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A load of old rot

March 26, 2011

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.

scaffolding outside the window of the cedar room

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.

watching the fearless roofers through my fingers (and through the shoots of a rose bush)

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.

scaffolding, stripped stone walls and a lot of mess in the ballroom

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.

a disgruntled ancestor

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.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2011 10:38 pm

    Oh, Dancingbeastie, you have my deepest sympathy! We discovered dry rot under the floor and in one of the walls of one of my churches when I was still a vicar and the disruption and mess was phenomenal. At least for us, it was just in one large space. To have it in several rooms and in the roof makes me shudder at the very thought. Very glad that progress is being made and crossing my fingers that it will all be finished by June.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 26, 2011 11:26 pm

      Thank you very much! Encouragement, even of the crossed fingers kind, is much appreciated.

  2. March 26, 2011 11:42 pm

    Gosh, what a mammoth task and thankfully (crossing all fingers and toes!), you’ve got rid of the problem. I’d love to see the Ballroom when it’s finally ready for weddings.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 27, 2011 12:01 am

      Yes, it would be nice to be able to show some ‘after’ pictures!

  3. Margaret Lambert permalink
    March 27, 2011 12:41 am

    In fact, I would have been fascinated if you had made more mention of the ongoing repairs and reconstruction. Old buildings have had lives, and lives are interesting! The photo of the small window in the cedar room is marvelous, with it’s interior shutter and old glass. Perhaps your ‘local’ readers don’t pay so much attention to such things, but it is a joy for me, being far removed from such architectural detail. And the ‘disgruntled ancestor’, perhaps the only really amusing thing about the story. I’m relieved those wigs went out of the fashion! It’s too bad that few people who rent the rooms for their special events would have any idea of the effort that goes into maintaining them.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 27, 2011 7:16 pm

      Oh, it’s constant. The maintenance, I mean. Sometimes we look at the place and all we see are jobs waiting to be done; which is one of the reasons that it’s nice to get feedback from people with fresher eyes. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you more about the work in progress: the mess and rippings-out were really all so depressing that I couldn’t bear to take pictures.

      I share your opinion of that awful periwig! – and also your pleasure in details like the windows here. (I’ll try to show a bit more of such things in future.) We have shutters on most of the windows in the castle, which helps keep the place above freezing (usually) in the winter, as well as looking very nice. They also make the bedrooms dark, so visitors tend to sleep in in the mornings!

  4. March 27, 2011 4:08 pm

    my deepest sympathy too. lovely greetings

  5. March 27, 2011 7:57 pm

    It sounds horrifically expensive, but looks like you’re getting there and in a few months, after the mammoth clean-up-job, you can resume business as usual at Castle Beastie, knowing that the dreaded rot is eradicated. Well done on “keeping the heid” during all this upheaval! Jo 🙂

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 27, 2011 10:49 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement! The final bills are yet to come in – we’re trying not to think about it….

  6. Deb permalink
    March 27, 2011 10:33 pm

    “Dry rot” – what an awful name, but it seems to fit the problem. I guess that buildings are like people, and with age comes physical difficulties. I’m just glad that people aren’t prone to dry rot as well, we have enough problems without that. In spite of the enormity of the work, it must feel good to care for such an old and historic building. It is really interesting to see some of what is involved in the maintenance of your castle.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 27, 2011 11:02 pm

      Thanks for making me chuckle! I love your parallels of old buildings and people.

  7. March 28, 2011 11:37 am

    I echo the other comments! When you take on a building like this you obviously take on a huge commitment to continuity. It makes my current whinging about having to repaint a small cloakroom/toilet during the Easter holidays seem rather self-indulgent!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 28, 2011 3:05 pm

      It certainly is a huge commitment, from which there is no cop-out. But I don’t think your ‘whinging’ is at all self-indulgent! All redecorating is an upheaval, isn’t it? We’ve had a spare room half done since before Christmas: the painting’s done, but I haven’t got round to carpet and curtains yet…

  8. March 28, 2011 4:30 pm

    I love the shutters too. I know something of the lifelong effort and commitment demanded by historic houses, because a college friend of mine married the heir to an English country house. It’s only small by country-house standards, though much bigger than an ordinary house, but it still requires constant and costly maintenace. They’ve been replacing part of the roof recently at inordinate cost……

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 28, 2011 6:16 pm

      Poor things: replacing the roof is everyone’s dread, I think (*shudders*).

  9. March 28, 2011 5:30 pm

    What a daunting task…but thankfully there are those like you preserving these building and keeping the integrity of their history intact!!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 28, 2011 6:17 pm

      Whew, well, doing our best anyway! Thanks.

  10. March 28, 2011 6:28 pm

    Thank you for your sweet comment!

    Oh my, you’re certainly in the middle of it at the moment…and the plaster…looks like you’re always discovering new things in your home!
    I remember that, when we redid our (somewhat more modest) plaster in the living room, the word “dust” got a whole new meaning to me: Make sure you cover up disgruntled ancestor before hand …;))…

    It will be wonderful though, once everything is ready again.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 28, 2011 10:00 pm

      Alas, I think it’s too late to cover up the ancestors! But I *hope* we’ll get everything back to normal soon…

  11. March 29, 2011 3:00 pm

    Thank goodness the skills required to restore and repair have not been totally lost.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      March 29, 2011 6:40 pm

      Indeed. There are all sorts of highly-skilled specialists out there: it’s finding them that’s the hard bit.

  12. March 30, 2011 10:53 pm

    Heidie doon an aff tae Duffus. Hope ye dinna hae the mare.

  13. October 9, 2011 7:17 pm

    This post was awesome, although after “cedar-panelled reading room and the sixteenth century tower” I admit I started to lose focus on account of the extreme jealousy. Not that life’s bad in Paris or anything, but man wouldn’t I love to spend a few days in my own castle Play-Doh-ing decorative molding! I’m sure you know this already but despite all the butt-busting hard work, you’re one lucky lady. Are there other posts with pictures of the estate?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      October 9, 2011 11:39 pm

      Hah, thank you for giving me some much-needed perspective! But yes, I do know that we are extraordinarily lucky. We never take it for granted, at least I can say that.

      There a lot of photos on this blog which show aspects of the estate, from the woods to the walled garden to the heathery hills. In fact, most of Dancing Beastie seems to be about such things. Thanks for visiting!

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