Sunday 28 March 2021

Exploding Taps

This is what -18 °C looks like! 

the two sets of exploded taps

Gregor left work at Balintore Castle on a Friday evening and everything was OK. On the Monday morning a vigorous fountain was spouting from these taps. The extreme low temperatures had cased the metal of the tap bodies to split open. Interestingly both sets of taps had split at the same point to the right of centre. In addition, the left hand tap has a narrower split on the left too.

There was significant flooding, and the carpet had to be dried out over a bannister rail for over a week. The extreme cold also caused some breaches in the roof, and rain flooded in to complete the inundation. Not a point of high morale.

When I purchased new taps, I noticed this model was on sale on eBay for around £15 so this may account for the thinness of the metal. As with most things at Balintore, the sink and taps were bought second-hand.

I invested in slightly more expensive taps, but there was an advantage to the fact that the weak point was accessible rather than in pipework behind walls or under the floor. Gregor has never seen metal split like this due to the cold, and it was a first for me too.

Friday 26 March 2021

Balmerino, Lordscairnie, Denmylne & Ballinbreich

Some friends of mine are on the hunt for a country property that will accommodate highland ponies and ooze period charm. When it comes to oozing, I am your man. :-) When I discovered Ballinbreich Castle on the Internet recently, I could not believe that such a large and beautiful ruin was so close to Balintore, and yet I had not heard of it. Naturally I teased my friends by suggesting they "view", without any thought that this might actually happen.

When I found out my friends would today be within 2 miles of Ballinbreich for work, I pushed harder. This resulted in me being invited to a small "castles of Fife" expedition. After being cooped up indoors due to covid, the prospect was glorious.

Balmerino Abbey

The first stop was an abbey rather than a castle. Balmerino Abbey of the Cistercian Order (founded in 1098) was founded in 1227. With the reformation and subsequent plundering of stone, only structures around the north transept survive.  However, these structures are of exquisite beauty with details such as foliated capitals. Due to the extreme age of the building, my normal architectural "dating eyes" could do nothing. 

At one time, after the reformation, the building had been repurposed as a private residence. The building could still be repurposed, but it is a tricky brief, as one would want to preserve the magic atmosphere of the ruins. There is still a noticeable spiritual tranquillity on site. Even in ruin, the abbey provides solace for the soul.

Balmerino Abbey

Balmerino Abbey

Balmerino Abbey (round the back!)

Lordscairnie Castle

This ruined 5 storey L-plan castle dating from 1500 stands rather starkly in the middle of a field. The photographs on the Web looked rather undistinguished and showed a significant amount of collapse, but these did not prepare us for the reality. This is an unusually massive tower house. The scale took our breath away. This was a high status building with large windows, rather than purely defensive slits, that brought light into what would have been a phenomenally large great hall. We could make out 4 of the floors. Part of our confusion in trying to find the fifth floor, was that we were uncertain if the vaulted basement had collapsed or was intact beneath us. There were at least 4 building phases, and the dark, dark stone only enhanced  the forbidding character of the building.

Any restoration would have to begin with considerable consolidation, so a lot of money would have to be spent before any accommodation could start to be reclaimed.

Lordscairnie Castle

Lordscairnie Castle

Lordscairnie Castle (stair tower)

Denmylne Castle

We took a wrong turning while trying to find Denmylne Castle. As far as wrong turnings go this was beautiful, as long rows of daffodils trumpeted our procession along a drive. We were not escorted off the premises, but a car lingered at the end of the drive to ensure that we did leave! The photo shows hail on the windscreen on a day that alternated between sunshine and squalls.

Denmylne, which dates from the late 16th Century, in the grounds of a private house. It is right on the road so will have been seen by many, many people. It is a beautiful building with largely intact walls so would be a relatively simple restoration. The problem is the proximity to a private house, so they would never be separated into two lots. One wonders how much the house with adjacent ruin (possibly bigger than the house itself) would sell for.  A house and a ruin is quite a niche market, so if they are some distance apart, they will tend to move to separate ownership.

wrong turning en-route to Denmylne

Denmylne Castle (rear)

Denmylne Castle (front)

Ballinbreich Castle

The last castle we visited was very much a fitting but unexpected climax to the day. I knew it was sizable, but only when we visited did the actual size of the building emerge. It looks like 5 tower houses have been merged together into a single building. The structures are arranged around a central courtyard, and it is only when you enter the courtyard that the true scale of the building becomes apparent. We were in disbelief. This is a National Trust quality building, dating incidentally from the 14th Century although much of what you can see is 16th Century. To my eye certain sections looked considerably more recent either 18th Century or 19th Century, but I have failed to find out when the building fell into dereliction.

