Update Report on the Project...
This is Phill & Meryl at the St
Andrew's Night Ball in Miri, Sarawak, 2000. Their story is told
on these pages, and hopefully will continue as the year’s
Phill is currently a manager of a US
based diving company. Having spent 11 years in the Royal Navy as
a diver, and a number of years diving in the North Sea, he has
now moved to Brunei, presumably to get some warmth! There he met
Meryl, an English Teacher, and they have a 17 month old daughter
Catherine. In 1992 Phil decided to buy and renovate a Tower
House in Scotland. The following is the story, largely in his
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 we 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 build,
they (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 heart ache and a final bitter blow with a
Tower called Balquaine (now not too sure of the spelling - but
it’s just a mile or so North of Inverurie) 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.” I based my plans on a 16th century style as it
needed to be harled, 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 drawing to submit for
Planning Permission and approval prior to actually purchasing
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. Once all this was passed we bought the land, a little
over 2 acres in a small glen. Cost me £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 is a long triangular shape).
One of the burns was diverted 25
years ago to make a small lake (not big enough for a loch
yet??). This we intend expanding at a later date - hence the
small bridge I have built ready for this.
Obtaining Building Authority Approval was not as easy as
obtaining Planning Permission. The problems we encountered were
to do with trying to build a Tower House in the true 16th
century style to 20th century building regulations - we 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 -
collapse calculations needed for buildings over 3 storeys and
the foundations had to be changed to a “Raft form” as they would
Strip Foundations due to the high water table on the site. This
amounted to £12.5k, the most expensive cost to-date. 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 we were
able to have a second stairway in hidden in the thickness of the
double walls (original Towers had wall of 6 ft. thickness and we
have incorporated this style in ours). Without his help our
project would not have got beyond the planning stage.
We eventually started work, actual building, in 1997 completing
the Log Store. This we built ourselves after attending night
school to learn how to build in block work and random rubble. I
learnt to slate by reading and asking questions of a local
slater in Turriff.
In 1998/1999/2000 we completed the Garage (in the form of a
traditional 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.
What are we going to do
- all depends on money - we have
not borrowed a penny, just saved up and paid cash as we have
carried out the work.
August 2003. Up-date
Quite a lot of time has passed since
the original overview was written, but not much in the way of
progress unfortunately. The overall plan is the same; however,
it’s taken us a little longer to gather the money needed to fund
the project than originally planned. The knock on effect of this
was that Planning & Building Permission ran out in August 2001
and as we had not actually carried out any work on the site
there was no way we could get an extension. We will now have to
go through the full application procedures again once we are
ready to re-commence the building program.
Having said all that, we have not
been idle. I have managed to locate and buy more of the red
sandstone (abandoned farm buildings) and much to our joy locate
and purchased a beautiful red sandstone archway in wonderful
condition. This will be used in the vaulted cellar as the
doorway between the kitchen and dining room.
Stanley Duguid, a local resident
aged 75 years, has been doing a great job of looking after the
site for us over the past 3 years and has ensured that no
vandalism has taken place, mind you it is very much overgrown
now and we are still having problems of water ingress into the
lift well pump room – have to get specialist engineers to look
at this for me before we commence the final Tower build to wind
and water tight.
So, where do we go from here? I have
up-dated the “Diary” section to reflect our future plans. Keep
watching this space as I will add to it again soon.
Yours aye – Phill & Meryl
December 2008. Up-date
Where does time go – I’m sure that
in the 16th
century they never took this long to build a Fortified Tower
Firstly I should bring you up
to-date as to where we are now. We left Brunei in 2001 and moved
to the UK where the family is based, South England, seems we are
as far as possible from where the Tower is being built and me
personal, I’m working in the Middle East for an American Oil
Company. Everything is being done by e-mail and by phone. I’m
very lucky to have a good builder who is sympathetic to my needs
and an architect / Site Manager who has restored more than 8
Scottish Castles with the last being Stonneypath near Edinburgh.
So what has happened since I last up
dated the story, for a couple of year we did not do anything on
site just maintaining the land and continued saving money. In
2007 we made the start on digging out the pool extension so that
the water could flow from the original pool through the bridge I
had built and out over a small weir to re-join the original
burn. While doing this I planted a few trees and had the old
rutted road levelled with hard core and the land around the
Tower foundations stabilized ready to accept scaffolding. During
the slack period the land had started to return to a jungle and
much time was taken up in clearing it all again ready to
commence the Tower build proper in 2008.
After vetting a few builders and
other trades I took on a young Scottish 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 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 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 Arga 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 Gt Hall floors which had to be
compatible to under floor heating.
As the Gt Hall will be the show room
of the Tower I wanted a special fireplace and 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 Gt 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 now early
snow the project it months behind schedule and as you can see
from the photos we are just now only coming up to the 1st
floor, Gt Hall level. Still a very long way to go. Looking on
the bright side it has allowed me to save more funds for the
project as with everything else costs are rising daily,
recession – what recession. I would hope to have the Tower
completed and liveable by the end of summer (if we get one)
2009. Watch this space.
January 2011. Up-date
So where did those last two years go
from when I last up-dated the ‘Never Ending Story’..!!
