Sunday, 22 August 2021

Porcini Portunity?

Having been fed some delicious home-made Porcini soup by visitors to Balintore Castle a few days ago, today I believe I have myself discovered, at an undisclosed location in the vicinity, a baby Porcini.

the candidate Porcini

I am waiting for it to grow up, and if no one pre-empts me, I shall cull for consumption. Can anyone advise on the identification (for the obvious reasons)?  :-)

The Porcini for the soup was discovered in a wood on an impressive hike from Balintore to Glen Clova. If only I was that fit. The second half of the hike follows the famous "Minister's Path" which is a shortcut over the hills that the 19th Century peripatetic minster would take from Glen Prosen Church to Glen Clova Church. This path has been on my bucket list for some time.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Half Way Across

What use is a weekend? Why, for stepping back and reviewing progress between working weeks. :-)

Anyhow, this weekend I decided to photograph progress in room RA13 (as labelled in the 2007 attic floor plans). As you can see in the mild panorama below, the flooring is almost exactly half-way across the room.

The close-up below reveals new beams spliced onto the side of old beams which had to have their rotten ends chopped off. The nail gun is eagerly awaiting Monday morning, to resume business.

The photograph below shows one of the beams that was removed. You can see on the right hand end that there has been so much dry rot that virtually nothing remains.

One interesting phenomenon we have observed in newly floored-rooms, is that we are starting to notice details for the first time, such as signatures of past decorators on the walls. The reason? Well now we do not have to look so intently where we place our feet. Previously, there were holes, and not falling through them was a matter of life and death. :-)


I don't normally blog about the prices of antiques, as to be frank it would be rather vulgar. However, there are rare exceptions where the story is good enough. It goes without saying that the Balintore antique budget is a shoestring one, and walking-away is the norm.

Last Thursday, I spotted a Victorian carpet armchair for sale at an auction room in Devon

carpet armchair on sale at Devon auction

Three things about this chair jumped out at me: I loved it; I have a pair of these and matching chaise longue already; and it retains its original fabric. It was a no brainer that having a third identical chair was a good thing. Perhaps the price would be low as it is not part of a pair?

It goes without saying that carpet chairs are incredibly hard-wearing as the upholstery fabric is essentially carpet, and in consequence they are the most likely to still be covered in their original material. I had picked up the two chairs and the chaise longue for £60. However, the quest to purchase affordable armchairs with their original fabric had admittedly taken about 7 years. 

Anyhow, I thought I would put a bid on of £60 for this single chair and thought at this level I had a good fighting chance. Anyhow, it sold for £320 !!!!!! It was good to miss by a mile as one didn't just miss out, and of course it made me even happier about the previous purchase. :-)

Post Scriptum. I had always assumed the term "carpet-bagger" meant adventurer. For example, in Jules Verne's novel "Around the World in 80 Days", the hero Phileas Fogg travels with a carpet-bag. However, it actually means an asset-stripper who has come in from elsewhere. So in one sense a carpet-bagger is a financial adventurer. Presumably, the booty gets removed in the carpet-bag, which in the 19th Century was known to be a rather cheap (and I daresay disreputable) item. 

Friday, 20 August 2021

Now You See Him ...

Glen is the newest recruit to project Balintore. He is helping Gregor with the heavy work of rebuilding floors. This blog entry deals with the rebuilding of the floor of room RA13, as labelled in the 2007 attic floor plans.

Look at the coving at the top right of the hallway in the first photo - this is immediately below room RA13. In the second photo, both Glen and the coving have gone, with plastic buckets holding the material that has been removed. :-) 

before coving removal

after coving removal

It's horrible losing original fabric, but this was adhering to rotten wood which had to be removed to put the new floor in place. At least, in these photos, I have a visual record.

Another aspect of rebuilding floors is repairing rotten beams. The beam shown below is known as a flitch beam. Between two 12" x 6" wooden beams is a cast iron metal plate. The bolted-together composite (the flitch beam) provides strength and resistant to twisting. The rotten ends of the wooden beam have been sawn off. You can see some residual dry-rot damage in the centre of the cut ends. The dry-rot is fortunately no longer active.

In the second picture the wooden beams ends have been replaced by modern reclaim beams - and these have been packed to the cast iron plate and bolted through, so an improvised but strong solution.

before beam repair

after beam repair

The room being refloored had its original flooring sawn out and sold on long ago - pretty criminal if you ask me. Anyhow, you can see the short sawn ends of the floor boards by the skirting board in the photo below. These have to be removed for the new floor to be put in place. They are only good as firewood and this photo is the last formal record of their existence. 

remnants of original flooring

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

It's Gotta Go!