The building boasts the biggest fireplace and chimney I have ever seen. A large hole in the side of the building afforded us a view of 3 lancet arches bathed in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun. This section of the building had clearly been the chapel.

The castle is perched on the south bank of the Tay, slightly elevated with shoreline reed beds directly below. These reed beds are harvested commercially every year, as I learned from a BBC documentary on the Tay. I had never seen these reed beds in person before,

A restoration initially felt approachable, as there are certain areas that are more intact than others, so you could start with these. However, on closer inspection, all areas of the castle needed considerable consolidation and it ended up almost as daunting as Lordscairnie.

Ballinbreich Castle (River Tay in background)

Ballinbreich Castle (chapel can be seen through opening)

Ballinbreich Castle (chapel)

Ballinbreich Castle (teetering arches)

Ballinbreich Castle (whopper of a chimney)

Ballinbreich Castle (what is this arch?)

Ballinbreich Castle (inside courtyard)

Ballinbreich Castle (the approach)

Ballinbreich Castle (friend for scale!)

Ballinbreich Castle

Ballinbreich Castle


My "way in" when visiting old buildings is to assess how restorable they are. This is not necessarily because I would want to restore another building (but I would) but because I went through this exercise so many times when I was looking for a building to restore in the first place that it has become a habit. Also, it gives the mind something to latch on to, when otherwise one could be overwhelmed by what one sees. For example, Ballinbreich was just overwhelming. There was no way a single visit could do it justice.

There is no one best building. Balmerino won for beauty, Lordscairnie won for "Game of Thrones" realness, Denmylne won for practicality of restoration and Ballinbreich won for impact and its riverside location. 

I asked my friends the question "If you could have any of these buildings fully restored with no expense spared, which one would you take?". One of my friends selected Lordscairnie (just as I did) and the other chose Ballinbreich, which on paper should have been my choice. However, you visit these sites precisely because of the gut feelings they induce. These buildings have a lot to teach us about ourselves.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Lady Airlie's False Witness

On the back of a Balintore ghost story reported in a newspaper, which I presented in a previous blog entry, I purchased the biography of Mabell Countess of Airlie entitled "Thatched with Gold" which allegedly holds the original account of the story. 

The ghost story is in there all right, only it relates to Airlie Castle not Balintore Castle, and the newspaper article segues a known Balintore ghost story with the Airlie Castle ghost story, so it reads as a single narrative. So I must apologies for my earlier blog entry which repeats the confusion of the newspaper article. In fact, I had wondered if precisely this mistake had been made as the landscape described in the story was not identifiable as Balintore to me, but could have been an area of the gardens I visited on an Airlie Castle open day.

Oddly enough, in this area of the Airlie Castle gardens which was leading down to the river and which I was exploring on my own, I got a very chilled feeling and decided to head back to the castle. I recall puzzling that here was an idyllic castle in idyllic grounds, yet I wasn't getting the expected pleasure from exploring them. The two other things I recall from the open day are a severe case of box blight in the walled gardens, and that all the family members had the same nose. :-)

Airlie Castle is just 8 miles due south of Balintore, and well worth visiting if you get an opportunity.

I very much liked Airlie Castle, despite the gloom of that one location, particularly the mammoth curtain wall from the 15th Century which somehow anchors the habitable part, an 18th Century mansion house, to the past. 

Fortunately, the biography is a good read. Lady Airlie was the Lady of the Bedchamber (i.e. the most important lady-in-waiting) for Queen Mary, so there are good royal anecdotes, which ensured the book a reasonable circulation when it was published posthumously in 1962.

Airlie Castle use to serve as the dower house for Cortachy Castle, so Lady Airlie moved there when she was widowed by the Second Boer War of 1899. This gives the context for the ghost story in the book, which I shall now present complete as an antidote to the confusions of the newspaper article.

Extract from "Thatched with Gold" by Mabell Countess of Airlie

Airlie—the smallest castle in Britain—was romantic and mellow with age, but uncomfortable in many ways when she moved into it. Built in the fifteenth century on a promontory at the conflux of the Melgum and Isla rivers, it had been originally an almost impregnable fortress, accessible only on its south side, which was protected by ten-foot-thick stone walls and a drawbridge. But it had borne the brunt of the Ogilvys' loyalty to the Stuarts, and in 1640 the whole building had been burnt to the ground by the Earl of Argyll and his clansmen. A later Lord Ogilvy had rebuilt it from the old battle-scarred stones but on a reduced scale. There were only three masters' bedrooms and two small servants' bedrooms in the main building. Guests slept in a cottage which had been built on.

