Wednesday, 30 January 2013

3D Jigsaw

Many years ago, I decided NOT to take on the restoration of Balintore Castle. The main reason was the collapsed oriel window: this was far too expensive a reconstruction to undertake.

Many years later, with good intentions and common sense thrown out the window (proverbial rather than oriel :-), phase one of the reconstruction of this 3D jigsaw puzzle begins, namely cataloguing the stone blocks and moving these on to palettes, as requested by Angus Council. Despite the recent snowy weather, the man with a "tele-handler" and my builder managed to fit in one day of this. Good progress was made, and currently we expect one more day should complete the task.

The two collapsed vertical stacks of masonry have been labelled "L" and "R" and then the massive stone blocks have been further categorised by number. These stacks have been dubbed "the twin towers", but not, I should add, by me.

There has been some fantastic news for Kirriemuir, which is the nearest town to Balintore Castle. Through the efforts of Angus Council, it has been awarded £600k to improve properties in its incredibly picturesque, but somewhat run down, conservation area. Through the ongoing work at Balintore, I hope along with Kirriemuir to "raise the tone" of the neighbourhood. :-)

"the twin towers"

initial paletting by tele-handler

collapsed masonry more than half cleared :-)

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Digging Deep

Balintore Castle loves to show off with her weather. When the UK is going through a mere snowy patch; Ms. Balintore likes to repel visitors with impenetrable "sand dunes" of snow. Impenetrable that is, only if you are not as hardy as my builder and his faithful Jack Russell "Rascal". This picture taken today, shows that work is continuing, despite the fact that even a snow plough came off the road in the vicinity.

Today at The Castle

Monday, 21 January 2013

Wind Farm Victory!

This blog entry is the bearer of some incredibly good news. The developers who wish to build a windfarm adjacent to Balintore Castle, have just had their appeal to the Scottish Government turned down. It was a mere 10 days ago (11th January 2012) that this final incontestable decision came through. Words cannot describe the relief that my neighbours and I feel. The threat has been there for the last 5 years and we have fought against the windfarm, as a community united by a common cause, for all this time. There were times when we each individually felt we couldn't go on; that it was a losing battle; and that we could no longer face reading yet another policy document in order to back-up our case in yet another letter. However, being a team, someone else would always run with the torch, while one dropped out of the race to recover.

In fact, the burden has been on our shoulders so long, that it is difficult to appreciate that the threat has gone, particularly because we thought the threat had gone once before. The first parent company involved pulled out due to "disappointing wind yields" from the test anemometer, so we breathed a sigh of relief that the site was "no go". This was reprieve number 1. However, some time later a second parent company became involved and the planning proposal was resubmitted to Angus Council  The sickening feeling came back - it was like having an old wound re-opened. Worse still, was that Angus Council then approved the second proposal. Local councillors, however, overturned this decision, and we had reprieve number 2. Then came the appeal to the Scottish Government, who alarmingly could override local views to follow any government policy. The Government Reporter, Richard Hickman, visited the site on the 12th December 2012 to gather evidence and I met him at Balintore Castle. 

Richard Hickman's decision to turn down the windfarm development which came through on the 11th January 2013, is our third reprieve. It has been officially designated as "final", so as far as any assurance can be believed, this is the best you can get. 

Anyhow, the best way to make the almost unbelievable outcome believable is to have a party at the castle! :-) Watch this space.

During the visit, Richard Hickman proved very knowledgeable on Scottish Baronial architecture - but of course one could not hope,  and he remained professionally objective throughout the day.

The fight has proved an education. It shows, I think, that organisations cannot be relied on to protect natural and built heritage, even those you might expect to stand their ground i.e. Angus Council Planning Department supported the windfarm; both Scottish National Heritage and Historic Scotland raised no objections. In the end, it was individuals who saved the day: the councillor who raised the motion against the windfarm and then the government reporter who looked with a clear eye at the situation. It shows how vigilant we have to be. If we do not fight, stay passive and hold back on making representations, then heritage and quality of life will assuredly be eroded for all of us. As much as I have been disappointed by organisations, I have been impressed by the system of checks and balances in the way things operate, that allows individuals to have a voice.

I have decided to append verbatim Richard Hickman's comments on Balintore Castle from the government report. These stand on their own and make an eloquent case for saving the castle from the development: section 59 is particularly worth reading  The image I have included is a brilliant photograph by Michael Smith of Flying Scotscam, which shows both the castle and the proposed site of the wind farm  (the hills on the right). What Richard says in words, Michael shouts with his lens. This beauty could have been lost.

Phew !


Excerpts From the Decision Notice for Appeal PPA-120-2022.

55. Balintore Castle is a Victorian mansion house located about 2.5 kms to the northwest of the proposed wind farm. It is listed as being of special architectural or historic interest, grade A. It is in a seriously dilapidated state, but extensive renovation works have been commenced, and were in progress at the time of the site inspection. It would have a view of the wind farm, as shown in the images 3.4.14 (viewpoint 04) accompanying chapter

56. Historic Scotland considers that the proposed wind farm would have a medium impact on the setting of the building, rather than the high assessment given in the environmental statement. However Historic Scotland notes that it is the listed building which is the receptor, rather than those visiting the building who gain a view of the wind farm.

