A load of old rot
To those of you snorting, ‘A load of old rot…just the usual, then’, I shall loftily pretend I didn’t hear you. What I really mean by this title is the dreaded dry rot, that terror of householders in damp countries. Castle Beastie had a nasty outbreak of the stuff in the autumn, as some of you may recall. (The post ‘In which I talk rot‘ described our first encounters with it.) Well, crossing all my fingers and touching wood, I can now say that we think, we seem, to have dealt with it.
All through these past four months, there has been a small army of people battling the rot and its related damage in the ballroom, the cedar-panelled reading room and the sixteenth century tower. There have been roofers up on the tower in all but the very worst of the awful winter weather, taking apart the roof to gain access to the rot in the ceiling, putting the roof back together again, slating, re-doing the join between tower and ballroom wing and re-pointing the mortar on the walls of the tower. I can hardly bear to watch these young lads clambering about the slates sixty or seventy feet from the ground. They have been amazing, turning up in heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures, wind and rain. But at last they have finished, and the scaffolding is due to come down next week.
Meanwhile, inside the castle, the work is coming on too. As the walls dry out after treatment, we can start putting everything back together again. A team of specialist conservation joiners have been working through the winter with meticulous care. The cedar panelling is back in place now, awaiting the attentions of the painter who needs to stain some of the repaired woodwork. Even to see one room almost back together is a huge relief: a couple of months ago, every affected room was in a state of such horrifying deconstruction that I couldn’t bear to show you!
All of this has been going on in a wing quite separate from family life. In that respect, we have been extremely lucky. We can shut the doors and pretend none of it is happening and, indeed, the children have been barely conscious of any work in progress. On the other hand, the wing in question contains some of the most historic and decorative rooms in the castle, and is the part which we use for weddings and other public functions. If we cannot use this wing, the commercial side of the castle grinds to a halt, and it is a significant part of our revenue stream. We have had to turn down all bookings until June. That gave us six months to deal with the dry rot. Plenty of time, you would think; but it is an enormously complex job, and the ballroom still looks far from the ideal wedding venue.
Still, the whole team is aware of the June deadline and are working towards having the place looking immaculate for our first bride and groom. A specialist textile conservator is busy in her studio, doing clever things to the velvet wall panels which were damaged by the rot. She is confident of being able to restore all the original velvet, which dates from the reconstruction of the room in 1845. (If you leave the interior decorating for long enough, you see, it goes from tragically unfashionable to fascinatingly historic.) She thinks that she can even remove the muddy footprints walked into the velvet by one of the builders, who (understandably, really) thought that the dingy strips of cloth laid out on the floor were there to protect the parquet flooring…
Another specialist job, yet to be tackled, is the restoration of the plaster work. Above the windows and doors of the ballroom, there are ornately carved panels which we always thought were made of wood. When the joiners tried to take them down, it became apparent that they are in fact made of plaster. Although the joiners took enormous care, they were unable to remove the panels without some damage.
So these, too, are laid out on the floor of an adjoining room, looking like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, awaiting the attentions of an expert.
It’s tempting to have a go at repairs myself with a bit of the children’s Play-Doh; but the castle is Grade A Listed by Historic Scotland, and I’m not sure that my efforts would be considered quite up to scratch.
Anyway, some of the ancestors are looking quite disapproving enough already, having been temporarily evicted from their comfortable positions on the walls to make way for repair work.
The plaster repairs are due to start imminently, in any case, and there is a distinctly hopeful feeling to the whole project now. The end is a fair way off, but it is in sight at last. The very last job before the weddings get underway will be a Herculean cleaning job, as the whole affected area is covered in the thickest layer of dust and plaster that I’ve ever seen. No doubt I’ll be allowed to help with that bit!
For another glamorous post about life in a castle, see My epic life.