Lady Airlie spent many hours of the day in the centuries-old ‘Stone Room'. It was no bigger than a closet, but its windows looked down on the lovely sweep of the River Melgum and in it she wrote her books. Freed from the responsibility of the vast Cortachy estate, she usually gave the whole morning to writing.

The small castle was easily run. Her household—in addition to Louisa Roffey, the maid who had been with her since her childhood—consisted of two country girls. With none of Cortachy's facilities for entertaining, she maintained its traditions of hospitality. In the months of September and October Airlie was always filled with guests. Many of them still remember the big Scottish teas with fresh-baked scones and cakes and home-made jam; the game pies and newly caught trout served with delicious sauces; the russet apples from the old walled garden.

The Queen and Princess Mary stayed several days at the castle in September 1921.

‘The Queen had said to me rather wistfully at Windsor earlier that summer how difficult it was for her to get a real holiday since she could no longer go abroad to stay with the old Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz as she used to do', Lady Airlie wrote. “On an impulse I exclaimed, “How much I should like to ask Your Majesty to Airlie if it would not be too small!” She answered warmly that of course it would not be too small and that she would be delighted to come. But in my eagerness to give her this rest which she so badly needed I had forgotten that her conception of small” and mine might be different. She brought with her, besides Princess Mary, the very minimum of people, but even so they comprised a gentleman in waiting and his servant, two dressers, a detective, a footman, a chauffeur and under-chauffeur. I passed over the problem of finding rooms for all of them to Louisa, and in some miraculous way she solved it successfully.

“The visit was a very great pleasure to me, and I felt that the Queen and Princess Mary enjoyed it too. No two people could have been easier to amuse. I had arranged several motor drives to places of interest, and one or two luncheon and dinner parties, but they were equally happy sitting quietly in the gardens.

"Princess Mary had a very strange experience at Airlie but I only heard about it from the Queen long afterwards.

‘On the evening of their arrival the Princess went for a walk in the gardens while her mother rested before dinner. Quite alone she wandered along the paths in the evening sunshine and through the thicket, which has always been known as "The Den”, towards the little bridge spanning the River Melgum. As she reached it she was seized with such an inexplicable and overwhelming sense of fear and horror that she turned and ran the whole way back to the house. When she went up to her room she was shaking from head to foot, but “The Thing”— whatever it was—had made such an impression on her that she could not speak of it, even to the Queen, for several days.

‘This has happened more than once in the case of new arrivals at Airlie, always at the same spot and at about the same time—between six and seven in the evening and very often the experience has been followed by some tragedy.

'In the nineteen-thirties I had a party of young people staying with me at Airlie for the Forfar Ball. They included Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah, and my grand-daughter Clementine Mitford, Jock Colvillei and Prince George Chachavadze. They arrived early in the afternoon and after tea the girls went up to rest in their rooms while Jock Colville, at my suggestion, borrowed a fishing rod and went down to the River Melgum.

'After a while he grew tired of fishing and began to walk along the path in the evening sunshine, just as Princess Mary had done. Suddenly he was transfixed with a sense of terror which he said was “impossible to describe". It deepened until as he reached the little bridge he could fight against it no longer, and ran full speed back to the house.?

'I myself had more than one encounter with what I came to call the unseen presence of evil in The Den. I could never forget a walk which I took by the River Melgum on a lovely day in May soon after I settled at Airlie. The sun was still shining when I entered the wood in the early evening with my dog-a little Aberdeen-trotting blithely ahead. All at once he stopped dead, and I supposed that he had seen someone or something through the trees. I looked round, but not a soul was in sight, and then suddenly I felt that overwhelming, devastating fear. After that I remembered nothing but a wild scramble up the side of the steep bank, holding on to roots and trees, stumbling, falling, climbing, regardless of danger, with one impulse only, to get away from some frightful evil. When at last I reached the top I sank down on a log and called repeatedly to my dog. Nothing would make him cross the ground from which I had fled but eventually he came round to me by another way.

‘After that I always avoided the path by the River Melgum and begged my guests to do the same.'

Light Well Number 1

On the top floor of Balintore Castle, there are a number of light wells which in the past brought daylight to the uppermost corridor and a bathroom. Unfortunately, the skylights at the top of the light wells were a weak-spot. When I bought the castle, every single one of these had fallen through, each leaving a large hole for rain to pour through. And pour through it did: the water damage in these areas is horrific.

One of the first things we did was to cap these holes with plywood and roofing felt. No more water ingress, but no more light.

Anyhow, we have just completed fixing up the first light well. There are around 4 altogether. A reclaimed metal conservation roof window was installed, and the well itself was fixed up and re-plastered. The roof window is one of a job lot bought on eBay after years of looking: new, they would have been 10 times the price.  

