THE MONUMENTAL task of restoring one of Angus’ most important historical properties is well under way.
Balintore Castle, a Grade A listed building, was abandoned after succumbing to dry rot in the 1960s and, left to the bitter elements of the Glens, it soon became a ruin.
After a period of absentee ownership from the far east, the castle was purchased from the local authority in 2007 by current owner, Dr David Johnston. Since then he, along with roofer Andy Gardiner, have worked tirelessly on the restorations to bring the castle back to its Victorian glory.
Andy, who has project managed and been uinvolved with most of the work with help from specialists when needed, said that among the first things needing attention was the boarding up of all windows to help alleviate any further damage.
However, that was just the start of the general tidying required so that the real work could begin and birds proved to be one of the biggest difficulties to overcome. Andy explained that there were huge nests all over the interior of the building, some as big as six feet wide.
Once the general housekeeping was out of the way it was time to deal with the big structural problems.
And while the catalogue of work completed so far does not sound glamorous it has been imperative to get it done first to safeguard the building itself.
While the castle has its fair share of structural issues, Andy explained that the iron girders that run the length of the building are what has kept the shell standing for so long while the inside has crumbled - a sobering thought.
As expected, many of the castle’s issues have had to be solved from the outside in.
One of the main problems was the box guttering which had to be replaced as they were so stuffed full of bird dirt they were allowing water to seep in through the windows and flood the interior.
There were many other parts of the roof which required attention, including a 20-foot hole which required filling in. As Dr Johnston explains in his blog: “The roof of Balintore Castle is a complex landscape of apexes, valleys, eaves, towers, finials, viewing platforms and turrets. While this gives delight to the eye, stemming leaks is an ongoing endeavour.”
This has had a devastating effect, as can be seen on the inside, where entire floors and walls have collapsed because of an endless onslaught of rain water. This is most evident above the Great Hall where the skylights in the ceiling have caved in to cause untold amounts of damage to the floors below.
There are seemingly endless amounts of tasks for Andy to complete each day, but he explained that it is this variety which makes him love his job so much.
Among the other things he has completed in the castle to date, Andy has replaced the joists and rafters and re-slated where required.
Still to come is one of the most complex pieces of the renovation - the collapsed oriel window on the east side of the building. Indeed, owner Dr Johnston admits that the effort required on this section of the castle initially put him off taking on the project. However, work has now begun on repairing the window, which collapsed about 15 years ago.
Phase one of the reconstruction of the ‘3D jigsaw puzzle’ began a few weeks ago with the collapsed stacks of masonry labelled left and right then further categorised by number. They have now been cleared onto palettes for storage and reconstruction.
Meanwhile, the turrets, some of the castle’s most spectacular features, also require extensive work and will have to be completely re-done but, as Andy explained, this will be on-going work.
There are 50 rooms in the castle including a gallery, brushing room, both beer and wine cellars, a lumber room, dining room, silver room, library, a women’s servant room and butler’s pantry, with all of them stripped to the bare bones. However, there are still remnants of the past that remain such as bells in the servants’ quarters and a steel door to the silver room.
The main interior work so far has been on the Entrance Tower, a square block at the front of the building. The inside levels, joined together with the original spiral staircase, are nearing structural completion.
During the course of the renovations so far, the castle has revealed some secrets and curiosities within its walls.
Last year, when internal scaffolding was erected, it allowed access to one of the attic bedrooms. On the walls ‘graffiti’ was found with the names of those who had last done wallpapering in the castle in November 1963. It says, “Papered by C. K. Scott for B&G K. Nov 5th 1963” and “Paste Boy Andrew Petrie for B&G K. Nov 1963.”
One of the more fascinating finds was a small wooden tablet discovered in a plastic bag in a shed, on it was a message from three of the workmen who constructed the castle in 1860. It reads: “Balintore, Nov 28th. 1860.
“Gentlemen, Whoever (may have luck to) finds this tame Epistle will at once be led to think of the operatives Who Erected this Building...
“Ere this falls into your hand the grass may...
“Be Growing over the most of our Graves, unles [sic] the destructive eliment [sic] fire, consume it, to the World it will Never then Be Known...
“Our Names are as follows, Alexander Willis, Joiner; James Young, Joiner; Ale’ner Brodie, Apprentice Joiner.
“It’s a cold morning with snow on the ground.”
But one of the finest secrets the castle has to share can be found at the top of the five-storey great tower in the centre of the west elevation where there is a purposely designed viewing platform: visitors are treated to what can only be described as the best view in Angus, stretching from Lintrathen Loch in the foreground to Fife in the far distance.
Balintore Castle was designed in the Scottish Baronial style by William Burn in 1859 as a sporting lodge commissioned by David Lyon MP.
It is understood that Lyon had the funds to build the castle after his family amassed significant wealth from trading in the East India Company. He himself owned a number of properties including Goring Hall and a London town house.
Balintore was built a year after it was commissioned in ‘Scottish Baronial’ style, with many towers and gables, while the Great Hall is the centrepiece of the castle’s interior.
Some mystery surrounds the castle’s early years as it is rumoured David Lyon sold it after just a year.
What’s more, the current building is not the first to have stood on or near the site as a ‘Balintor’ tower house is clearly depicted in Timothy Pont’s maps from the 1580s and 1590s.