57. The proprietor of Balintore Castle, who is undertaking the gradual renovation works, is concerned that the wind farm would form a serious intrusion in the views from the castle. He points out the building has been located high on the hillside to take advantage of the panoramic views across unspoiled countryside. A roof terrace has been provided at the top of the castle tower to allow visitors to enjoy this view. The adverse effect of the wind farm on this view would undermine the prospects for the successful completion of the castle restoration works, and the continuing viable use of the renovated building.

58. I agree with Historic Scotland that the presence of the wind farm would have little or no effect on nearby views of the listed building and its immediate setting, which is well removed from the wind farm site and is seen in its own setting on the hillside.

59. The significance of the views out from the castle raised by the proprietor in relation to its status as a grade A listed building (as opposed to residential amenity, considered elsewhere in this notice) is a different matter, which appears to be somewhat discounted by Historic Scotland. However I note that the Historic Scotland description of the listed building refers to the “extensive views to the east and south”. The site visit confirmed that the castle tower has a high level balustraded viewing platform, served by a spiral stair and some tiny rooms/stores in the corner turrets, so it is easy to envisage that residents and visitors would visit the platform to enjoy the view. Similarly the castle sits on an extensive terrace, supported by a substantial retaining wall, which also gives panoramic views across the countryside to the east and south. Thus, in the circumstances pertaining to this particular building and chosen site, I accept the argument that the castle has been located and designed so that the occupants can take advantage of these views in a similar manner to enjoying views over an extensive abutting designed landscape. I also agree that given the effort that is going into the restoration of the building, and the public interest in completing the restoration of this listed building, it is important to ensure that the success of the restoration project is not undermined by any harmful changes to the building’s wider setting.


61. Drawing these matters together, for the reasons explained above, I conclude that the proposal would have an unacceptable landscape impact in the locality, and a detrimental effect on residential amenity, to the extent that it would not comply with the requirements of the planning policies cited in the reasons for refusal. I consider that it would also be likely to have an undesirable effect on the prospects for the continuing efforts to restore Balintore Castle, a grade A listed building.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Photo of Balintore Ghosts

A friend of Balintore called Sandy sent me an absolute corker of a photo of a humanoid ectoplasmic apparition in her historic property. I then remembered that another friend of Balintore called Kevin had sent me a ghost photograph from Balintore Castle. There are ghost stories aplenty connected with Balintore Castle, but as far as I know the photo is unique. Here is Kevin's description and photograph:

Whilst at the Castle we took a number of photos. One of which took us all by surprise.  I took a photograph into the lower window of the tower next to the front door. The image I captured was quite eerie. You can clearly see three people inside the window. A heavily bearded man in Victorian clothes and two females one a child with long hair.

Three Victorian Ghosts at a Balintore Castle Window (ish!)

I do not see these individuals myself, but can see a number of individual faces in the blotches if I stare long enough, on the presumed principal that the visual system is predisposed to see faces. Does anyone else see these three faces? Any comments on your mileage here would be most appreciated.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

6 Lions, 4 Sea-horses, 2 Knees, 1 Elbow and 1 Black Horse!

One of my hobbies at present is to look within a 5 mile radius for antique items to furnish the castle. Thanks eBay! 

It is rare for suitable "collection only" pieces to come up, but sometimes it happens. Last night I spotted a beautifully carved oak table (1880) with figurative carvings, including 6 lion heads, 4 sea-horses, and 4 bunches of grapes. There was no indecision - it was a Balintore piece to the very core. This evening I picked it up. The seller was a lovely lady called Greta - a former antiques dealer who is now funding a trip to Australia by selling items cluttering up her small retirement flat in the nearby village of East Hanney.

The table was not that heavy, but there was no way I could manoeuvre it out the flat on my own. Greta had just started a bad bout of sciatica and could barely stand. What to do? The "Black Horse" pub was across the road, so I barged in and offered the assembled patrons a free drink for a hand with a table! :-) The look on the barman's face communicated how clearly he thought I was a loony. 

A obliging chap called Cliff came along - the table proved almost impossible to extract from the flat. In fact, we were on the verge of giving up several times, but by standing the table on end and adjusting the orientation and angle carefully, we got it through two tricky internal doors.

Cliff more than deserved the glass of merlot I bought him. I got his wife Mary a glass of sauvignon. During our conversation, it emerged that two of Cliff's hips were not his own, as well as one of his knees!

Anyhow, we shared drinks and a good natter, and my faith in human nature was more than restored: Cliff had helped even though 3 of his major joints had been replaced! :-) 

When I returned to the pub to buy the drinks, the expression on the barman's face was even more condemning. You see, Greta has given me a bed warming pan with which to decorate the castle, and it was armed with this formidable weapon of brass, copper and mahogany that I strode, for a second time, into his establishment.

Antique Table: Lion, Grapes and Seahorse