Gregor was not that impressed by the amount of light newly entering the corridor, but I am hoping that when the new plasterwork is painted white and we move towards summer things will take a turn for the better. I have yet to see the refurbished light well for myself.


You can see a circular aperture at the bottom of the light well. This used to hold a circular window with glass in 8 frosted segments. There are marks in the surviving, almost complete, wooden frame every 45 degrees. Greg reported that the well was only rough plastered originally because, given the frosted glass, there would have been no need. My current thought is to use clear glass as the replacement for maximum light transmission and indeed to show off Greg's coloratura plasterwork.

When I visited Balthayock House nearby (a possible restoration candidate - now demolished) the light wells on the top (first) floor were egg shaped with circular openings on the roof, so you got a wonderful softly moulded sculptural lighting effect just from daylight alone. The light well as a art form.

In the photo below you can see the newly installed skylight in the roof, with new slating round the edge.

Patching up the roof is a slow business, but this step forwards was particularly welcome, given the leak in the entrance hall which has suddenly got a lot worse. With every step backwards, one needs a step forwards.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Later Ownership Timeline

I was trying to do some research on the Scottish Land Registry website yesterday. The required information is computerised nowadays but frustratingly is not directly accessible on the Web so you have to pay someone to look it up. This seems wrong somehow, against the principle of transparency of ownership, and if you want to do a lot of searching then this could cost you a pretty penny. So much for the freedom of information! Hopefully, in a civilised society like Scotland, it is just a matter of time before this is rectified.

Today I came across the registry information for Balintore Castle during some lock down tidying in my little office. I had not lost the information, as such, but let's just say it was in safe storage. :-) Given my little rant above, it was now the time to digitise the information so it would always be at my fingertips, and indeed would never have to be paid for ever again

Other ownership information had recently been provided by a friend of Balintore, so it was also time to cross-reference this to create a definitive timeline of more recent ownership, which I have appended at the end of this entry along with scans of the registry documents.

The long term mid 20th Century ownership of the castle by the Kinnordy Estate marks the division between the early owners and the later owners. Lady Langman who is frequently mentioned in this blog had use of Balintore Castle for the duration of her lifetime, so this was ownership in a practical sense, but not a titular one. I would love to find out more about the nature of this arrangement.

When the Kinnordy Estate sold the castle in 1986, it was separated from its land, and from this date onwards the building really hit bad times, moving rather swiftly between developers.

In 1989 Country Life identified the owner as a Mr. F. Godley stating that he bought it from the Lord Lyell, whereas the register indicates this is a Duncan Gordon. The names are different enough to exclude a simple error, so I am wondering if Mr. Gordon was merely the broker or agency for the sale or if he simply passed the property to Mr. Godley without any formal sale? When the property is next sold it is by Mr. Gordon.

The purchase in 1991 by SMEX LIMITED was a bit of a mystery. Who was this? Googling returned no useful results - there are many, many companies with this name.  However, in 1992, a newspaper article identified a Mr. R. Kelbie as the owner. Googling for "Kelbie" and "SMEX" identified he was the director of the now defunct company - bingo! 

Mr. Kelbie was apparently desperate to get rid of the building immediately after purchase as he took it on in error, and this explains the recently discovered  "for sale" notice of 1992. However, it actually took him a full 3 years to sell on the building to a Mr. Liu in 1994.

Mr. Liu then sold  the building to his company for a staggering £685k, and then back to himself for £60k. This latter figure is not in the register, but I believe this to be the correct amount through discussions with Angus Council.

Finally, after 13 years of Mr. Liu's effective ownership it was transferred to Angus Council via a compulsory purchase for £80k at around 11AM in the morning if memory serves. A few hours later, it was transferred to me. I did not and could not believe this had actually happened. The compulsory purchase had taken 8 years by that stage, so my brain has simple assumed that the legal work was interminable, as with the fictional "Jarndyce v Jarndyce" case of Dickens's "Bleak House", which had run for generations.

