Monday 28 December 2020

In Memorium: Ann Hutchison

The heart-warming funeral of my relative Ann Hutchison, on the 29th April this year at Daldowie Crematorium on the outskirts of Glasgow, was led by a spiritualist minister. Why had I never twigged until that moment that Ann was a spiritualist? She had often mentioned a spiritualist healer she attended regularly. She definitely believed in angels and spirits, and early on in our friendship she had presented me with a small glass angel to watch over me. She had picked up on spirits at the castle in certain locations, by clapping and then listening for the quality of echo that came back.

I had never once put together the pieces before, just assuming that these were aspects of the very warm and spiritual human being, that Ann was. Anyhow, the eulogy filled-in much of the fascinating background information on Ann that I never knew. I had first met her later in life, and only really saw Ann on her frequent trips to Balintore Castle over the last 10 or so years. 

This is why I am writing an "in memorium" in this blog. Ann has very much been part of the restoration project, bringing endless saucepans of homemade food, duvets, heaters and anything that would make the excessively Spartan life at the castle more comfortable. Her generosity at times was overwhelming, but all I could do was say "thank you" and enjoy spending time together. She always brought enough food to feed the army of workers at the castle!

Ann Hutchison: a great friend and a valued relative

On her penultimate visit she announced "I have cancer". She had wanted to say this in person and there was no doubt she had made the trip specially.  At that moment, my universe just turned black. She was allergic to and unsuitable for most of the chemotherapy so there were very few options and prospects did not look good so I knew it was the end. Ann, as ever, was very pragmatic "It is what it is." and being so close to Ann made me wonder chillingly how I would react to receiving and giving this news myself. This was my worst moment, and her last visit to the castle was much happier.

Ann, as ever, kept the increasingly bad news to herself, despite my inquiries. Her family let me know she had been rushed into a hospice. This was during lockdown so I was unable to visit. The reality of this denial of the instinctual attending to the dying hit me hard. I understand I managed to get a message through to Ann via the staff with a phone call to the hospice, but that all my electronic communications did not make it.

After Ann's last visit to the castle, I had an eye-appointment in Glasgow to check if I was suitable for laser surgery (I wasn't). I realised it could be a last chance to see Ann if I stayed overnight with her in Kirkintilloch the night before and took the train into Glasgow. She made me a wonderful evening meal and we laughed and joked as ever. 

The trip to Glasgow proved more draining and time-consuming than I had expected. I got back to Kirkintilloch late afternoon, and did not fancy the drive back to the castle in the dark. I asked Ann if it was possible to stay another night. She made an even more wonderful evening meal, and really pushed the boat out. We had strawberries for pudding, then another pudding of ice-cream. There was also coffee and cheese. There may even have been sherry. :-) We both knew it was the "last supper". It's funny how you don't mention this, and we had an absolutely great time together. So even though I didn't manage to see Ann in the hospice, we had had the most wonderful goodbye. I set off from Kirkintilloch the following morning with my heart breaking.

I haven't mentioned how I first met Ann: the story is quite extraordinary.  I had recently bought the castle, and my parents had died around 10 years before and with both of them being only children, my pool of relatives had dropped to virtually zero. Out of the blue, I got an email from some distant relatives in Australia called Donald and Edna whom my Mum had kept in touch with. They were going to be travelling round the UK. I was heading to the castle myself during the dates of their trip, and suggested it might be fun to meet up at the castle. "Great!", they replied, "We'll bring your Scottish relative.". "What Scottish relative!?" I responded incredulously and excitedly. 

Anyhow, I met Ann for the first time on they day of their visit and we all returned to the nearby "Purgavie Farm B&B" where they were staying, for an excellent meal. I talked with Ann in front of the fire at Purgavie Farm into the night. It was clear we had a lot in common, and had both been through some difficult times in recent years. Blood is so much thicker than water, and we bonded instantly: Ann felt like family and that was a feeling I had been craving. Ann mentioned a "great aunt Priscilla" (forget the name) who way back in time had been a great "sensitive" My Mum had talked about the very same person. Both Ann and my mother believed they had inherited some of this ability, and I often wonder if some of my interest in old buildings is related. I am very aware of atmosphere, though would not ascribe anything supernatural to this ability. I wish I had written down the actual name of Priscilla, as I would love to do some genealogical research into this Richardson branch of the family. Hopefully, if Ann's family is reading this blog entry, perhaps they can supply enough details to enable the research? Ann and I share the same great-great-(great?) grandfather. Ann showed me a picture of him once - I would love a scan.

