Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Servants' Hall Progess

The Servants' Hall in the basement of Balintore Castle is my second favourite room after the Great Hall. The Great Hall is such an expensive restoration challenge, that I have started a GoFundMe page to help raise the required funds.   However, the Servants' Hall is a more practical proposition, although we only started working on this space relatively recently.

This blog entry is a significant checkpoint for the Servants' Hall restoration work, as we have now finished plastering the walls and finished plastering the ceiling. All the plaster had fallen off the ceiling due to water ingress, and most of the plaster has fallen off the walls. Any remaining plaster was on lathe-and-plaster which had been destroyed by dry rot. The bottom half of the walls (concrete render rather than lathe-and-plaster) had mostly survived, so we patched new materials into this. Permission had been obtained from Angus Council to use plasterboard on the upper half of the walls.

Greg gives surfaces he has newly plastered a coat of white paint to check the quality of the finish. After this, there may be some subsequent filling. Plastering the curved ceiling for days at a time was a particular challenge, and Greg put his neck out. However, he was very stoic about this and I only found out from his father Gregor much, much later.

The transformation had been a delight to view - with the space moving from the distinctly derelict to something one could imagine living in, courtesy of the smoother wall and ceiling surfaces.

You can see we have left a beautiful stone arch exposed. When fabric is lost, there is an opportunity to do something a little different, and I couldn't bring myself to hide this arch under plaster even though this was the original decorative schema.

servants' hall looking north

Another reason for taking these photos was to record the original colour of the room before we paint it again. The colour was a cream which can be seen on the bottom half of the walls. Obviously, much of this has become discoloured and stained over time. 

servants' hall looking south

servants' hall looking east

My favourite area of this favourite cruciform room is the cross-vaulting in the ceiling where two arches meet at 90 degrees. You can see the hooks for a chandelier here. The chandelier is currently being cleaned. We are still working on this room and it is getting more and more presentable on a daily basis. I am hoping to get a fire going in the fireplace to heat up the room. Even on a warm summer's day like today, it is always slightly chilly as it is partially below ground. Only very, very occasionally on a boiling hot day, is this chill actually welcome. :-)

Monday, 21 June 2021

Courtyard Troughs

Friend of Balintore, Karel, is a keen and knowledgeable gardener. As I am neither, it was no hardship and indeed a huge relief to delegate the planting of the troughs in the castle courtyard to Karel in preparation for the castle's open day on the 10th July.

The hostas and lavender have survived from the previous year, but everything else is new. Karel was careful to install some more plants which would survive over the winter, whereas I would have just gone for cheap and cheerful colour without the superior longer term approach of an expert.

The enclosed castle courtyard is the one area which is not subject to the onslaught of rabid rabbits and sheep. All my plantings elsewhere have been munched - so the lesson has been learned.

Anyhow, I am very much looking forward to the troughs becoming a riot of seasonal colour.

Karel's blue trough planting

Karel's warm colour trough planting

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Chandelier Restoration

Friend of Balintore, Karel, has bravely stepped in to restore the chandeliers in the servants' hall. I probably brought the lights about 10 years ago and put them up in this basement room just to cheer myself up. It is only recently that we have started restoring the room around about the chandeliers.

Over the last 10 years in the damp and cold basement, the iron of the lights has rusted, and the recent plastering work has covered the glass shades in plaster.

Karel cleaned the plaster off the glass shades. In the image below the "before" shades are on the left and the "after" shades are on the right.

glass shades before and after restoration

Karel removed the rust from the chandelier framework and then repainted the whole thing black. He even built a dedicated chandelier restoration framework, on advice from Gregor.

Karel and his repainted chandelier

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Rothesay Rooms VIP Opening

When glamorous Gallic Caledophile Solveig asked me to be her "plus one" at the VIP opening of Prince Charles's restaurant "The Rothesay Rooms" in Ballater on the 19th of May this year I accepted immediately. I was a little embarrassed when subsequently I felt obliged to ask why she wasn't taking her boyfriend instead. Apparently, I have the superior palette. :-)

Solveig drove us from Dalwhinnie to Ballater. The first half of the route treated us to a rainbow on the road. The second half of the route was the A939 which passes though some astonishing scenery. It was the first time on this road for both Solveig and myself, and it is now our new favourite road!  The Lecht Ski Resort is on the A939 and it was still harbouring the odd snow field. The resort is even tinier than I had expected!.

the drive to Ballater

At one stage we turned a bend and found ourselves looking down on the brilliantly white Corgaff Castle, against a background of rugged Highland scenery. The sight took my breath away, and confirmed that even after many jaded years of restoring Balintore Castle, the spectacle of a magnificent building in a magnificent landscape still holds a special magic.

As I walked into the Rothesay Rooms I was handed a glass of champagne. Given that we were supposed to keep our masks on, I had no idea what to do with the champagne. Many other mask-wears, however, had clearly been carrying their full flutes for some time and were looking similarly distressed.  I engaged in some small talk with the be-fluted and be-masked. Naturally, no-one addressed the elephant in the room: "What to do with the champagne?". 

Finally, Solveig bravely asked what she should do with her non-alcoholic alternative, and a member of staff pointed her to a table in a dining room off to the side of the corridor where we were standing. The relief of being able to sit-down, de-mask and swig was palpable! 

An employee of the The Prince's Foundation, Robert Lovie, gave the invitees a good-natured speech explaining the background of the opening. Five years previously, Ballater had been hit by serious flooding. You may recall the news item about Abergeldie Castle which almost collapsed into the River Dee, as the torrents had eroded the bank of the river right up to the edge of the castle.  Almost unbelievably the historic building was saved, by massive emergency earthworks. In the same year, there was a serious fire at the Royal Train Station, where in the 19th Century Queen Victoria would disembark for her holidays at Balmoral.

