Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Castle in 1954

Many thanks to friend of Balintore, Gavin, for supplying a scan of a colour slide, featuring the castle, dating from 1954. I have seen nothing from this era before.  Hitherto, there had been a window from 1923 to 1968, with no photographic record. I have asked Gavin if he can scan the castle itself in greater resolution, as this will give a clue as to the condition. I understand dry rot was first noticed in the 1950's.

Gavin has his own Facebook page dedicated to vintage colour photographs. These make for absolutely fascinating viewing. It is quite magical and strangely transporting to see the past in colour when one expects to see it in black and white. Gavin's website is here; his blog is here and he has even had a couple of books published: Vintage London: The Capital in Colour 1910-60 and London's Big Day: The Coronation 60 Years On .

The trees in the wood behind the castle are bigger than they are now, which indicates there has been a felling at some stage. By zooming in, I spotted the ball finial is still on the low square turret in 1954. This tallies with the approximate date of the dramatic story which details its removal, which I have yet to relate on this blog. A friend pointed out that the shutters on the entire south side of the building look to be closed. Was this an attempt to stop the furnishings fading or was the building shut-up out of season?

Can anyone identify the make of the rather fine automobile from which the picture was taken by its hood ornament?

Balintore castle in 1954

Here is the best match I can find on the Internet for the bonnet ornament. Thus was used by Jaguar in the 1950's, so the date tallies as well. Interestingly, it is not as strongly stylised as usual. 

candidate matching bonnet ornament from the Internet

Monday, 11 January 2016

Carrach Windfarm Update

The threat of the Macritch Hill Windfarm, mentioned in my previous blog entry, has only been round for a couple of years. This contrasts with the threat of the Carrach Windfarm, even closer to the castle, which has been around since 2008 and which continues even to this very day.

When the application for Carrach Windfarm was initially withdrawn in 2009, the inhabitants of the glen were relieved and felt safe. Little did we know at that stage there would be two further applications, and then two further appeals, when each of those applications was turned down. And so it goes on.

On a more positive note, I though you might enjoy these photographs of a bonfire we built for a party to celebrate the initial withdrawal of the Carrach application. The photographs date from October of 2009 and have not been published on this blog before. This wooden model of a wind turbine acted as "Guy Fawkes" for the bonfire night party of that year. The party guests were delighted to see it burn, because it represented the hard fought-for victory against the wind farm.

Ironically, the model blew over in a storm before the party, despite the guy ropes you can see. The scale of the model was such, that we did not have the strength needed to haul it back into an upright position. I called on the local gamekeeper to help, and thankfully he provided the necessary extra muscle power. I will always recall him walking back to his house, shaking his head slowly from side to side as if to say: "What is this folly? :-)

model wind turbine with attached bonfire

bonfire with castle in background

Marcritch Hill Windfarm Update

Some really good news arrived today. The application for the Macritch Hill Windfarm had been withdrawn by Scottish Water and the organisation has communicated that they have no plans to resubmit. This means that the local beauty spot of the Backwater Reservoir, which is adjacent to Balintore Castle is no longer under threat. Hurrah! 

The development would have been massive with eighteen 125 metre tall wind turbines arranged around the reservoir. My thanks go to everyone who fought against the proposal. I know a number of  individuals who have been absolute heroes, but I will not embarrass them by giving names here. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Quest for Monymusk

The “Knights of Monymusk” are a historical reenactment group who very kindly provided the entertainment for one of the parties I held at Balintore Castle. The combat demonstrations were really impressive, and throwing friendly knights and wenches into the proceedings, really helped the party to go with a swing.

Never one to avoid a google, I discovered there is an early 8th Century “Cabinet of Monymusk”, which is rare surviving treasure from Celtic Scotland, which is said to have once contained the remains of St. Columba. It was also used, allegedly, to provide spiritual assistance to the Gaelic army, at the battle of Bannockburn (1314).

This reliquary in silver, copper-alloy and wood was probably made in Iona. It has been associated with Arbroath Abbey (close to Balintore) and Forglen House in Aberdeenshire but now resides at the National Museum of Scotland. So on a trip to Edinburgh in December of last year on castle business, I went over to the museum specially to finally get a glimpse of the cabinet.

I went to the most likely section of the museum (next to the Lewis Chessmen) found some other cabinets but not the Monymusk one. I asked a museum attendant who took me to the exact same spot: he said “I thought it was here”. Towards the end of the day when I could not find the cabinet anywhere, I approached a second attendant who gave directions to the same place, but he thought it could possibly be on loan. Just as the museum was about to close I asked a third attendant. She was really helpful, taking me to the same spot and then said it was likely to be at the Celts Exhibit at the British Museum in London. How ironic, given I had just travelled from the south of England to Edinburgh!

Last week, when I unexpectedly found myself with free time in London, there was no doubt where I should go. This knight does not give up on his quests! :-) After being stung for £16.50 for entry to the special Celts exhibit, I finally tracked down the cabinet. It is tiny, much smaller that I expected, but absolutely exquisite, possessing that quintessential refined Celtic aesthetic at once entirely modest yet so beautiful.

the Cabinet of Monymusk - it takes the form of a house

Monymusk Cabinet: roof detail

Monymusk Cabinet: clasp detail

Monymusk Cabinet: roundel detail

Also on display some distance away was a tiny cabinet from Norway which was identical in design to the Monymusk cabinet, but this was in better condition though in a slightly less appealing colour-way. The Norwegian cabinet was part of a Viking raid, and it was thought to have been taken from either Ireland or Scotland. There was no explanatory text to link the two items, but to me they came from precisely the same stable.

