Saturday 30 April 2022

Ann's Second Anniversary

The 20th of April this year marked the second anniversary of Ann's passing. She was a relative I discovered through the restoration of Balintore, and it is one of the joys of my life that we bonded instantly and became great friends.

Last Sunday (24th April) around 10 of her relatives drove over from Glasgow to put flowers on her memorial bench at the castle, which I had installed near the site where she had her ashes scattered.

In the typical Balintore farce fashion, the relatives were hammering on the castle's front door for around 30 minutes, but I did not hear them for such is the size of the building, so they headed off to a memorial lunch at the Airlie Arms in Kirriemuir without me.

I had been off social media for most of the day, but read their message just in time, so I did manage to join them for lunch - phew! And they bought my lunch for me - many thanks! :-)

My own family never marked anniversaries or left flowers, so this is all rather new to me. However, it is a lovely thing to to do.  With her family visiting and her flowers installed, it is like Ann is lingering about the castle with a stronger presence than usual, which feels comforting. And indeed before her daughter-in-law contacted me about the visit, I had been thinking of Ann with no notion that the second anniversary was imminent.

Sometimes, it takes time and healing to realise how important people have been to us, and my recent thoughts were very much along these lines.

I took this photograph today, and the flowers are still looking good after a week. At some stage I will bring the flowers indoors to consolidate the display as some flowers will inevitably wither before the others. This is very much a metaphor for consolidating the joys that departed people have brought us, back into our own souls.

Ann's second anniversary flowers

Friday 29 April 2022

New Soft Furnishings

Thanks to friend of Balintore Violet for supplying the latest soft-furnishings to the castle! The basement kitchen which I have been using as a home office faces directly east, and over last winter the morning sun would shine directly into my eyes making working on my computer very difficult. My solution was to move a sheet of plywood around the window opening over the course of the morning. I realised that curtains would be a better as well as the more conventional solution. :-)

Violet delivered her home-made curtains this week after a final fitting for length last week which she wanted to do in situ, being very much the perfectionist. The fabric was going spare, so we were aiming for something functional and neutral in a kitchen space rather than a design statement. They may well have been re-fashioned from an older set of curtains (I forget) but Violet has done an excellent job in any case.

Below are photographs taken before and after the hanging. I was so eager to get the curtains up, I didn't remember to take a "before" until after the right-hand curtain had been hung.

before (ish)  curtain hanging

after curtain hanging

Now with the curtains closed at night the room is warmer and cosier looking. I don't think the human condition likes a big black void that is an un-curtained window at night.

Restoring the castle has made me appreciate soft furnishings for the first time in my life. Rich fabrics can transform an interior: from sterile and pedestrian to welcoming and sumptuous. Even plainer fabrics can soften an interior to good effect. Below is Violet's window seat cushion cover, also delivered very recently on the final curtain-fitting visit.

new window seat upholstery

For the first time, I have been resting my bottom here just for moments of comfortable contemplation. Normal houses take for granted things like curtains and window seat upholstery. However, when you are restoring a building as large as a castle, it is easy to overlook these niceties, but once installed you realise what you have been missing.

Friday 22 April 2022

Painting Posse

As I had a quick run round the castle today to inspect the troops, I found Glen and Gregor on painting duty in one of the attic bedrooms. This room, which we have systematically though rather boringly called RA13 in the restoration plans, has been coming together quickly and I realised that there was a lack of "before" and "in progress" photos so I took this snap quickly to redress the balance.

the painting posse in room RA13 (click twice for VR panorama)

One of the biggest visual transitions is that first coat of paint, and a formerly derelict room starts to look habitable. In this photo the new plasterwork has been painted, and the remaining unpainted plasterwork is all of the original variety. You can see where the cracks have been filled. As time goes on, less and less wall in the castle retains that original beige colour.

We actually don't have an individual name for this bedroom, but today Greg came up with the "Lintrathen Suite" as the room overlooks the Loch of Lintrathen. Who knows if it will stick.

Sunday 17 April 2022

The Bigger Bong

On Holy Saturday (yesterday), as I was driving friends to the castle from Dundee Station, I had a spontaneous idea to visit "Reekie Lynn" as this scenic attraction is on route. 

Reekie Linn waterfall

With the lighter evenings I had been planning a walk in the vicinity of castle anyhow, but passing "Reekie Lynn" was too good an opportunity to miss, as my friends had never been to this spectacular waterfall before.

In the picnic area between the car-part and the river, some New Age people (for want of a better term) had set up the biggest gong I had ever seen in my life, along with a brazier and other ritualistic paraphernalia.

Reekie Linn picnic area

I was filled with an overwhelming urge to bong the gong, and discussed with my friend the etiquette of asking. It was going to be a tricky call. "I'll ask on the return journey", I declared to postpone facing the music.