So you can imagine how much I valued Ann, a true family member I thought I would never ever have again. Ann also formed close bonds with my friends and workmen at the castle. She was well-known for telling me off for my lack of house-keeping skills, so before her visits I would be frantically scrubbing, cleaning and cooking. Of course, it was never good enough and Ann rolled up her sleeves on arrival and got stuck in.

Through Ann I have now met other family members e.g. her grandson Craig who accompanied Ann on her earlier visits to the castle. I met other members of her extended family at the funeral service and at the scattering of her ashes at Balintore Castle. It was frustrating trying to communicate with Ann's family when I first met them, as we had to restrict ourselves to the car park of the crematorium after the service with appropriate social distancing. I was heartened by Ann's wish for her ashes to be scattered at Balintore, which I found out after her death. Ann said visiting Balintore always lifted her mood, and that Balintore had a positive vibe.  On the 26th July this year, the few impromptu and fumbling words I said before Ann's ashes were scattered, included the remark that it was actually Ann who brought the magic to Balintore.

As soon as I knew about the scattering of ashes, I realised that there was a need for a memorial bench in the location, so team Balintore got stuck in.  I bought some antique bench ends off Gregor's brother. Gregor painted them brown and gold and installed new hardwood slats. I added some additional gold detailing to the paint job and organised a brass plaque. In typical Balintore fashion, the bench was completed just a couple of days before the Glasgow posse arrived for the scattering. The spot has simply the best view, and when I feel the need for some spiritual energy I sit on the bench, contemplate the view and think fondly of Ann.

plaque for Ann's memorial bench at Balintore Castle

Ann's memorial bench with plaque

guests at the scattering of Ann's ashes

I will append the text of Ann's eulogy. This was one of the best eulogies I have ever heard because it was full of feeling: beautifully balanced between that rich vein of Glaswegian humour and the solemnity of the occasion. It captured Ann's character, her spirituality and her life story. In fact, it was so good none of us felt short-changed by the service despite the covid limitations - quite the contrary - it was genuinely a life-enhancing experience.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Ann Hutchison 

27/03/1948 - 20/04/2020

Ann arrives to: “Make You Feel My Love” Adele

Good afternoon and welcome everyone and to those who are watching this service online, My name is Tom Elliott and I feel both honoured and privileged that I have been asked to officiate at today’s service.

On behalf of Alan and the entire family, I would like to take this opportunity of thanking each and every one of you here today and also watching from home not just for paying your respects but also for the great support you have shown them throughout this sad time.

Obviously during this part of the service I would normally be inviting everyone to join the family after the service to bring to mind and share your memories of time spent with Ann, but sadly due to the current situation with social distancing this unfortunately can’t happen, but hopefully in the near future you can all gather and do just that.

Today we gather not to mourn a passing but to give thanks, and celebrate a life and that life of course being of Ann Hutchison.

For all those who die in the knowledge of a divine purpose are at peace. Their actions and efforts on this earth will have assured them their rightful place in the life to come. As we must all move through this experience that man calls death, we know that our divine is with us and also within us and we have nothing to fear. There will be strength and guidance waiting to comfort and sustain us through this great adventure of life beyond life. And that life is eternal. It is a very refuge in these times of trouble and need.

So, we have come together to pay tribute and also as I said to give thanks for the life of Ann.

Each of us has a different concept of God and its power. Whatever your God to be, may I ask you to join me in prayer. 

Eternal and ever-present God, in whom we live and move and have our being. We reach to you in prayer, seeking strength, help and consolation. We know you are always directing all things to the fulfilment of your purposes, that your love is manifesting through all the varied experience of our life and yet we need to seek your strength when our faith is weak because our understanding of life is still imperfect

May we come to realise, through a greater awareness of the divine spirit within each of us. That whether we live or whether we die we are your children. Help us to realise that death is the gateway to a continued life in the spirit world. We send our love to Ann and pray that your angels of light will strengthen and encourage her in her new life. We know that she will be met by those smiling faces of the family and friends who have gone before and that their reunion will be a joyous occasion. May their bonds of affection be strengthened and may their love grow even stronger.