So in summary, with the exception of the mysterious and possibly entirely spurious Mr. Godley, the later ownership timeline of Balintore Castle has been nailed! :-)




27th Apr 1943

transferred via inheritance

new owner:

Baron Charles Lyell of Kinnordy

9th Jan 1986

purchased for £100

new owner:

Duncan Gordon, 

Bridgeton Castle, St Cyrus. Kincardine

26th Jan 1989

Country Life article

Mr. F. Godley given as owner

5th Apr 1991

purchased for £30,000

new owner:


( Richard Kelbie director)

    25th Feb 1992

for sale notice

Aberdeen Press & Journal

12th Aug 1992

newspaper article

Mr. R. Kelbie given as owner

20th Jun 1994

purchased for £48,000

new owner:

Peter Dong Guang Liu, 

261 Section 1, Tun Hun South Road, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China 

17th Oct 1996

purchased for £685,000

new owner:


15th Nov 1996

purchased for £60,000

new owner:

Peter Dong Guang Liu

261 Section 1, Tun Hun South Road, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China

6th Feb 2007

purchased for £80,000

new owner:

Angus Council

The Shed

Many thanks to friend of Balintore, Morag who once was a beater on the Estate, for sending me this postcard along with an original ink well from the drawing room of the castle, where served as the beaters' dormitory. Morag gifted me these items in 2008 and I have treasured them to this day.

This postcard is un-used and on photographic paper. 

This is the only image I have of this shed on the south elevation of the castle. The location has an astonishing view but the wind can whip past, so a gazebo affair is a perfect solution. I rely on the ground effect where the wind velocity close to the ground (or close to a wall) is always zero, and by pressing my back onto the stonework some relief is afforded from the aeolian gods. Wikipedia informs me these are Zephyrus (gentle west wind), Boreas (north wind), Notus (south wind), and Eurus (east wind). Some instinct tells me that Lady Langman may have set-up the shed in the 1920's or 1930's when fresh air and sunlight became enormously fashionable.

The photograph was taken early on a sunny morning (the sun is due east), with the lead canopy of the oriel window glinting in the direct light. Ivy has grown up the walls to the level of the first string course. Many blinds are in evidence to protect the interior from fading or the guests from the dangers of exposure. In the summer months, who would want to close the shutters?


More goodies are emerging in the lock down paperwork tidy. In 2007, at the time of the compulsory purchase of Balintore Castle a friend sent me a photo of their TV screen, with the news item featuring on BBC Scotland's CEEFAX service. I was astonished then that CEEFAX was still on the go and indeed that CRT televisions were still on the go. In 2021 this appears even more of a blast from a lost and almost forgotten past, very much like Balintore Castle itself.

CEEFAX was the BBC's teletext offering, and ORACLE was the ITV version. I can recall teletext as painfully slow, and I only really used it for TV listings and downloading programs for my BBC Micro. 

With tweets at 280 characters (originally 140) we have come full circle again in text limits to get things across! 

Wikipedia tells me that CEEFAX closed in 2012, but effectively it was heading stage left in 2007 with the start of the digital switch over and of course the Internet had long since made it redundant. It feels weird that this photo condemns the castle and myself to the teletext generation, but there is the incontestable evidence.  :-)

Monday 8 March 2021

Lady Airlie's Horror

Lockdown paperwork tidying has unearthed an article from the Dundee Courier and Advertiser dated 19th September 2009, on the ghosts of the Angus Glens. I have scanned in the section on Balintore Castle, as part of my gradual collation of the many castle ghost stories. Here is the text of the article.

Diverting from the main road leads to Balintore, until recently dominated by the ruins of a picturesque Victorian castle. However it is not the mansion which can claim a ghost, for it is reputed that a child was murdered in one of the nearby cottages around the time of its construction.

Possibly the most terrifying aspect of a ghost is its presence, unseen, but most certainly experienced. The most vivid description of the fear it can induce was described by Mabel, Countess of Airlie, in her memoirs. There is no doubt that in her time she would have been regarded as an imperturbable femme formidable, but she lost her cool in the den below the castle along the banks of the Melgum one May evening in 1921

Walking with her dog, she was surprised to see it not only stopping suddenly but shaking with fright. Then, in turn, she felt an overwhelming sense of terror and only had a vague memory of stumbling wildly up the bank before, dishevelled, reaching the safety of the castle. Some of her other guests had the same experience, including Princess Mary, daughter of Queen Mary, wife of King George V, who apparently was so unnerved that she could not speak of her trauma for several days.

I have just managed to buy an old copy of the biography of Lady Airlie on eBay. This is entitled "Thatched with Gold", which of course betrays no sense of entitlement. I am looking forward to reading the ghost story first hand. I have my doubts about some details of the narrative as the Mulgum is a tributary of the River Isla, and as far as I know the Mulgum is not in the vicinity of the Balintore.

Anyhow, the Princess Mary referred to is the aunt of the current queen, so she is now another known Royal visitor to Balintore Castle. The Queen Mum used to stay at Balintore Castle for shooting parties in the 1950's. I managed to find a picture of both Princess Mary and the Queen Mum together. I just need to invite Charles and Anne to tea to collect the full set. :-) 

Friday 5 March 2021

In Country Life

This time a “Balintore Castle” snapshot from 26th January 1989: a Country Life article on 12 Scottish houses at risk. The significance of an article in this prestigious magazine should not be underestimated particularly in pre-Web days. It is a definite “call to arms” for Scotland very much in the way the referenced exhibition at the V&A “The Destruction of the Country House” was for England 15 years earlier.