Prince Charles realised that the economy of this little Highland village desperately needed help and started a pop-up restaurant called "The Rothesay Rooms" in the centre of the town in a small building leased by the Co-Op for a peppercorn rent. Such was the success of the pop-up that it became a permanent feature of the town. Last year the Co-op announced their intention to sell the building, so a new home was required for the restaurant PDQ. The obvious candidate was the restored railway station which already houses a café.  So a room inside the station was refurbished in best Baronial style, and it was the opening of this space that the event was celebrating.

No expense had been spared on the décor. The wooden panelling was painted a delicious green. Pictures of stags abounded, and the seats and some walls were upholstered in the beautiful Rothesay tartan. I admired the pleasing result a little enviously, as the budget was a different order of magnitude from mine at Balintore.  Part of my reason for attending was to show my support for the restoration and reuse of old Victorian buildings - demonstrably a cause close to my heart.

Solveig in the new restaurant

The old waiting room had been restored as a magnificent formal dining room with a single large table. Although, it looks authentically Victorian, sadly nothing is original due to the fire. The woodwork was new and the very best of class. Mr. Lovie explained that the replacement  antiques has been bought from the Georgian Antique Centre in Edinburgh. Edinburgh dealers charge full whack. I know this from friends who live in Edinburgh, so I cannot begin to imagine what the period re-furnishing of the station cost.

the old waiting room

the old waiting room

the old waiting room

the old waiting room

Mr. Lovie revealed that he was the voice of the Braemar Games, which had just been cancelled a day or two earlier. My view is that this cancellation is a mistake, but of course caution is understandable where big commercial interests are involved.  Mr. Lovie is an avid collector and wearer of historic sporrans, with an ensemble of 43 dating back to the early 19th Century. Solveig is equally knowledgeable on the manufacturers of Scottish attire, and soon there was a conversation mentioning a number of contemporary sporran manufacturers, known both to Solveig and Robert. It was one of those conversations where I could contribute precisely nothing! :-)

The chef Ross served up canapes reflecting the menu in microcosm. These were delicious, and each type of canape was a taste sensation in itself. Because of the variety, Solveig and I almost felt we had had a complete meal, though it must be admitted that we both had an evening snack after we got back to Dalwhinnie!

The Canapes

The drive back to Dalwhinnie was just as spectacular and I recorded a little video of us going back over a humpy-back bridge that could give a roller-coaster a run for its money.

I reflected on the lessons learned in Ballater. I had met a number of lovely and dedicated people who work for the Prince's Foundation in Edinburgh.  The organisation had done wonders for Ballater: the Rothesay Rooms is fully booked up for the foreseeable future and the profits go to the Prince's Foundation.

The Foundation personnel mentioned the work being done at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, which supplies training in traditional building skills and training in the catering industries, and I began to strongly feel that Balintore could benefit from Charles's magic wand. Prince Charles stepped-in at the last minute and saved Dumfries House and its contents (some of which had famously already gone to the auction room but were fetched back) for the British public.

Solveig and I recognised no VIP's at the opening, and I pointed out with an impeccable logic, that by a process of elimination we must be they! This was confirmed by the fact that a number of guests did recognise Solveig from her web presence, which she found gratifying. Sadly, I gained no such reassurance. :-)

Ballater Royal Station: The Café

Ballater Royal Station: The  Victorian Revival Loo

Ballater Royal Station: The Entrance

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Big Fella

 In life there are consequences ...

When one bids a stupidly low price on a stupidly large taxidermy stag head at an online auction, then one must prepared to transport the lot, however unlikely winning the item may seem.

Such was my lot in life, as "Big Fella" at Ryedale Auctioneers in Yorkshire unexpectedly came through.

Big Fella

I phoned Ryedale's to ask if I could leave the pick-up for a week so I could collect in person as I drove from Scotland to England. Thankfully they agreed, and I was able to avoid the hassle and expense of a courier. 

The drive yesterday to the auction house was across the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. This was my first visit and the scenery in the glorious sunshine lifted my mood.

The auctioneer kindly carried "Big Fella" to my pick-up, but was clearly unconvinced that the statuesque stag would fit into my back seat. However, I could visualise that a rotation while inserting would do the trick, and I handled the final spatially-informed thrust myself.

Apparently, a mature stag has 12 to 17 points on its antlers, but Big Fella is a mere 10-pointer and so would have had a little more growing to do. Here are the names for stags with certain numbers of points or tines which must be evenly distributed between left and right, for your handy reference.

number of points








I am very much put in mind of the pivotal scene of the film "The Queen", in which the Queen, played by Helen Mirren, has a spiritual and almost magical encounter with an Imperial stag in the woods. This is the moment when she bends to the public will over the death of Diana by leaving Balmoral for London.

The screenwriter, Peter Morgan, once commented on his use of an Imperial stag:

It sort of dawned on me as a metaphor, really, when I learned that, you know, a stag that has 14-points is a stag that should generally already have been culled. It is something that has somehow escaped capture. It resonated for me. You know, I feel pretty much the same way about our monarchy. I feel that, for some reason, they've managed to get away with it. They've survived, perhaps longer than one might have expected.

Anyhow, Big Fella caused me to have my own magical encounter with the North Yorkshire Moors. His transport back to Balintore will be coals to Newcastle. :-)