Born on the 27th of March 1948 to parents John and Margaret Aitken, along with her older sister Maureen, Ann was raised in the Springburn area of Glasgow. Just a typical wee Glasgow lass and Maureen said sometimes a wee horror but a loveable one at that. Ann attended Albert Primary School followed on by Glenwood Secondary School. It was around the age of 8 the family moved over to the Castlemilk area of Glasgow, with Margaret and John out working a lot to provide for their girls. It left Maureen to look after her young sister. She tells me Ann was a daddy’s girl. When it came to doing the housework, she would disappear especially if it was her turn for the dishes, leaving them for Maureen. She got away with everything as a young yin. Both Ann and Maureen would pop round to Dad John's work which was round the corner from the house. It was here John worked as a joiner. They would pop in and John and his workmates nicknamed Ann thrupenny-face. This was down to every time she went the only thing she would say was “Can I get thruppence?”. As a name it stuck for some time. From a young age she had a fascination with planting things and Maureen recalled Ann would be out back at the Castlemilk flat almost every day doing gardening on her wee patch up the back. This is something that carried on right through her adult life. I’m sure all in attendance, at some point or another, have received a wee cutting from one of the plants in her garden.

She loved shopping: again something that remained with her. It was one weekend she just happened to get a new wee yellow Mini car as a teenage girl and both Maureen and Ann on the Saturday decided to take a wee trip into town to get some new clothes. Back in the day you would find the height of fashion in the shops on Argyle Street. They finished shopping and went back to get the car but couldn't find it. Panic set in and they walked the length and breadth of Argyle Street and adjacent side streets finally finding it not far from WhatEverys. I'm sure that shop brings back many memories for all of us of a certain age. 

Upon leaving school Ann took up a position within a bookmaker called Tote. From here she went on to work for Ashfield Motors. She was very academic which allowed her to work for various law firms, including Watermans Solicitors, McCarry's Solicitors and latterly before retirement she worked for Corries Solicitors.

She met and fell in love with a lad called Jim Hutchison. They dated for a bit and decided to get married. it was in July of 1966 that they welcomed their first and only child Alan into our world. Born in Springburn they moved as a family to Kirkintilloch. Both parents worked hard to provide for young Alan. With young Alan's cousin Jacqueline, both Ann and Maureen took turns to watch the kids whilst the other worked. Sadly, when Alan was a young teen, Ann’s marriage broke down. Jim and Ann remained amicable for the sake of young Alan. Ann continued to work hard to afford the usual things for her son. They spent a lot of time in Rothesay with Ann's parents and Alan would stay there a lot more, getting to spend time in his grandparents’ tourer. Alan loved spending so much time with his Nana and Pop. But he has fond memories of his Mum taking him on holidays to Kent and also once surprising him with a trip to France on a hovercraft. Memories that will live forever in his mind.

It was in 1984 that Ann was involved in a serious car accident which left her immobile for some time. It was left then to young Alan to act as a carer for his mum. Ann, not wanting to be a burden, pushed herself to get back up into the throws of life so it would encourage young Alan to go out and live his life.


Family was important to Ann, especially her grandkids. Gemma, Megan, Craig, Thomas and Bethany as well as her 3 great-grandkids Macie, Brodie and Mirren. They all played a huge part in her life and she adored them all equally as they adored her.

She taught the oldest three to swim. Craig recalled how they travelled all over the place to learn the bleeping (not the word he used!) doggy paddle, and I hear Gemma was unimpressed to hear of this as she only got as far as the Kirkie baths.

Megan and Craig recalled how they regularly got taken on caravan holidays. Again, Ann was giving the grandkids the same experiences as she gave Alan and they loved it. Even as the kids went to stay each Friday, she would make them stew and pastry, this because it was Megan's favourite and allegedly what Megan wants Megan gets due to the fact she thinks she was the favourite. Ann eventually decided to buy a bigger house so they both had a room each. She would take them all out on wee trips to different parks and even museums such as Kelvingrove, the People’s palace and also the Transport Museum. Hence the fact they all cultured … allegedly…

Ann loved her dogs especially Coco and Rex. Sadly Rex is no longer with us which devastated her but she still had her Coco. She once took Thomas and Bethany on a fundraising dog walk with both Rex and Coco. And I'm sure she will be smiling down as Thomas takes good care of her wee Coco for her.

Also for Craig she took him on a trip to the Norfolk broads and in his own words spending time on a mad boat thing. We are now led to believe he means a barge.

A young Bethany recently popped up to see her Nana. Ann happened to ask her about her schooling. Bethany excitedly told Ann that she was taking geography, and how she learned that France is in Italy. Ann being Ann decided to buy her a map. And I hear pulling this information together it has become apparent that Megan also seems to be in need of a map.

