Friday, 31 January 2014

Baronial Sisters

The Glory that is Miranda Castle

There are a number of astounding things about Miranda Castle. Firstly. the building is, in itself, astounding: a vast and vertiginous Scottish Baronial confection whose beauty, audaciousness, and mythic qualities gladden the heart. Secondly, the location is astounding: this pile is not in Perth-shire in Scotland, but incongruously in Wallonia in Belgium. Thirdly, and most astonishingly of all, a demolition order was placed on the building in December.

"Mais, incroyable!", I hear you shout. Château Miranda, as we now call her, should no more be demolished than the "Mona Lisa" should be burnt. The building stopped being used in 1991, and since then the owner has been unwilling to sell. Intransigence leads to ruination as surely as the wrecking ball, and matters have now come to a head with the owner applying to demolish.

We live in a new age of networked urban-explorers and activist cyber-goths. Both the Web and locals say "No", but will this make any difference? The critical meeting is on the 6th February. Is there anything you can do? Yes, sign any/all of the 3 petitions I have found on the Web, and make a noise in any way you can.

I feel an odd allegiance with Château Miranda, as I have been trying to save "Balintore Castle" in Scotland, a rather more modest building of the same age, of the same style and in a similar condition. It is only right that the somnolent "Scottish Baronial Reservists" in Scotland, swing loyally into action. :-)  In fact Balintore Castle was probably in worse condition - the fact that my building has been stabilised and is now moving forward shows there is hope for Miranda. Balintore and Miranda are truly Baronial sisters.

The Baronial Sister: Balintore Castle

Balintore was saved through a pioneering compulsory purchase by the local authority: Angus Council. I do not know if a similar law exists in Belgium for listed buildings, and I understand campaigners are still trying to find out whether Miranda has the Belgian equivalent of a listing. It is, however, good to know that the UK is perhaps the most advanced country in terms of saving its architectural heritage, but even on my watch I have seen marvelous buildings in the UK both illegally demolished and just philistinely demolished in the UK.

I love looking at the stylistic finger-print of a building, and though Miranda is Scottish, there are traces of French Gothic and Flemish Gothic too. In short there are a myriad of architectural references to mediaeval castles and cathedrals. Belgian eyes may not notice this lack of Caledonian purity! Internally there is a stylistic mis-match: full-on Gothic Revival, a style which I incidentally also love. Typically stately homes in the UK, and particularly in England, would be Gothic Revival both inside and out. Scottish Baronial is a sub-category of Gothic Revival, but one which is visually quite distinct. Scottish Baronial
interiors are characteristic by wood paneling,  plaster-work ceilings and stags' heads: a mix of gentleman's club, shooting lodge, and well appointed library architecture. If anything they refer stylistically to the Jacobian era (16C/17C).

Miranda's Unexpected Gothic Interior

I just don't know what I'll do if the decision goes against Miranda on the 6th, but it won't be attractive! :-) It feels like I have the chance to be around in 1955 when Panmure House, one of the great lost houses of Scotland, was demolished, but that I have the chance to stop this. To quote Joni Mitchell:

♫ Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got

'Til it's gone 

Panmure House: One of the Great Lost Houses of Scotland

Some of the protesters have been antagonistic, which won't help matters. The owner of Miranda doesn't want liability for the building on his hands, especially with the increasing number of urban explorers visiting the site. This is understandable, but there must be a way of keeping the building intact, and satisfying all parties. Above all, the solution must be grounded and practical - money will be involved as well as hard work.  What about the world's first official "urban exploration" attraction where you pay for the privilege? If explorers knew they were contributing to the upkeep of the building they would happily pay. 

Currently, access to the building, as a private property, is not allowed and this is where many of the troubles lie. Human nature climbs the forbidden fence. The civilised middle ground is to regulate access and make people pay and sign disclaimers at the very least. I daresay there are a raft of even more astounding possibilities for Miranada, and all of these need no more than imagination and money! Just think about this: Château Miranda is not a million miles away from Scloß Neuschwanstein, stylistically or geographically, and the latter is well known to almost single-handedly bankroll Bavaria through tourism.

Postscript: This is my first ever dual blog entry, featuring in both the following:

Friday, 10 January 2014

Salutation of the Lambs

A baby animal can, I think, be compared to an undifferentiated stem cell: it doesn't quite know what it's going to become when it grows up.

One day, I was walking with a friend along the country road that joins up to Balintore Castle's western drive. The local farmer was driving in the opposite direction, on his quad bike, with a Spring lamb held in one arm and his sheep dog on board, who was clearly enjoying the ride.

I waved at the farmer in a neighborly fashion and shouted out "Hi!". This little lamb waved one of its forelegs above its head in response, and then bleated back at me. It was too young to know it wasn't supposed to be human. I couldn't quite believe what I'd just seen - the cutest thing ever - and it took a few moments to compose myself before I could blurt out that cliched phrase "Did you just see what I've just seen?" to my companion. :-)

My companion was a little less entranced "Perhaps, he just squeezed the lamb?", but I know what I saw.

the little lamb that waved back