I had only planned to include the section on Balintore, but instead I have included details of all 12, not just to keep the article complete but to indicate the augustness of the company kept by Ms. Balintore. I will give you an update on the buildings I know about to indicate the winners and losers in the intervening 32 years. You will not be surprised that most of these are losers (6 losers vs. 2 winners). I have not included Balintore in this reckoning as I do not wish to tempt providence.

Mr. F. Godley is given as the owner of Balintore. This name is new to me, so bingo: another link in that ownership chain. I believe quite a number of the details in the history of the building are not quite correct, but these are understandable mistakes, so I will not start nit-picking. :-) After all, readers will surely have picked up the definitive version of events from this blog.

The photograph in the Country Life shows the castle still with its urns, blinds and kitchen wing finial, though of course there is no indication how long before the article the photo was taken. The front of the castle sports pheasant rearing cages.

I have appended the OCR-ed text of this article at the end of this blog entry for your convenience, though the scans are sufficiently high resolution, on clicking, to read comfortably.

The Winners

Auchinleck House

This is near where I grew up and is now in the safe and capable arms of the Landmark Trust. A friend of mine had a very happy time working there!

Ballochmyle House

The main house, once vacated, is now being used for accommodation, while the surrounding hospital has been demolished with the site being redeveloped as housing. I visited the hospital when I was small as my granny died here. :-( I looked at Ballochmyle as a restoration candidate, and don’t think my rejection was influenced by this sad connection.

The Losers

Mavisbank House

This William Adam cause célèbre famously came second in BBC2’s 2003 “Restoration” series, so missed being restored by the skin of its teeth. The Landmark Trust have recently said they would restore the house, with Historic Scotland doing the gardens, but I don’t know the current status given the pandemic so have kept this as a “loser” for now.

Poltalloch House

I have visited twice. A vast and stunning edifice by the architect of Balintore. The scale and level of dereliction do not bode well for a restoration

Dunalaister House

One of my most embarrassing visits (a tale for another time!). The quality of the stonework is next to none, but a daunting restoration.

Crawford Priory

One of my favourite buildings. I spotted three phases of gothic revival building work during my visit - every phase a gem! Still disintegrating.

Cambusnethan House

There is an active “friends of” society, but no light at the end of the tunnel.

Dalquharran Castle

Still a perfect shell of a building, and still crying out for a restoration. Technically, it is not a difficult restoration, which makes the tragedy even greater.

pp100-103 COUNTRY L I F E JANUARY 26, 1989



AUCHINLECK HOUSE, near Ayrshire (left), was built in 1759–61 for the father of Dr Johnson's friend James Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, and remained in the family until it was sold two and a half years ago to the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. By this time it had developed extensive dry rot and was well on the way to becoming a ruin, but the trust has now spent some £200,000 on repairing and releading the roof, and will shortly begin work on the interior. The superb masonry survives in virtually perfect condition—thanks to the pure unpolluted air of the west coast.

The final use is yet to be decided. As any kind of public use would require a major endowment it is most likely that it will be offered for sale when restoration is complete in two years' time. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

MAVISBANK, Midlothian, is architecturally, one of the most delightful early Georgian houses in Britain-aptly compared to a Baroque doll's house. After years of decay, encouraged by coal-mining subsidence, emergency repairs have been carried out, and the shell stabilised (see COUNTRY LIFE, August 20, 1987). The work has been done by the Lothian Building Preservation Trust, with grants from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Detailed costings by the trust for restoring Mavisbank as one house, or three (making the wings self-contained), put the likely cost at £2 million-£2.5 million.

The house was built in 1723-27 by William Adam for Sir John Clerk. As 1989 is the tercentenary of Adam's birth, it is to be hoped that the Secretary of State for Scotland will proceed quickly with compulsory purchase. (Photograph: Jonathan M. Gibson.)

COCHNO HOUSE, Clydebank, is a very smart but simple mid-Georgian house of seven bays, with a three-bay central pediment and a handsome external staircase. It was probably designed by John Adam.

It is now owned by Glasgow University, which was refused listed building consent to demolish. The house is in partial use by the university veterinary department, and their refusal to sell may be explained by the fact that the Home Office veterinary licence is very precious to the university.

However, there is now a possibility that the department will be merged with that of Edinburgh University and the house may come onto the market. It has good original 1760s interiors, with early-19th-century alterations and embellishments. (Photograph: Glasgow Herald.)