Reekie Lynn worked its customary magic: roaring cataracts are good for the soul. 

On returning from the precipitous walk to the falls, I wondered how I was going to broach the subject, and fortunately one of the party walked right past me, so I could throw in my opening gambit "Is this some kind of ritual?" before going in with my bong request.

Part of the lure is my gong at the castle, upon which I feel I have achieved a basic level of proficiency. Some guests stole my gong mallet, so I have ordered a modest replacement one on Amazon, which has still not arrived. It did not go past me that the large and fluffy mallets of the party were high end items, to which my budget did not stretch.

Anyhow, the group members were very friendly and welcoming, and my wish was granted. The sound was phenomenal, you could feel the vibrations passing through you. My own gong was well and truly out-bonged.

the bigger bong (OK, so not quite this big!)

The group was there for a full-moon ritual - yesterday was the date of the full moon - and I was able to throw in that I myself throw dinner parties on the full moon. My group bonding was complete.

I am not sure what my friends thought, but they did remark that it was not the normal sort of incidental sight-seeing. :-)

Friday 15 April 2022

The Fife Arms on a Good Friday

Ever since Prince Charles officially re-opened the restored Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar on January 11th 2019, I have been wanting to visit. I bemoaned this shortfall to a friend at Balintore yesterday, and she said "Why don't we just visit tomorrow?". As today is Good Friday, there was no excuse and we set off on an expedition northwards via Glen Isla; then via Glenshee and snow-topped mountains, to the beautiful Highland village of Braemar.

entrance lobby with Freud

What is so special about the Fife Arms is that that the word "restoration" doesn't begin to address what has been achieved there. The owners, Iwan and Manuela Wirth, have given a sumptuous Scottish Baronial re-interpretation to this 1856 coaching inn, which was originally build for people who wanted to holiday in the same part of the country as Queen Victoria. So while parts of make-over could be called historically authentic; other parts would not look out of place in a fantasy film; and yet other parts could be called Scandi-Scot - a decorative style which is one of my bêtes-noirs. 

reclaim fireplace from house in Fife

The initial photographs I saw were astonishing, because the look was incredibly close to my vision for Balintore. It is rare to see a restoration of a building that tries to capture the mood of the past, all too often commercial concerns and associated Philistinism, result in inappropriate replacement with modern interiors. The only difference between the Fife Arms and Balintore Castle projects is budget :-). My understanding is that £40m was spent at the Fife Arms. Iwan and Manuela are incredibly successful and rich art dealers, and the walls of the hotel are covered with museum quality works of art. The Lucien Freud in the entrance lobby jumped out at me immediately.

taxidermy Capercaillie in restaurant

I have long wondered how I would respond to seeing the Fife Arms "in the flesh": modern art in historic interiors can jar, and as for Scandi-Scot, well, it can make me feel quite ill. :-) 

taxidermy Haggis in restaurant

However, I need not have worried. The interior of the Fife Arms is pitch perfect. It's eclectic but seamlessly blended, and the atmosphere is welcoming, warm, relaxing and there is a sense of joy created by the adventurous yet tasteful décor which you can immediately pick up from the other guests.

fireplace in restaurant

The front of house staff are universally friendly and efficient, and I realised that a high end establishment (the best suites are £2500/night in high season - other rooms are available) does not have to be intimidating, and indeed most are probably the very opposite of intimidating. It was a learning visit.

bedroom corridor with art

It helped that I had already danced with some of the staff at a Ceilidh in Dalwhinnie and indeed had cooked for them, but that's a whole other story! :-)

Victorian toilet porn

The use of bespoke fabrics for upholstery and as wall coverings; the use of richly patterned reproduction Victorian wallpapers and high end Victorian artworks and taxidermy made me somewhat envious. I would love to do this at Balintore, but budget precludes. I have to improvise instead with bargain auction items, and I have wondered if there might be a second decorative pass at Balintore if it ever could justify the extra expenditure.

bedroom interior

But all establishments are of themselves reflecting the story of their lineage of owners. Balintore is a remote private shooting lodge that hosted a small number of guests in some style and comfort. The Braemar Arms is a large commercial  coaching inn in the middle of town that would have seen a much greater foot-fall and turnaround.

taxidermy wall

taxidermy wall and sofa

hunting trophy ceiling and staircase


From the lunch menu, I chose Haggis, Neeps and Tatties for mains and Scottish Goats Cheese Curd Mousse for dessert: the latter as I am a promoter of dessert diversify and I had not seen this pudding before. The combination of flavours: ginger, fennel pollen and rhubarb, was novel and delicious. The secret to the most delicious neeps I had ever tasted, was that the Braemar roasts it in the oven first. My friend nobbled a staff member to tell all.

lunch menu