Ann was always a big kid at heart and even just a few years ago at great-granddaughter Macie's first birthday party she was the first on the bouncy castle even with her walking sticks in hand.

Talking about castles she was drawn to Balintore Castle. She loved to visit as it belongs to her cousin, and loved seeing it being restored over the years. Her last wish was for this to be her resting place. I personally have a story of Ann and Balintore which I will tell you about later.

She was a much loved Nana not only to her own but also to a few others whom she treated like they were her grandkids.

Friends remained close to Ann, she spent many happy times with both Anne and Isobel.

Isobel was recalling how each Saturday they would go for their weekly shop together, their friendship spans over 30 years. They first met when they both worked for Ashfield Motors, and struck up a great friendship and bond. Ann would go each year for Christmas dinner to both Isobel’s and her brother’s home. As a friend Isobel says she had a huge heart and was there for her through all the good times and the bad times and remained loyal. They even got the opportunity to go to a Boyzone concert last year with Ann being a huge fan. She will be missed by her friends and also her family.

I personally got to know Ann over the last few years. Like myself, Ann has a keen interest in spiritualism and she would come to all my workshops and my demonstrations as well as readings latterly. She had a huge caring heart and each time she booked on a course in the soul sanctuary she would purchase an extra space and tell me to give it to someone who couldn't afford to go. She loved buying crystals and I hear even as she was taken to hospital recently she was giving them away to the doctor and the ambulance guy in the house. Now I first heard of Balintore. One day I kept getting a pinging noise on my phone. These were PayPal payments for Balintore. I was a bit confused. I went into my account and found a payment from Balintore,  then another, then another and another. This went on for ages. She must have had more money than sense as she kept sending the same payment over and over again. She messaged me to say something was wrong with PayPal and it was then I realised it was Ann. She did get them refunded, I should add. Like for most of us, we will all still be in a state of shock that she is no longer physically here but I’m sure wherever she is, she will be smiling down knowing just how much she was loved by everyone.

Ann was a beautiful soul. She had the time of day for anyone and would give you her last. She was loved and adored and respected by all those who had the privilege of knowing her. Her smile lit up the room when she walked in and she would natter with anyone. She loved to get involved in the community, often attending wee groups to do knitting or sewing etc even stretching to yoga latterly. She will be sorely missed and leaves a gaping hole within all of our hearts and minds. She leaves a legacy of a woman who lived and loved her life, and gave her time generously to all.

As a spiritualist, I know there is no such thing as death. I understand that the possessions of the earth must remain so, but that which is spirit must return to the spirit conditions. The spirit body of Ann along with the character and personality have been freed and has been returned to such conditions. We can be assured that such transitions took place and that the loved ones already in the spirit world have gathered together to greet Ann. Think of that reunion, the bonds of love which death cannot sever and that joyous occasion in spirit. So let's just for a few moments, reflect on your own wonderful memories of Ann whilst listening to a song chosen by the family which is.

“Somewhere over The Rainbow” by Eva Cassidy

The Committal

For those who can please be upstanding, and that includes those at home attending today’s service on this live feed.

We have now come sadly to the final act of our formal parting, so let's be thankful for the life of Ann. For the love she gave, for the friendships she sustained and for the contribution to your world. All that was important to her will be respected by those who follow. All that was great about her will continue to mean so much in each of our lives. As we yield the body of Ann Hutchison to be cremated, we say farewell with immense sadness in our hearts. But may the grief you feel today be tempered by the happy wonderful memories that will comfort you not just for today but for all your days to come. 

Please be seated.

Ladies and gentlemen we leave here today in the knowledge that Ann is at peace and no doubt in the arms of all those who have gone before. Sadly through these times of lockdown and isolation, we can’t go on as a group to raise a glass and toast the life of Ann whilst sharing our own stories and memories with each other. In time this will all change and I’m sure you will all have the opportunity to celebrate together and share said stories.

We leave here today listening to another song chosen by the family and of course one of Ann's favourite groups Boyzone.

Sunday 27 December 2020


When Tyntesfield House in Somerset, England was bought for the nation by the National Trust in 2002, not only was it is a media event I remember well, but it was the first acknowledgement by the establishment that Victorian architecture could actually be meritorious. Indeed, since then the Gothic Revival style has had, dare I say it, a small revival in popularity. "I must visit." I said to myself at the time. Cut to 2020 after the first lockdown, and I drove to see my friend Tim in nearby Bristol in the knowledge that Tyntesfield House was once again open to the public albeit in a limited way.

Yes, it really did take 18 years for me to make my first ever covid-defiant visit to Tyntesfield . Tim and I were masked and had to socially distance from the other visitors. There was a one-way system through the house and not all areas (e.g. the upstairs) were accessible. However, the experience was still an absolute thrill, and reaffirmed that I could still feel the magic even after years of grind at Balintore. The interior is unbelievable with bespoke furniture and fittings done to the highest level of craftsmanship. Everything is coordinated and everything is a work of art. The late Victorian and Edwardian eras are, in my opinion, the high watermark for interiors. 

Despite its scale Tyntesfield is not overwhelming and feels domestic, comfortable and liveable - in short the perfect home. We have guano magnate William Gibbs to thank for the house in its present form. Gibbs is no bullish nouveau riche patron. He was partly brought up in Spain, was pious, learned and the impeccable taste of Tyntesfield betrays his great love of Art.

Each fireplace at Tyntesfield is not just of a different design but of a different style. The fireplace pictured below was not the grandest, but just one that caught my eye due to its purity of design and restrained but telling use of colour. I pointed out to Tim that the body of the fireplace is English Alabaster as found in mediaeval tombs. The guide in the room who overheard our conversation confirmed that this was correct.  Alabaster was the only marble-like material available in England. Smaller marble inclusions (such as the roundels here) would have been imported from Europe. This is Victoria gothic revival at its academic best, informed by the palette of materials available in the Middle Ages

a fireplace at Tyntesfield House

Tim and I were thrown out of the library at Tyntesfield, or at least moved on as we were lingering too long. I was naturally drawn to the expansive marble fireplace there - not the one pictured above I should add.              

I found out later that apparently Gibbs asked a friend if the library fireplace was perhaps a bit too over the top. His friend replied "Yes, I am afraid that it is but it is too late now to do anything.".  :-) This is evidence of Gibbs' good taste i.e. the fact that he had these concerns, And to the modern eye, this particular debate is lost in the rich Gothic glory of the interior.

In a world over rich in online images and indeed wishing to experience the world directly, I am hesitant to take any photos. When I do, it will be what catches my eye or what is transient and only occasionally as an aide-memoire. And the range of squashes grown in the Tyntesfield walled garden did create an impressive transient spectacle.

squash at Tyntesfield House

Dan Cruickshank's insightful comment on the charms of Tyntesfield, is that they are due to the fact that Gibbs was quite simply a thoroughly nice man

On the same trip Tim took me to Piercefield House, one of his favourite buildings, immediately adjacent to Chepstow Racecourse just over the border in Wales. 

Tim at Piercefield House

Piercefield was astonishing in many ways: heavily muscled classicism overlooking an idyllic valley leading down to the Wye River  How could such a top flight building ever have become a ruin, especially next to a racecourse which attracts the richest of visitors? Tim regaled me with the recent, sadly embroiled history of Piercefield. And given the current state of the building, it is hard to see how a turnaround could happen. Tim and I discussed how someone might start, and we thought the smaller side pavilions (which provide beautifully proportioned triple height spaces) could be the way in. We both loved the side pavilions.

Tim also took me to Ashton Court on the edge of Bristol. This started life as a mediaeval manor house. The last additions were Victorian Gothic. Now the building is in a state of partial ruin. A section is used by Bristol Council, and another part houses a small restaurant used by members of the public, The buildings and grounds are much loved and visited by the denizens of Bristol, yet a lot of the building is in a perilous and vacated condition. I loved many areas of this building: the mediaeval hall (Tim gave me a puntie-up so I could look in) and I loved the Gothic Revival hall. The frontage of the building, which I know well from photographs, is an impressive and rhythmic phalanx of beige stone, However, the accommodation behind this frontage, based around a much diminished mediaeval courtyard, is much smaller than expected and surprisingly scrappy. When I say "scrappy" I mean consisting of odds and end of bits of buildings from various historic eras. In short, a charming mess. :-)

Yet again tempted by a fireplace, I could not resist taking a photo through the window of the Council offices. My apologies. In my defence, due to covid Council employees were exceeding thin on the ground.

Fireplace in Ashton Court

The range of historic buildings: Tyntesfield (pristine), Piercefield (total ruin) and Ashton Court (in-between) was a perfect sampling and helped put Balintore into a context. It is always useful to get a flash of the bigger picture when one is being ground down by the detail.

Tim is engaged in his own restoration project. Completion is expected end of January 2021. Balintore is quite envious.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Merry Christmas 2020 !

What a year! We have all been bombarded with far too much depressing information on the pandemic, so I am determined not to add to your burden in this year's Christmas blog entry. By the way, this is the 44th blog entry of the year. This is greatest annual total so far - an unexpected side-effect of the virus. In second place is 2013 with 38 blog entries. I had hoped to push to 52 blog entries this year, but that can now be an ambition for the future.

My plan had been to return to full-time work this year after taking some time off to focus on the restoration. However, the pandemic has made us all rethink our priorities, and it seemed to be the right time to go for broke (in all senses) and really push the restoration to a stage that the building might be able to pay for its own restoration, once covid has retreated.

And ironically in the absence of much distraction, the restoration has come on in leaps and bounds, and overall I would say 2020 has been the year of greatest progress so far. At the start of the first lockdown Gregor and Greg did not come to work for a week, and it looked like the big lockdown push I had hoped for would not occur. However, they came back the second week due to boredom. Modulo the unavailability of plaster (£6 bags were going for £60 on eBay), things continued almost as normal. I had expected work would eventually grind to a halt due to the lack of building materials, but we just worked with the materials we had at the castle already, and thankfully this bridged the gap until supplies came online again. The latter was most definitely not a given.

Financing the restoration has been very much eating into the rainy day savings, so I followed the advice of some Spanish visitors earlier in the year, who suggested I start a GoFundMe page. I was also in part inspired by the wonderful "Chateau Diaries" vlog, where due to its online popularity an English lady called Stephanie has suddenly been inundated by restoration funds to continue her restoration of a French chateau. She has owned Chateau de Lalande for the same amount of time I have owned Balintore. The plan is somehow to raise the profile of the Balintore project in a similar way: somewhat of a challenge given I am pathologically publicity shy. :-)

At the moment, we are doing a lot of finishing-off work such as plastering and painting, and this always takes an absolute age - but at the end of it there will be a total of 8 finished comfortable bedrooms in the castle which is an identifiable stage to take pause and re-evaluate the situation. The bedroom pictured below was painted in a colour called "Highland Thistle" which sounded eminently suitable for the location of the castle, and looked great on a computer screen. On opening the tin a more honest name was surely "Putrid Raspberry", whereas I had been aspiring towards a "Patrician Purple". Applying the first coat, I was demoralised before I had even started as I was fully expecting to have to paint over it again in white. However, the next morning (pictured) the paint had dried to a more reasonable and bluer shade, and after consulting with friends the advice was to go forwards and apply a second coat. Thankfully, I am more than happy with the end result.

working on bedroom - walls have just had their first coat of "Highland Thistle"

The next zone for restoration is the vaulted servants' hall in the basement. This is one of my favourite rooms in the castle, and was where the servants ate, but assuredly it is a large multi-functional space that will be an asset for the building.

This year has unexpectedly seen the first wedding at Balintore. A couple from Liverpool had a big wedding planned, but with covid they wanted to get married ASAP with the smallest possible ceremony i.e. just themselves. I managed to rope in some friends to officiate, witness, cater and play the 'pipes. In the end, the event was quite magical with all the elements slotting miraculously into place. The rain only started at the end of  the outdoor ceremony. :-)  I would have thought much more of Balintore would have to be restored to host a wedding, but covid has changed expectations - sometimes delivering unexpected joys like this.

My relative Ann, who was a great friend of Balintore (many of you will have met her here) passed away this year due to cancer. I was heart-broken, but delighted that she wanted her ashes scattered at Balintore. She felt that the place has some magic and it always lifted her mood. I suspect it was her visiting that brought the magic to the place. :-) There is a video of me saying a few impromptu words before the scattering which I won't inflict on you. Her extended family came over from Glasgow - this time it didn't rain. I will be devoting a whole blog entry to Ann's memory in the new year.

We managed to fit in a single "Balintore Castle Lunar Dinner Party" between lock-downs. These monthly events started as a way to help my morale during the cold and dark of last winter. However, as an act of defiance I am determined these will become an all year round fixture.

When seeing friends is impossible, you really value those brief windows when meet-ups becomes possible. Those occasions are all the more bitter-sweet because you are fully aware the window is likely to close again. All I can say is watch out for the myriad of fun events at Balintore Castle when we get the all clear.

As a special Christmas treat, I edited down a 5 minute video of Balintore's original bath being returned to the castle this summer after around 50 years of serving as a cow trough in a local farmyard. Greg was a little concerned that the video did not always show his best angles so as a compromise I have settled for the most flattering frame-grabs. 
What is nice about the video is that it was recorded at the height of summer, and in the depth of winter this is great to look back on.

attempting to extract Balintore bath from farmyard wall

Balintore bath is freed!

strapping bath into my pick-up

bath being returned inside castle

When I was initially told about the existence of the bath, the farmer in residence was a Walter Waddle, who I first met by coincidence at the Kirriemuir tip. You cannot make these things up. :-)

Negotiations for the bath have taken around 5 years, principally due to the turn-around of factors. What spurred me on recently was my first trip to the shops after a period of lockdown. I always check on the cow trough as I drive past, but this time it was missing! A large pile of stones suggested the wall the bath was build into had been demolished, and that the bath had presumably been disposed of out of ignorance. I was distraught.

However, I had simply panicked. The pile of stones came from another demolition, and the bath was still there but hidden behind the stones. Anyhow, it made me pull my socks up and start the final push for the return of the bath. So again, the thrilling and historic return of the bath is an unforeseen benefit of covid.

Merry Christmas and, more than ever, a Happy New Year to friends of Balintore.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Saturday 5 December 2020

Tiling Upside-Down

The last couple of weeks have been a flurry of painting and tiling, as we try to complete the current tranche of rooms at the top of the castle. As ever, it's the finishing off that takes the time. The ceiling in the female servants' bedroom took at least 5 coats of white paint. I have a "painting coat" that displays the splodges of battle.

Tiling in the female servants' bedroom was problematic, as being in the roof space, the ceiling starts to come in at a low level. The choice was between having just three rows of tiles (which would look pathetically minimal) or trying to tile up the sloping bits of ceiling (which had the potential of looking awful and was going to be difficult/impossible to achieve). 

My friend Elise came over and I asked her opinion: "You have to go for the three rows of tiles, David, no matter how well you tile the sloping bits, it's going to look awful". She had a point, there was no practical way the tiles on the sloping surfaces would line up with any other tiles, let alone the large number of awkward triangular shapes that would have to be cut.  I thought long and hard about this. Mathematically, you can make tiles line up at any edge - imagine placing a mirror there - then the second side to be tiled follows the reflection of the first side that has been tiled. The downside is that the tiles will shoot off at some kind of angle - and anything other than tiles on the horizontal looks weird i.e. worse than the problem you are trying to solve. 

You could chop down larger tiles to fit the slope, but then it just becomes silly. The only aesthetic solution was to tile a horizontal level, no matter the slope, and to work with this. However, the sloped areas were triangular with the point at the bottom, so the level could only be established at the top. In short, one would have to tile from the top down or "upside-down" as I have put it.

Before Elise gave me her advice I had also settled on the "3 row" solution, as least for a time. On later reflection it seemed inevitable I had to go for the slope. And to make things look intentioned, I had to go for 4 (equivalent) rows up the slope i.e. just one more than the rows on the conventionally vertical wall. Ironically, Gregor has put on some initial oak beading to frame the tiles, and had put on a vertical length equivalent to 7 rows. I have yet to ask Gregor how he knew the correct solution well in advance of me. :-)

Photos of the upside-down tiling in progress, with duck tape galore:

tiling in progress: right-hand section of coving

tiling in progress: left hand section of coving

When I say "correct solution", there was no guarantee. Tiling on the slope could look awful. I would have to chip them off and eat a slice of Elise humble pie. :-) The work was extremely slow, as instead of allowing gravity to allow the next row to sit on the previous row, I had to tape the row underneath to the one on top, using duck tape under high tension. To make sure the top row was anchored in place firmly, I could only do one row a day and then let the adhesive dry overnight. Occasionally, I was a little braver and did a couple of rows, but I also taped the new tiles to the established tiles on either side. I had to make extremely stiff tile adhesive to slop the tiles sliding down the walls straight away. With stiff adhesive you have to get the amount correct within tight tolerances, as the amount of squidge you can use when pressing a tile to the wall is much reduced,

Photos of the finished tiling:

tiling complete on right-hand section of coving

tiling complete on left hand section of coving

What is allowing me to write this blog entry is that friend of Balintore, Steven from DD8 Music, has taken over the baton on voluntary Saturday morning painting duty. He arrived at 7AM this morning - way beyond the call! I will follow his example to give a good push on the painting front over the course of this weekend.