It made me realise that this special exhibit was nothing more than a latter-day meta treasure raid, with the very best in Celtic art being purloined/gathered from all over Europe. The Moneymusk Cabinet got no special billing amongst the hundreds of other marvellous treasures, and in fact due to its small size I suspect most people would have overlooked it.

What could not be overlooked by any visitor was the massive Gundestrup Cauldron (200-300AD) from Denmark. It is the largest known item of Iron Age silver work. I knew a great deal about this piece already from TV documentaries and from private study, so was delighted to unexpectedly see it in the flesh. I took a couple of photographs with no flash and in all innocence, only be told off by a museum attendant, so I then felt unable to take a photo of the Moneymusk or Norwegian cabinets to prove my long quest had succeeded.

The  rich imagery on the Gundestrup Cauldron defines the Celtic universe of gods, animals and men and the strange chimera from mixing all three. Their mythology is largely lost, and so we cannot identify much of what the scenes depict. As there is no written record from the Celts, all we have is their art and this cauldron is as good as it gets.

the Gundestrup Cauldron

the Gundestrup Cauldron: interior detail

I did not know whether to write up the Moneymusk Quest for the restoration blog. The connection is relatively tenuous. However, the cabinet is decidedly at the core of Scottish history much like Balintore Castle. Last night I watched the first part of a new documentary series on Scottish art. Lo and behold the Cabinet of Monymusk featured, a sign perhaps that I should write this entry. Anyhow, if I use my photos of the Gundestrup Cauldron, then I will feel less bad about having to pay the £16.50, when I could have seen the cabinet for free at the National Museum of Scotland.

And irony of ironies, the Celts exhibition is coming to the National Museum of Scotland at the beginning of February. I have yet to find out whether visitors will have to pay South of England prices (£16.50) to view this 8th century coal to Newcastle. :-)

The cabinet images were stills I grabbed from the TV documentary: better than just getting something from Wikipedia.

Saturday, 9 January 2016


The bridge across the Carity Burn leading towards the western approach for Balintore Castle has just been rebuilt after a recent collapse. During the current floods, the locals are naturally very much on the look-out to see how it fares. So far, the bridge is holding up, though there is considerable flooding in the immediate area as can be seen from the photographs.

The castle's carpenter was held hostage in his house by the floods last week, and food has had to be brought to him across a field. The current inundation could be called octi-biblical: it has been raining constantly for 5 days and nights, an eighth of the 40 days and nights that caused the Flood in Genesis.

location of bridge on western approach to Balintore Castle

looking north over rebuilt Carity Burn bridge towards Castle Hill

looking south over rebuilt Carity Burn bridge

You can see a rather nervous-looking silver car in the last picture, wondering whether it should attempt driving through the flooded section of road!

Friday, 8 January 2016

A Scuttle With a Tale to Tell

I made a trip yesterday to UK Architectural Heritage to pick up a fireplace for Balintore Castle. It turned out to be the best architectural reclaim establishment I have ever visited both in terms of item range and item quality, and a couple of hours just disappeared in absolute enchantment as I looked around. Thankfully, I have tight control of the castle budget and just bought a couple of additional small inexpensive items: a pair of marble roundels to replace those missing from another fireplace I already have and a brass "helmet" coal scuttle. However, I suspect I will be visiting again - there were a number of larger items which would suit Baltimore Castle very well indeed.

the helmet coal scuttle I purchased

"Helmet" coal scuttles are so-called as they look like upside-down military helmets. A misguided attempt to "try it on for size" ended up with the scuttle dropping totally and unceremoniously down over my head. I emerged sheepishly with coal-smuts gracing my face in best chimney-sweep tradition.

the scuttle's marker's mark

Anyhow, the maker's mark on the scuttle  "BENETFINK&Co." is particularly clear. How very odd: the company, a large retail business which located at  89-90 Cheapside, London, from c1845 to 1907, was named after the parish "Benet Fink" in London. Further web-surfing provided an explanation. In 1844 the Benetfink company was established by a young man who had been found as a baby on the steps of St. Benet Fink's church in the city of London. This baby was given the saints name of Benetfink. I could not resist including the following poster from 1852 advertising his store:

a poster for Benetfink&Co.

The copy is sheer genius and works equally well today. My favourite section runs thus:

And to prove we can also suit the necessary and judicious economy of those moving in a more humble sphere, we are 
enabled actually to

How I would love to go back in time and step through the portals of Benetfink&Co. It would be a fabulous way to furnish the castle. Given the dates of operation of the company, it is likely that the coal scuttle is of the correct period for the castle. There are sometimes recreated Victorian street scenes in museums. If memory serves, both the Museum of York and the Museum of London have one. And just for a precious moment, it is possible to imagine yourself about to walk through the door of one of the shop frontage set-ups, to purchase the treasures inside.