There a short section of connecting corridor which joins the top floor corridor to the circular stair well in the great tower (currently filled with scaffolding).

On the right hand wall of this connecting corridor in the photo below there is surviving plasterwork. This whole section of plaster moves in its entirety quite easily, showing that nothing can be saved.

However, the rule at Balintore is not to remove existing fabric until it absolutely has to go i.e. when new construction occurs in the area. The existing fabric provides clues as to the original set-up, and this is vital for a faithful restoration.

What the plasterwork tells us is that there was no door on either side of this connecting corridor as there is no visible evidence of door posts. You could simply not tell this from bare stonework alone.

Ironically, we will be placing a temporary door here to stop people falling down the stair well - long since devoid of the stairs - so we need a solid affixation point for the door posts. Hence the section of plaster had to go!

This blog records the section of plaster before removal.

plaster before removal

The next close-up photo of the plaster shows the 3 plaster layers clearly:

1. the bonding coat pushed into the wooden laths with diamond scratching on top
2. the under coat adhering onto the diamond scratching
3. the finishing coat making up the wall surface

plaster before removal (close up)

The final image shows the wall after the plaster and underlying wooden framework have been totally removed.

wall with plaster removed

Saturday, 14 August 2021

The Bridge of Terror

This summer, friend of Balintore, Karel memorably named a section of an upper floor corridor "The Bridge of Terror". The floor here is temporary and was built from sterling board on top of lightweight wooden beams. It gives access to a number of rooms in the castle that were previously inaccessible, and so has been incredibly useful. The terror comes from the holes in the sterling board, which allow the tops of scaffolding poles to stick through, so the large drop into the Great Hall below is all too visible.

Visitors are spooked by the sterling board (i.e. will it take their weight?), the visible scaffolding poles (i.e. am I on scaffolding?), and of course the visible drop. The irony is that the temporary flooring is incredibly strong, resting on very solid wooden beams fixed into the building rather than resting on scaffolding, and the holes are only 6" x 6" - far to small to drop through. "Terror" is often all in the mind.

The current phase of work is sealing-up the Great Hall: not only ensuring people don't drop into it but a precursor to the restoration proper of this vast space. This entails installing new beams, floor joists and flooring into the rooms above the Great Hall.

In fact, the Bridge of Terror after 7 or so years of existence, is now no more so I took the before and after photographs recently for this blog article to form an in memoriam.

In fact the "during" picture of the Bridge of Terror is, in my opinion, even more terrifying as although we now have heavyweight floor joists in position, and some insulation, the flooring has still to be completed as finally shown in the "after" picture. The scaffolding is still there in the Great Hall underneath the floor now, providing a platform for Gregor and Glen to work from underneath in safely.

the bridge of terror (before)

the bridge of terror is no more (during)

the bridge of terror is no more (after)

The first of the two bedrooms (RA5 in the 2007 attic floor plans) which requires a total floor rebuild is shown here. You can see in the "before" that the remaining bits of flooring and remaining beams have been totally destroyed by dry rot. In the "during" you can see the new floor joists in position. Netting has been installed to hold underfloor insulation. In the "after" you can see that the flooring has been laid.

The netting has confused the resident pigeon "Flappy" who has been used to just flying through this floor without hinderance. Yesterday evening, Flappy was caught up in the netting, but found a way out easily enough.

bedroom RA5 (before)

bedroom RA5 (during)

bedroom RA5 (after)

The second of the two bedrooms (RA4 in the 2007 attic floor plans) which requires a total floor rebuild is shown here. You can see in the "before" that there is little there at all - just some lightweight temporary beams on the bottom left. In the "during" you can see the new floor joists and some new flooring. In fact, it's almost hard to appreciate that this is one and the same space. In the "after" the flooring has been completed.

bedroom RA4 (before)

bedroom RA4 (during)

bedroom RA4 (after)

The completed flooring on the Bridge of Terror, RA4 and RA5 results in a major claim of territory, even if not quite the "Alaska Purchase". :-) Of late, I have been thinking about what really satisfies me the most about restoration, and it is exactly this - the reclaiming of space where there was nothing there beforehand. I have been quite envious of Gregor's and Glen's endeavours. The worst part is that I am paying them to do what I would most enjoy myself. However, in such a large restoration exigencies of timescale dominate. 

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

The Return of the Wild Raspberries

For me, one of most moving parts in Archie Montgomery's reminiscence about staying with his grandmother, Lady Langman, at Balintore Castle was his reference to picking the wild raspberries along the drive. Since then many things changed: Lady Langman died in 1963 and the castle fell into dereliction. 