Steven cleaning the coving prior to painting

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Window Seats III

The day I wrote the previous blog entry on the two new window seats that have been constructed on the top floor of the castle, Gregor was working away on a third. It would seem somewhat unfair not to accord the same honour of introducing the third window seat to its expectant public. So here it is:

third new window seat

You can see by the time we had got around to the third window seat, we had run out of the reclaimed pitch-pine lining from Lochee Parish Church that we used to give the previous two a period patina. So all the timber here is new. Developing a period patina will just take a little longer. At the castle one always has a view towards the longer timescale.

When I photographed the window seat, I realised I should show progress in the room where the seat is located. The original Victorian plasterwork was mostly good, but patch repairs using plasterboard were required. You can see two areas in the ceiling where repairs have taken place. It's useful to record this before painting occurs, because then there will be no trace. 

The repair at the front was an actual hole in the ceiling. The area at the back flexed alarming when pushed with a broom handle. This is a sure sign the plaster has detached from its supporting woodwork and is structurally unsound. After the defective plaster was removed, I climbed up a ladder and poked my head through the hole into the loft space to inspect the condition of the ceiling  from above. 

ceiling repairs in the same room - waiting to be painted

The ceiling was mostly pretty sound, but across its entirety was a two inch thick layer of pigeon poo, which can hold moisture and create perfect conditions for dry rot. "This is good in a way, we can brush the pigeon poo through the hole in the ceiling and it will be so much easier to remove this way.", I declared trying to sound upbeat. Gregor demurred "We will be fixing the hole in the ceiling, then it will be your job to remove the pigeon poo from above.". That was me told. I have removed enough pigeon poo in confined spaces with a dish-towel strapped across my nose and mouth, to know the unpleasantness that lies ahead.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Window Seats II

Thanks to friend of Balintore, Violet, for making a couple of fitted cushions for the trapezoidal window seats in two of the entrance tower bedrooms. There is a previous blog entry on these window seats, sans soft furnishings, here. The cushions certainly transform the spaces for the better.

In the yellow room a damask curtain, bought at auction, was recycled into the covering. The warm tones in the fabric, pick up the red of the carpet and the yellow of the walls.

new window seat cushion in yellow room

For the blue room cushion, Violet donated a light blue velvet, and a dark blue velvet to cover the buttons. Violet overrode the material I had brought along as a bad colour choice, and I could only but agree but this was all I had. We rummaged around in Violet's bag of materials for about half-an-hour, considering carefully the different colour-ways. We even toyed with a number of blue-ish hued tartans. :-) I always thought I was very sensitive to colour, but Violet's artistic eye took things to a whole new level, and the final colour choice was just perfect. It turned out that the light blue material was resistant to being sewn by machine, and Violet had to hand sew the whole thing. I couldn't be more grateful for her endeavours beyond the call.

new window seat cushion in blue room

Gregor came to me a few days ago to ask if I wanted more windows seats in 3 new rooms we are fixing up. To be honest I had not really though about it, and initially said "no", because the rooms are large enough for chairs and I thought it would just be extra work.

I had obtained some pitch-pine tongue and groove lining from Lochee Parish Church in Dundee recently as it is being remodelled. I asked Gregor if he could recycle this for lining the windows. Unfortunately, it was just too short to reach from the bottom of the window to the floor. "Hang on a moment, " I said, "if we put in a window seat we can use the shorter lengths of lining above and below the seat level.". Suddenly, window seats became very attractive - it's an extra seat or surface if you ever need it.  Even then, they didn't quite reach the floor, but a bit of skirting board hides the gap:

new window seat with recycled framing timbers

Sadly, the supply of pitch-pine lining ran out far too soon, and we only managed to cover the seat back of the second window seat. For the bottom section we used bespoke modern lining copied from the Balintore original. The Lochee lining has an identical design, although it is a little narrower, but hopefully most people will simply not notice.

new window seat with 50% recycled framing timber

Gregor and I are living with the wonderful rich colour of the reclaimed pitch pine for now, but to suit the rest of the woodwork, we will probably have to paint it the same white which is a shame. One of the rooms has other dark wood detailing, so we may may be able to leave the pitch pine au naturel in this location.

What I love about the restoration of Balintore is paradoxically that there are so many constraints. It is a listed building so I am dedicated to putting back what was there before. However, we have to work with the reality of what has survived and what has disappeared, and the fact you cannot buy reclaimed materials to order, so how are we going to get everything to work together? The mix of solving practical problems and trying to achieve good-looking solutions is always a joy. 

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.