BALLOCHMYLE HOUSE, Ayrshire, is a classic case of institutional use proving the undoing of a fine house. The original house, built by John Adam in about 1760 for Allan Whitefoord, was remodelled and absorbed in the present handsome red sandstone Jacobean mansion by Hew Montgomerie Wardrop in 1887. The entrance front has a fine, Renaissance-style, two-storey porch and bell-capped octagonal corner turrets.

It is now engulfed in a hospital which has repeatedly sought to demolish the house (which has been empty since 1968), and has turned down potential buyers because it wished to retain exclusive use of the access. No thought has been given to the future of the house as the hospital has expanded, and for this reason it must be kept wind- and water-tight until the Health Board is able to dispose of it on reasonable terms. (Photograph: Glasgow Herald.)

Fifteen years after the seminal exhibition, “The Destruction of the Country House”, few major houses remain at risk in England. In Scotland the situation is very different. There are still many derelict and decaying houses that deserve to be saved.

STRATHLEVEN HOUSE, Dunbarton, Strathclyde right), was taken on by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust at the same time as it acquired Auchinleck. This important 1690s house stands on the edge of a substantial industrial estate, which has ruled out many potential uses, but the trust believes it has a future as either a management training centre or prestige company headquarters. A funding package is now being prepared in association with the Scottish Development Agency and the Historic Buildings Council. Behind the house a 10acre site is available for associated development.

The house has extensive dry rot, but the very fine late-17th-century woodwork-notably a staircase and a large panelled room with Corinthian columns—is safely in store. The building is very much in the style of Sir William Bruce. (Photograph: Frank Melvin.)

POLTALLOCH, Argyllshire, was built in about 1850-52 for Neill Malcolm by William Burn, the most prolific of Victorian country-house architects both north and south of the Border. The style is a delicately ornate Jacobethan, comparable to Burn's Revesby Hall in Lincolnshire, and with deliciously elaborate carved stone crestings to the bay windows. The house stands in an exceptionally beautiful situation and was reputed to have been one of Burn's most expensive houses. It was unroofed some years ago and survives as a stable—but delisted—shell. This could be reconstructed internally. Poltalloch is said to have been the last house in Scotland to lose its roof under the old rating system, whereby rates were payable as long as the roof remained. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

MINTO HOUSE, Roxburghshire, following war-time requisitioning, was leased by the Elliots of Minto to a private school, but when this closed in the late 1960s no purchaser could be found. Permission to demolish was granted in 1973, but instead the lead was taken from the roof, and internal fittings removed, leaving Minto as a shell. The original house was built by William Adam for Sir Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, in about 1738–43; the unusual V-plan may be the result of incorporating an earlier building. The house was later remodelled for the 1st Earl of Minto by Archibald Elliot, one of the leading Edinburgh architects of the time. From 1894 to 1906 further work was carried out by Robert Lorimer, who designed some new interiors, a well-equipped service wing and a delightful terrace garden. (Photograph: Hugh Ross.)

BALDOVAN HOUSE, Angus, is a mid-18th-century house that stands three miles to the north of Dundee, close to recent development on the edge of the city, but still secluded in its own little stretch of parkland.

Dating from the mid 18th century, it has a front attributed to Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum and numerous country houses, including Lowther Castle, Westmorland, and Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire. It was the family home of the Scrimgeours. The house has been on the market for some time without success, but is a good candidate for conversion as flats, or possibly as a small hotel.

Vandals have done a certain amount of damage, but most of the fittings remain inside, with some good ceilings. The adjacent stables were built for Sir John Ogilvy, Bt, in 1832 by David McKenzie. (Photograph: Marcus Dean.)

DUNALASTAIR, Perthshire (right), is an impressive but forlorn house, and the latest solution suggested is that it should be sold for reconstruction in Japan, following the attempt to sell Milton Lockhart in Lanarkshire.

Set amid spectacular mountainous scenery, Dunalastair is a richly ornate example of Scottish Baronial, with magnificent views in every direction from the garden terrace. Its setting was enhanced by ornamental planting by the Jacobite poet-chieftain of the clan Donnachie, Alexander Robertson. It is sheltered from the north by Ben a Chuallaich and looks straight along Schiehallion.

The house is built of whinstone with Dunmoor freestone facings. It was formed around the core of an earlier house for General Sir John Macdonald by the Perth firm of Andrew Heiton and Son. The interiors, only fragments of which remain, were in a restrained Classical style.

The house was requisitioned during the Second World War and subsequently used as a school for Polish refugees. Latterly it has been left empty and allowed to deteriorate. It is now windowless, and will soon be a roofless shell. (Photograph: Hugh Ross.)