However, the wild raspberries are still here. With the transience of life, we cling on to the eternal or seemingly eternal. Great solace and joy is to be had from the stars, familiar landscapes and in this instance, the wild raspberries.

wild raspberries at Balintore this year

This year has been a bumper one for raspberries, and as I walked past the bushes yesterday, I reminisced about my own acquaintance with Archie Montgomery, as he himself passed away on the 17th July this year. It goes without saying that I cherished this connection with Balintore's past, and his death totally took me by surprise.     

Archie is the chap who commissioned this fantastic drone panorama of the landscape around Balintore Castle as part of creating a diorama in the snooker room of North Cadbury Court in Somerset, which houses the original billiard table from Balintore Castle. So in a sense the snooker table is now back at Balintore, albeit a virtual recreation courtesy of digital technology.

high resolution Balintore panorama (courtesy of Andrew Holt)

Balintore Castle on the snooker room wall

the Balintore landscape on the snooker room wall

This year, I spotted some of the raspberries had a golden hue. Googling reveals that yellow raspberries do occur in nature (a recessive gene) but Darwin found they did not survive longer term as the birds don't like them! Naturally, I sampled and my palate found the taste of the yellow to be superior - I had been expecting an identical flavour. 

wild golden raspberries at Balintore this year

in memory of
Archie Montgomery 
13th August 1957 - 17th July 2021

My Darling Boy

On his last visit, friend of Balintore, Duncan, generously gifted me a book entitled "Miss Savidge Moves Her House" about a misguided but well-intentioned restoration. Was he trying to tell me something? :-)

"There is another little gift in the book for you.", he confided. Between the pages was a old letter dating from 1913, written to an H.R.H. Kennard at Eton College by his mother. I love old letters, so bravely set about deciphering the idiosyncratic copperplate. Isn't it odd, that handwriting is such a non-deterministic medium? The contrast is stark against modern digital communication, where we no longer puzzle about what is written, but puzzle instead about the state of mind of the author.

the envelope

As I was working out the contents, my eyes ran over the printed letter head "Balintore Castle.N.B." and a huge smile crossed my face and interrupted play. How had Duncan got hold of this? How marvellous to have in my hands an historical letter written inside this very building!

"N.B." in this context means Scotland (i.e. North Briton). This was often used for addressing postal communication in the 19th Century, but was archaic by the early 20th Century.

My transcription of the text of the letter is appended with informative hyperlinks. There were two spelling errors which I have highlighted in red. The use of the term "Remove" indicates that the darling boy was in a particular year at Eton, and would have been around 15 years old. This is less a letter from a mother than an edict from the British Empire instilling the need to work hard, but more importantly steadily, and for God and natural leadership to run their course. Swedish Drill is some kind of "physical jerks" of the day that were sensibly left behind on the playing fields of Eton. Summer Fields is a private school in Oxford, so darling boy frequented the Oxford/Windsor area.

In 1921 Lieutenant H.R.H. Kennard appears in the London Gazette. The combination of initials is surely rare enough for a confident identification outside of royal circles. He would be around 23, and presumably would have seen some action in the officer classes during WWI.

The shooting tenant at Balintore in 1913 was J.G. Peel Esquire. So the Kennard family were presumably good friends of his. The author of the letter is moving on to Glendaruel. This is most likely to be Glendaruel House (ravaged by fire in 1970) as this also had shooting. There is a small chance it was the nearby Dunans Castle (ravaged by fire in 2001) which is well known in restoration circles.

pages 1 and 4 of the letter

pages 2 and 3 of the letter

Many thanks to friend of Balintore, Katherine, for identifying darling boy as the gloriously fecund Henry Rowland Heyworth Kennard, and for identifying the writer of the letter as the formidable Winifred Dagmar Kennard (nee Heyworth).

genealogy and identification of darling boy

Transcription of Letter

H.R.H. Kennard Esquire

Wootton(sp?) House

Eton College




Balintore Castle


Oct 4th


My darling Boy,

We are leaving here today 

& going on to Glendaruel

thank you very much for

your interesting letters, I am 

glad you find you can cope 

with Remove work, the thing

is, to work on steadily

un-ostentatiously & so quietly 

leave the slackers behind, they

are boys who have no 

doubt great difficulty,

owing to idleness, or want of 

capacity, in reaching even 

as far as Remove. You 

are working with the object 

of waking the best of the 

intelligence that God has 

given you & so becoming 

a leader & not merely one 

of the following flock of sheep. 

Good work will always tell in 

the end and as I always reminded 

you at Summer Fields, you 

are now reaping a few of 

the results of a steady time 

there which is making things 

easier where you are, so too in 

the world, if you work on 

steadily nothing will be 

beyond your power when 

you really want to attain it. 

