Victorian in period. The slab was a well backdrop and therefore likely that the hole held a chain for a drinking vessel.


The slab was initially hewn beyond the highland boundary fault in one of the monastic orders for use as a grave slab. It was damaged during construction and was re-purposed as a venerated well at Craig of Balloch where it stood till after 1862.

There is one final test to verify that it sandstone, not limestone. A drop of vinegar on the back would fizz if it was limestone. If it is, it would not have survived exposure to the peat acid in the Craig of Balloch spring and would further deepen the conundrum of its origins.

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Pies Have It

Blog entries of late have taken a rather serious, near academic, turn. So what better time to revel in the glorious small details of life ...

Restoring Balintore Castle has entailed much transiting between Scotland and England, and having freshly arrived at the castle from a period south of the border, cultural differences are thrown into sharp relief.

Buying petrol today, I saw something that you would simply never see in England, a hot counter virtually monopolised by Scotch pies. Same form factor, just differing fillings ranging from "steak and gravy", through "chicken curry", "chicken and gravy" to one of my favourites "macaroni cheese". A macaroni cheese Scotch pie is triple starch: the pastry, the pasta and the sauce - yums!

hot counter monopolised by Scotch pies

When my friend Andrew visits for a day's castle restoration work, he will often bring two steak Scotch pies and two apple Scotch pies. I love the fact that the pudding has the same form factor as the main course, and together they form a quick, easy and delicious lunch when one does not want to be tied down with food preparation.

I don't think my English friends will be able to believe their eyes at this pie display!

As a child I loved fruit and vegetables of all varieties (and still do) but I found meat
and fish rather difficult.  A mince Scotch pie was right at the limit of what I could manage
- in consequence these got served up quite a lot during my childhood. My thresh-hold for
fish was even lower - here a fishcake was at the limit of acceptability.

As an adult I have no such reservations with food and although I am still "wary" of fish this is a theoretical "in the head" thing and practice never backs this up. And it has to be said, if you go to the right small shop in the locality of the castle the quality of the Scotch pies (particularly a good steak one) can be superb - far better than I recall from childhood.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Mediaeval Well Stone Discovery

There has been much recent excitement due to the discovery of a mediaeval well stone in the vicinity of Balintore Castle. This carved stone not only marks the presence of its well, but the cross inscription shows a “healing well” which together with other archaeological evidence in the area indicates there once was a religious community nearby.

recently discovered mediaeval well stone

It is thrilling to learn that Balintore was, if not the Lourdes of Angus, then certainly a spiritual place of some small pilgrimage. Nowadays, the site of the well would be considered remote, but in the Middle Ages “remote” was the norm, so Balintore was no more remote than most other places.

There has been a delay in writing this blog article as there was concern about the security of this archaeological artifact. It was discovered when a sheep dip edging was overturned, but now is in a safe place. I should really say “rediscovered” as the stone appears in the Victorian written record. As I am constantly finding out during my restoration, the Victorians were often a step ahead! In a 1862 name book:

St.Andrews Well: A well known name applied to a fine spring of pure water near "Longdrum". It is built with stone. On the top of a slab is a carved figure, much defaced, supposed to be a cross.

However, by 1958 the well and its associated stone had been lost:

This well, or spring, no longer exists. A cavity in the short embankment by the streamside denotes its site. The sculptured slab was not seen.

Visited by OS (J L D) 22 September 1958.

I was taken to see the place where the stone is now safely stored and to the site of the original well. What a privilege!  It is clear that the position of the spring has changed over time, and the associated stream now passes perhaps 10 metres distant  from the original site of the well.

well stone in safe location with museum quality supports

site of original well - note faint carvings on other stones

The cross can, it seems, be directed at the Cistercian order or “Benedines”, a breakaway from the Benedictine order. The coat of arms shows the cross with flared arms. This feature was often simplified to the end bar to each arm as on this stone. The simplicity of the cross would indicate a rural site away from an abbey.

a Cistercian coat of arms

The stone, if a spring marker, would have been oriented vertically with the base showing signs of being below the earth and possibly with some chip marks where pinning stones were hammered in to secure it. There are still some tests to be carried out e.g. morphological and chemical analyses which will reveal whether the stone is from the locality. However, my layman’s eye says it is from the surrounding landscape.

One would hardly call the cross ”much defaced”, but it is definitely aged as the cross is rubbed gouged rather than chiseled which would date it pre-15th Century. Interesting that St. Andrew’s Well would have a Cistercian cross rather than a St Andrew’s cross but that is how it would have been if created by/for the abbey.

Carving experts say it has changed function from well to grave slab and back to well again, which pleased my layman’s eye as my immediate thought on seeing a photo was “grave stone”. However, in the flesh, although roughly the shape of a coffin, it is perhaps just half the length.

I await, with much keenness, the full results from the evaluation of the stone by experts. This blog entry includes some of their initial tentative findings, so expect updates on the details and I will provide any required attributions.

I am particularly intrigued by the transition from grave marker to well stone. Was the interred person of a “saintly” disposition i.e. someone whose magic would have enhanced the power of the healing well? This is pure speculation of course, but there is presumably no other way to illicit the fascinating human narrative, that underpins this artifact, once treasured and now treasured again.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Hand-Tinted Postcards, Subtle and Not So

My thanks go to Colin McLeod of Dundee for providing this scan of his rare hand-tinted postcard of Balintore Castle. Colin spoke to me during the recent open day, and indicated this gem was in his collection of 40,000! And yes, I have got the correct number of zeros in this figure. :-)

early 20th Century hand-tinted postcard of Balintore Castle

I may as well quote Colin's expertise verbatim:

The card was published in the D&SK ‘Ideal Series’ [Davidson & Son, of Kirkcaldy]. It is not dated or used, but it is a ‘divided back’ postcard, so cannot have been printed before 1902, and as the publisher had the card printed in Saxony, it cannot be later than 1914. 

With the hand-tinting and odd, rather unrealistic two-tone palette for the stone of the building, this is very different proposition to the other (black and white) postcards I know, which are shown in a previous blog entry.

The unforeseen and delightful consequences of having an open day!

On seeing this blog entry, friend of Balintore and fashionista Écossaise extraordinaire, Solveig sent me this image of a second postcard.

second hand-tinted postcard of Balintore Castle

A minute of so of study shows it is the self-same photograph but cropped differently and given a much more subtle crepuscular hand-tinting. Much more to my taste. The plants are in the same position and at the same stage of growth, and from the agreement of object alignments in the two images, the position from which the two photographs were taken is identical.

The difference in cloud effects reveals remarkable pre-Photoshop skills!

For completeness the reverse of the second postcard is show below. The postmark of the 2nd August 1909 supports Colin's earlier dating.

reverse of second postcard

And for further completeness, courtesy of StreetView, here is the charming property to which the postcard was addressed: 48 Rothwaite Road, Liverpool.

destination of second postcard

And an update (19th November 2019). The same image found on a postcard for sale on eBay, but this time in the original black and white.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Aldbar Castle

On Thursday, Gregor and I attended a building materials auction viewing at Aldbar Farm which is in the vicinity of Balintore Castle. Yes, you can be rightly startled at the utter glamour of castle restoration! :-) However, a business had stopped trading so there was a real possibility of some bargains at this dispersal sale.

I was navigating, but on some instinct Gregor decided to drive past the minor left turn indicated by the SATNAV and proceeded somewhat further down the road. We stopped to ask two farmers in the corner of a field for directions. "Go back and turn into the fancy entrance on the right" were the directions. Thankfully, I have a thing for the fancy entrances, and this had not gone unnoticed. :-) This proved to be the left turn prior to the one indicated by the SATNAV.

The "fancy entrance" on closer inspection was a stunning pair of romantically overgrown gate lodges. I made Gregor stop so I could take some photographs. With gate lodges this well styled and having perfect Gothic openings, there has to be an equally stunning "big hoose" in the vicinity.

fancy entrance - well modulo purple wheelie bins

ruined gate lodge at rear of entrance gates
The auction venue turned out to be what I call a "model farm", which is generally built to impress rather than just for function, often borrowing architectural detailings from the main house. I took a photo of the farm complex, but there was simply no sign of the big hoose. 

auction venue - a crenelated and be-towered model farm

On the walk to the auction, I introduced Gregor to wild garlic, which was growing wild in the woods. I had not seen this since childhood, but some distant almost ancestral memory stirred. Gregor only hesitantly sampled the plant, after I had eaten a leaf. He concluded it has a smoother and superior flavour to commercial garlic, with a greater pungency.

wild garlic

In the flesh, some large doors that were for sale did not live up to my high expectations from the photo in the auction catalogue. The doors were just cupboard doors, not interior doors, and smaller than I'd estimated. However, there were building materials and building tools galore and I put in my low bids. One unexpected find was a pile of wooden moldings which are carbon copies of the ones in the castle, albeit on a slightly smaller scale - I put my bid in!

At the auction on Friday (today), I won a job lot of scaffolding battens which are needed to reach the roof of the Great Hall, 3 Victorian fire inserts, sundry bits and bobs, and the wooden moldings! I won about half my bids, which is probably a sign that one is pitching at the right level.

Today, I decided to google for the big house and found out this was "Aldbar Castle" which consisted of a large 16th tower house with baronial extensions dating from 1844 to 1854.  The side view shows the great depth of the mediaeval part, and that the Victorian facade, which matches the gate lodges, is just one room thick. The building was devastated by a fire in 1964 and totally demolished later that year. I can almost understand a Victorian house being demolished in 1964, but to demolish a medieval building in 1964 is horrific. The stone walls would have without doubt survived and the term "uneconomic to repair" does not excuse the crime. I finish with some photos of the exterior and interior of Aldbar Castle to show the glory of what has been lost.

The moral of this story is that the attempt to restore one Baronial building which was almost lost, has revealed the even greater loss of another.

Aldbar Castle - front

Aldbar Castle - entrance
Aldbar Castle - dining room


Aldbar Castle - library

Aldbar Castle - side view

Thursday, 9 May 2019

The Door Fits

Gregor and I had just picked up a Victorian chest of drawers from Taylor's Auction Rooms in Montrose, when Gregor piped up "Would you like to visit Steptoe's Yard?".

Steptoe's Yard for those of you not in the know, is an extraordinary emporium of second-hand items so overflowing and chaotic that it has outgrown the original building, filled several others, filled many shipping containers and spilled out into the surrounding gardens. Items may be found gently rusting or decomposing in piles, fully open to the elements, with barely discernible paths between these piles. The sheds are so full, that what were once corridors have long since been blocked, and one feels that items at the back must have been quite lost to humanity for a few decades.

For everyone, the first visit to Steptoe's is an assault on the senses and one's sense of order. It is almost impossible for the human brain to take in even a small proportion of what is for sale. For those who like order, the resulting distress might forbear a second visit. For those who delight in the ephemera of yesteryear, and for those who like exploring to find that obscure useful item or rummaging to come across an unexpected object of delight, Steptoe's is paradise.

As the restoration of Balintore Castle is an exercise in bringing life back to an old building, and gathering appropriate period fittings and fixtures, I naturally fall into the second camp, and my reply to Gregor was "Yes of course, but how far away is it?". In fact, the drive there is only 5 minutes. I never knew so I had missed many previous opportunities to do the Steptoe's and Taylor's double bill.

Anyhow at Steptoe's, Gregor and I quickly spotted 4 matching 4-paneled doors which were obviously "Balintore pieces". Normally, I reject doors below 3' wide as this is the smallest standard door at Balintore. However, there are a number of smaller doors required for odd spots (e.g. WC's and cupboards) so these doors at 2'9" wide and, most importantly, at just £20 each :-) were not to be sneezed at. Sure, they had areas of damage, but after minimal repair, they would be in quite serviceable condition. The doors were grained to look like oak like many of those at Balintore and have the correct dark brown hue, so the look was perfect.

Today Gregor and I picked up the doors using his trailer. As we were entering the rear of the big shed, I spotted another matching door but this one was narrower: just 25". Gregor mentioned it was the right width for a servant's corridor door opening we had been trying to find a door for. We reckon the original castle door was around 24" wide, but unfortunately we had not taken a measurement of the height of the opening and to both of us, the narrow Steptoe door seemed rather too high. I thought for £20 we could take the gamble: we could cut down the height of the door a little but any more than a couple of inches would destroy the structure of the door.

Anyhow, when we got back to the castle , Gregor placed the narrow door in the narrow door frame. Et voila, almost a perfect fit! The original scouting trip to Steptoe's had been serendipitous, and the resulting  pick-up trip had also been serendipitous. The outcome is that we managed to solve a long-standing restoration problem, without even trying to solve it!

I am intrigued by the machinations of fate that steer objects into our path. I would not call it "cosmic ordering", and you may cynically call it just "commerce", but I think it is more about being open to the universe and the people around us with common interests.

the door fits !

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Stairway To Paradise

After the big push to get the kitchen wing holiday-let apartment in "show house condition" for the open day, work is now progressing in the rest of the castle. Accordingly. Gregor and Greg have been rebuilding the entrance stairs which take guests from the entrance hall to the grand saloon.

Balintore Castle's reconstructed entrance stair.

It is amazing to think that this stair area had no roof when I bought the castle, and the interior was fully open to the elements. Amongst the rubble, I discovered a much rotted part of a "stringer" i.e. the stepped piece of wood which supports stairs, which gave the original dimensions of the treads and risers. In fact, there was another route to these sizes, as the original plans show 12 treads and the floor-to-floor height is 6 feet so the risers come in at 141 mm. The gotya is that the number of risers is one more than the number of treads, so you have to divide 6 feet by 13. Accurate measurements with a laser level showed the floor-to-floor height as being nearer 73 inches, so we upped the riser height to 143 mm and this thankfully worked perfectly in-situ. 

Also in the rubble,  was some inch-thick pitch pine planking which once must have covered the stairs. Interestingly in the level area at the top of the stairs, I found narrower oak planking, which presumably once connected with the grand saloon's oak floor. You can see in the rebuild, we have constructed the treads from solid wooden beams i.e. even more over engineered than the original. The risers are just in OSB as these do not take any load. The whole staircase will be clad in hardwood flooring - see the dark brown sample on the left above the first step. So what you can actually see in the photo is the sub-structure of support for the staircase proper.

I can't wait for the hardwood cladding to be installed as this will give the final high quality finish. However, before then the walls have to be plaster-boarded - the idea being that we won't be messing up the hardwood in the process. 

We are all pretty chuffed with the stairs: they are so solid and they are not going to move for the next few hundred years. Prior to this rebuild,  the brick and stone slope underneath was treacherous particularly when it was raining. I have lost my footing on the green slime on this slope many a time. Even when the roof was on, the slope was sufficiently steep that I still lost my footing often, and shoes with a good grip were required to make the ascension.

The stairs are 8 feet wide. You can see the central support beam in the photo required due to the width. Normal stairs only have to be supported at the edges. 

Now that they are complete and navigable, they taken on a decidedly processional character. In lieu of any Ziegfield Girls, I have had to do my own Stairway to Paradise moves, not, it has to be said, without enjoyment.