Basically I started looking for a small Scottish Tower / L Plan Castle to restore in 1992 and although there are lots, and I mean lots', within a 50 to 75 mile radius of Aberdeen I found I could not purchase one for a reasonable price (£30k to £45k) - prices seemed to go up proportionally with how much interest you showed, or if I did seem to be getting ahead with a particular purchase I would be informed by Historic Scotland / Ancient Monuments on enquiring about a grant to assist with the rebuild, that the Tower / Castle was not considered to be of any historic importance and no grants were available. However, if I did decide to purchase or renovate a Tower / Castle Historic Scotland / Ancient Monuments would require me to carry out (at my expense) a detailed site survey to record every detail of the structure / foundations prior to starting any work on the site, this of course to be carried out by a professional body with costs in the region of £5k.
So after 3 years of heartache and a final bitter blow with a Tower called Balquhain, near Inveramsay, Aberdeenshire where the asking price jumped from £30k to £80k over-night, I thought "I know more about Scottish Castles than most, therefore I can build my own Tower from scratch." I also did a considerable amount of research into restoring Inshoch Castle near Nairn, but again with a high asking price for the ruin and no grant available I could not proceed with this project.
I based my plans on a 16th century Fortified Scottish Tower House as it needed to be harled to cover the concrete block work as I could not afford to build in stone.
I did all the basic drawings of what I wanted, contacted John Wetten-Brown (a Glasgow based architect and a good friend) and had him make up the detailed plan drawings to submit for Planning Permission and approval prior to purchasing the land.
This we did. We had 4 objections to the build, 3 from local residents and 1 from the Green Party. All were squashed by the Planning Committee in about 5 minutes flat - as they said it was wonderful that someone was building to a true Scottish design in Scotland. Having received Planning Permission I bought the land, a little over 2 acres in a small glen just to the south of Turriff, Aberdeenshire, at a cost of just £22k in all, a good deal. It was virgin land and had never ever been built on before.
Two small burns run through the land and form 2 of the 3 site boundaries the site being a long triangular shape. The glen is known locally as the Den of Gask and is associated with the old Castle of Gask which has now long since disappeared.
The main burn known as the Burn of Gask was diverted some 35 years ago to make a small lake (not big enough for a loch yet??). This I added to and built a small bridge to join the two lakes and added a weir to return the run-off water back to the original burn.
Obtaining Building Authority Approval was not as easy as obtaining Planning Permission. The problems I encountered were to do with trying to build a Tower House in the true 16th century style to 20th century building regulations - I had problems with window sizes (gun loops were not considered to be windows???), extra stairs - one spiral stair was not sufficient to meet Fire Safety Regulations. Actual height of the tower – progressive collapse calculations needed for buildings over 3 storey and the foundations had to be changed from strip footings to a "Raft form" as they would not accept a strip type foundations due to the high water table on the site. This change to the foundations cost £12.5k, the most expensive individual build cost at that time. All the above problems, plus others, we overcame with the help of the Planning Officer in Turriff - he renamed rooms and added small internal fire walls to meet the Building Regulations and I was able to incorporate a second stairway hidden in the thickness of the double walls. This was based on typical Towers of the 16th century having 6 ft thick walls and mine had this in the form of double walls giving the impression of being 6 ft thick. Without his help our project would not have got beyond the planning stage.
I eventually started work, actual building, in 1997 completing the Log Store. This I built after attending night school to learn how to build in block and random rubble. I learnt to slate by reading and asking questions of a local slater in Turriff.
In 1998/1999/2000 I completed the Garage in the form of a traditional Scottish doocot, Tower foundations, clearing the site, draining and deepening the original pool, building the bridge and weir, running in mains water and electricity, cutting down about 50 trees and laying a field drainage system to try and dry out as much of the land as possible.
Due to the time it was taking me to build the Tower, as I did not want to borrow money, the original Planning & Building Permission ran out in August 2001 and as I had not actually carried out any work on the site for a couple of years there was no way we could get an extension. I had to go through the full application process again, but this time having to meet the 21st century Building Regulations and all the cost that this entailed, which was in the excess of £5K.
Having said all that, I have not been idle during this period of applying for new Building Permission. I managed to locate and buy more of the red sandstone (abandoned farm buildings). This will be used during the build to add some features around the site, such as a well and possibly an Ice House.
After the period of saving money, vetting a few builders and other trades I eventually took on a local Turriff builder – Graham Buxton – who was very enthusiastic about the project and along with him and my architect John Wetten Brown we commenced the building of the actual Tower in February 2008. Initially progress was slow as we had to make remedial repairs to the foundation and also the new Building Warrant has stated that the cavity wall had to have a cavity of 80mm an increase of 30mm on the previous Building Warrant, this meant Graham had to extend the original foundations which was not an easy task and subsequently an expensive undertaking. Having overcome this hurdle work eventually started in early April 2008 only to be held up again by the Cast Stone manufacturer having problems with the mouldings and getting the correct colouring for the stonework.
While all this was taking place I was making contracts with a spiral stair company to have the main stair case cast in sections to look like Turriff Red Sandstone, Also contracts with an under floor heating company, taking on a company to supply a Ground Source Heat Pump as I wanted the Tower to be as Green as possible. With the Tower having three live fires plus the Aga kitchen stove I needed to employ a specialist chimney company to design all the flues – not cheap I can tell you. I wanted the inside of the Tower to be as authentic as possible so I went to the expense of ordering Caithness Flagstones for the kitchen/dining room in the vaulted cellar and also for the Great Hall floor which had to be compatible to under floor heating.
As the Great Hall is to be the show room of the Tower I wanted a special fireplace so I spent quite a number of weeks trawling through all my old photos of Scottish Castles I had visited over the years, some 600 in all, to find just the right fireplace for our Tower. It had to be 2.5 metres wide by 1.5 metres tall and I eventually found the one we wanted at Crichton Castle. I then sent photos to a company called Manor House Stone who, I must say, have made a wonderful job in reproducing an exact copy for me, all that is left now is for Graham to install it once he gets up to the Great Hall level.
During 2008 work has continued on the site with the installation of the sewage works, the underground oil tank (a back up to the GSHP system) as there is no gas in the area and the building of the Tower itself. It was hoped to be at the Wind & Water Tight stage by December 2008 but with one of the worst summers for rain on record and early snow accompanied with a long hard winter the project is some ten months behind schedule and as you can see from the photos we are just now only coming up to the 1st floor, Great Hall level. Still a very long way to go. Looking on the bright side it has allowed me to save and accumulate more money for the project. I would hope to have the Tower completed and liveable by the Summer of 2010.
Watch this space!See also: Chapter 2
Article by Phill Plevey
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