The Swedish drill sounds rather 

fun, I saw lots of Norwegian 

soldiers doing it, some years 

ago & they looked so funny! 

Have you started “footer” yet or 

perhaps you have some strange 

name for it? Daphne is here 

having a long holiday but two

of the boys have long since re-

turned to school. Send me the 

school list as soon as you can. 

Much love my darling from Father 

& your ever loving mother.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Kilberry Castle

What is there to say about Kilberry Castle? Well, it is a building miraculously frozen in the Victorian era. The castle has essentially not been altered or redecorated since then. Though in need of much work, it is an increasingly rare survivor from the 19th Century, so much so, that if it were located anywhere else than in a remote location half-way down the Mull of Kintyre, it could be opened as a museum.

The building dates from the 15th Century, with major additions by David Bryce in the 19th Century. David Bryce was a pupil of William Burn, who designed Balintore Castle. Kilberry has been in the ownership of the Campbell family right up to the present day for nigh on 500 years.

It seems to be the case that the survival of the interior during the turbulence of the 20th Century is down to the remarkable Marion Campbell, an archaeologist and antiquarian who clearly recognised the value of the surviving fabric. Throughout the building there are collections of ethnographic and Wunderkammer curiosities, and these betray, to my eye, the hand of Marion.

When the building appeared on the market, it was quite so special that my friends and I immediately planned a trip to view it. My friends are genuinely interested in purchasing a historic building in the Scottish countryside, so Kilberry pressed their buttons.  I came along putatively as someone with experience of restoration, though in all honesty my button was pressed too. :-)

The trip was cancelled due to other engagements, but then it unexpectedly went live again and we set off with just a few days notice behind us. The plan was to "wild camp" nearby for the night before the viewing, given the long journey involved. My friends had packed a Dutch Army marquee that was perhaps 20' x 20' and up-market camping beds that raised us off the ground for sleeping, so it was a luxurious experience - far removed from any of my previous experiences in a tent.

We had a barbeque by a white sandy beach, and as it got dark we created a fire pit on the beach itself, told tales and, err, consumed a little alcohol. We had talked about some wild-swimming, but I knew I would be mortified to do this in front of anyone else, so the next morning I rose earlier than everyone else, walked through a forest to a very private beach with shelved white sand that we had discovered the day before. I managed to get my torso under the water - which is more than I had managed to do at the Scottish seaside as a child. I bravely swam a few strokes and I find myself surprised to be writing this, but the water was not cold after the first shock. What stopped me swimming further was the embarrassment (I was in my underpants) and the fact I had sneaked off without telling my friends so they might have been worried about me. The trip through the forest to get to this secluded section of beach on foot had been a good 30 minutes.

When I returned to camp, I hung my underpants on the guy rope of the tent to dry. I felt very proud of myself, having overcome that fear barrier of swimming in the sea in Scotland which had hung over me my entire life.

The estate agent Jo met us at Kilberry and showed us around for 45 minutes. We we all fully masked throughout. Then Jo said we could have 45 minutes in the castle on our own until her next viewers came at 2 PM. You could tell she knew we had been waiting for this moment with great pleasure. Masks were flung off, and we zoomed about the building like excited school children. I am a hesitant photographer, but took about 200 photos in the next 45 minutes without really thinking about it, as I knew this was potentially a "last chance to view".

So Kilberry is special, really special, and everyone in our party felt the same. We were all worried that the building might fall into the hands of an unsympathetic purchaser. Things should be left, modulo some building maintenance, exactly as they are. Anything else would be an architectural crime.

The visit helped to put Balintore into context. Both Kilberry and Balintore are in the baronial style, both are rather the worse for wear, and both are a Victorian time capsule. Balintore is larger (20,000 square feet c.f. 13,000 square feet), but is in a far worse condition. Given the free choice between Balintore and Kilberry, I would choose Kilberry due to its deep history, 22 acres of grounds and its peerless position by a white sand beach. However, given the purchase cost of Kilberry (overs over £650k); the restoration cost (at least £1m) and given the impracticality of bringing in building materials due to its extremely remote location, Balintore was starting to look, dare I say it, much more practical.

What particularly struck me at Kilberry was the power of taxidermy to transform an interior. There were many impressive pieces, mostly from India, and it would be a crime if these specimens were ever removed from the building. I have been collecting a few items for Balintore, and the Kilberry experience confirmed this was the right thing to do.

My friends similarly decided that Kilberry was impractical for them, but each came to me individually during the trip to say how much they loved the building and really wanted to take it on. For all of us, the trip had been a little bit of magic: camping in a warm and sunny Scottish summer, relishing the rush of an early post-lockdown trip, and enjoying the historic atmosphere that imbued the castle.

The following selection of my photographs speak for themselves: