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.


  1. I've been faithfully reading your blog for several years now, admiring you from across the big pond, here in Kansas.

    When I become overwhelmed regarding my restoration of a 9,000 sq. ft. house built in 1894, I only need to check out your latest blog post to feel better. I often think, If David can do THAT, what I'm doing is nothing!

    Happy holidays to you David and to all your loved ones.


    1. Thanks for your blog loyalty Ross.

      I am glad I help you feel less daunted - suffice it to say I feel overwhelmed at times myself. But then I know someone who has taken on an even bigger building than Balintore with even less funding, and I gain that relative false sense of security myself. :-)

  2. Such a treat to read this, David. One of these days I'll be back to see all you've done in person. So much has changed since I last saw you in the kitchen and had the tour of the safe areas. Stay safe, and have a happy new year!


  3. Hi Julie, looking forward to your next visit.

  4. Hi.. I think it is fantastic the work that you are doing. I am.a Yank living in Ecuador. However I have a used motorhome stored in a barn near Aberdeen. I would like to visit you this summer and spend the night in my motorhome which is self contained and gladly pay a fee for the night. Thanks. Matt Lavery

    1. Hello Matt,

      would love to see you and your motorhome at the castle. We all have post-covid aspirations, and this is a lovely one. I may even let you use the facilities. :-)

      To that day!

      Best wishes,