CAMBUSNETHAN HOUSE, Wishaw, Lanarkshire, is a Gothic revival house built in 1816-19 for Robert Lockhart by James Gillespie Graham, then Scotland's leading designer of picturesque castellated mansions. It stands in a prominent position on the north side of the Clyde, with a commanding view across the flood plain and river beyond. Unoccupied since 1983, the house has been burnt and badly vandalised, but planning permission has recently been given to a local builder to finance restoration as 12 flats, by the construction of 24 flats in two blocks below the house. Conditions are to be attached to ensure the house receives a completion certificate before the flats are begun. The stables are now in separate ownership. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

AUCHINBOTHIE, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, is one of the biggest houses in the swish railway suburb of Kilmacolm, west of Glasgow. It dates from 1898, and was designed by William Leiper, the architect of the local church, who is better known for his houses in Helensburgh. It is built in the characteristic FrancoScottish style of the period—asymmetrical, white harled and with a circular tower.

Auchinbothie has been empty for about eight years. Plans to convert it into a country club did not proceed, and planning permission has been granted for converting the house into six flats, with further new flats in the spacious grounds. The condition of the house is now causing concern. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

CRAWFORD PRIORY, Fife, is a tragic case of an attractive house left to decay, though not yet beyond redemption. It was begun in 1758 as a modest villa by the 21st Earl of Crawford and extended in 1809 by David Hamilton for Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. She changed her architect two years later, employing James Gillespie Graham to complete the house. In 1871 the 6th Earl of Glasgow employed William Little to remodel the east front in suitably ecclesiastical style, adding a service wing with a tall tower at the back. The interior is now derelict and more and more of the original detail-stained glass, plasterwork and panelling-disappears each year, but the house could still be rebuilt internally. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

BALINTORE CASTLE, Angus (left), is situated on a remote Angus grouse moor, and is a late and splendidly exuberant composition by William Burn, dating from the last decade of his prolific life. Towers and turrets proliferate with a balustrade viewing platform on the main tower. Inside, the Great Hall has a glazed gallery giving access to the main bedrooms. The house originally had only one bathroom, but has Burn's usual elaborate and efficiently planned offices and service quarters.

He received the commission from David Lyon, MP, who had inherited a fortune made through the East India Company.

Shortly after the house was completed in 1865, the 7,000-acre estate was taken over by Major William Lyon, who lived there until the end of the century.

The estate was subsequently acquired by Lady Lyell, but was latterly only used during the shooting season, and was finally abandoned in the 1960s following a major outbreak of dry rot. Thieves stripped the lead and stole many of the fittings, and Lord Lyell sold the castle and garden for a nominal sum to Mr F. Godley for restoration. Work has not yet begun. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

DALQUHARRAN CASTLE, Ayrshire, is a spectacular Robert Adam castle that was unroofed in 1968, and though the interiors have largely vanished, the masonry shell remains remarkably intact. Adam's house, built in 1790 for Thomas Kennedy, was enlarged by massive wings in 1881, built in matching style by Walker and Son of Belgravia. The original intention had been to rehabilitate the old castle of Dalquharran.

Suggestions have been made at various times that the house should be reduced to its original size, but it is the wings which give the composition its memorable and imposing silhouette. Now that the interior detail has sadly been lost, internal reconstruction becomes a simpler proposition. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

CALLENDER PARK, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, stands, protected by a large wire fence, in the public park to the south of Falkirk, but the district council have yet to decide on a use for it. The basic form of the house is 17th-century, incorporating earlier elements, but it was spectacularly transformed by Maitland Wardrop in the 19th century into a François Premier style château. There are some important 18th-century interiors and a marvellous library by David Hamilton. The Baroque painted ceiling above the staircase the only one of its kind in Scotland-has flaked away while the house has been empty, but generally the house is in a reasonable structural state. (Photograph: Marcus Dean.)

SKELBO CASTLE, Sutherland, is a very important group representing all stages of castle development in northern Scotland. A stone tower, probably of about 1300, stands on an earlier earthwork motte. Below is a large, two-storey hall house of the bastle type common on the Anglo-Scottish border, but without parallel so far north. This probably dates from about 1600, and was built as a defensible farmhouse, with provision for a bier in the vaulted cellars. There were two separate first-floor entrances, suggesting it was two units, perhaps for two brothers. The house was still in family use when Pennant came in the 1760s, but later became a bothy. It is now largely roofless, and the east gable has recently fallen down. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

The author would like to thank Hugh Ross, Marcus Dean and Mary Miers for their help with this article.