Some years ago I once read an
article which ended with the following quotation ‘Happy are
those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make
them come true’. Reflecting on this build I can see the reality
of these words now and luckily for me I have a job that will
allow me to ‘Pay the Price’.
I started March 2008 in a very
buoyant mood, we were at last starting to build the Tower,
estimates were for a 40 week program to Wind & Water tight.
Contracts were taken out with a scaffold company for 40 ton of
scaffold, rental agreements were signed for a site office and
‘Comfort’ room, toilet facilities were provided, dates were
pencilled in for hooking up and testing the Ground Sauce Heat
Pumps, under floor heating. The installation of the spiral
stairs and I was looking to move into my ‘Dream’ at the end of
the year. How wrong I was, it’s now January 2011 and the Tower
is still not complete, not by a long stretch. I still have my
Dream and I will finish it and one day live in the Tower with my
family, however, I cannot tell you when.
So what has happened, what has gone
wrong and where, as I said, have those two years gone..??
In a nut-shell, it’s been due to
some of the wettest summers on record, some of the coldest
winters on record and added to this fairly poor progress by the
building contractor who I found out was just using my build as a
fill in job while he completed other contracts in the area.
Following a site visit on 28th
December 2009 a lot of ground rules were discussed in great
detail with the building contractor, and since then there has
been a marked improvement in progress, however, this has been
hampered by torrential summer rain and long arctic conditions
through the winter periods.
A knock on effect of all this
un-seasonal weather has been frost damage to quite a bit of the
Cast Stone where the finished surface to this stone has lifted
off. This has meant that replacement stone has had to be ordered
with the associated additional costs. The initial contract for
the 40 week hire of the scaffold which cost £24K as long past
and I am now paying an additional weekly rental for the scaffold
to be on site. Due to the continual delays caused by the
building contractor I advised him that I would no longer pay the
monthly rental for the site office and comfort room and if he
required this then he could supply at his own cost. This he has
One major concern for me due to
these delays has been worry over any of the contractors who have
been paid to supply goods going bankrupt or their companies
failing which would mean that I do not get the items I have paid
for or their services to install their items in the Tower. So
far the specialist Chimney Consultant has gone bankrupt, but
luckily we managed to obtain all the items we had purchased from
So where am I now with the build and
when will the Tower be completed..??
As of end of November 2010 we have
completed the shell of the Tower up to and including the 4th
floor level (see photos taken December 2010). At this point the
snows started and since then there has been no progress on site.
I have been informed by the building contractor that they hope
to re-commence work during the 3rd
week of January 2011. I thought I would add the year here for
clarification..!! When will the Tower be finished, good
question. I would hope that by late summer, early autumn 2011 we
will be at wind & water tight with the spiral stairs installed
and the harling completed, so that during the winter months all
the internal work can be carried out. If all goes well with the
fix we could be looking to having the Tower completed by end
spring 2012 and thinking of moving in..!!
As time passes I will continue to
add photos to the website so you should be able to follow
progress, as a point of interest for those of you who are
wondering about costs of this project, to-date I have spent the
following amount GBP £ 339,061.39, this is the all up cost which
includes the cost of the land. What do I now expect the Tower to
cost to complete, conservatively I would say £ 500,000. What was
the original budget I worked out in those early days to complete
the Tower..?? It was £ 250,000, funny how wrong you can be..??
On a lighter side a few months ago
when the arctic conditions once more covered Scotland Meryl made
the following statement to me while sat in our nice warm home in
the South of England. “Who in their right mind would want to
build a Scottish Fortified Tower House in Scotland..?? When the
South of France sounds nice..??” Mind you, Meryl is a Gosport,
Hampshire girl, born and bred, so not a lot I could say to
Wishing you a very Happy New Year
and may 2011 be a good one for us all – Phill & Meryl.
I have up-dated the Diary below to
reflect the status as of now.
Decided to build own Tower House from scratch. Started looking
for a suitable plot. Found a plot of just over 2 acres in a
small glen known as the Den of Gask. Contacted John Wetten-Brown
and got him to make drawings to submit for planning permission.
Having obtained Building Authority Approval, started building.
Attended night school to learn how to build in block work and
rubble. Built Log store as a result. Learnt how to slate the
roof by reading and asking questions....
Completed the Doocot, which will be used as a garage. Laid the
Tower Foundations. Cleared the site. Drained and deepened the
original pool, built the bridge and the weir. Ran in mains water
and electricity, and cut down about 50 trees (not very 'green'
but necessary, but I will be re-planting more soon). Laid a
field drainage system to dry out as much of the field as
No more major work this year, we will have John Wetten-Brown do
some stone carving over the doors on the Doocot & Log Store.
Just general site maintenance - save money. Look to finding more
farms with Turriff red sandstone to purchase.
Major landscaping work - Extend the pool, re-route the burn,
plant trees. Prepare the site for the start of the main building
Start the Tower build in March 2008 and continue building over
this 2 year period up to 4th
Floor level. Continue to work with building contractor to
complete the project at earliest opportunity, 2011 would be
good, but 2012 more realistic.
Complete build to wind & water
tight. This to include all external work to the Tower. Complete
all the internal fittings in the Tower.
Complete all the landscaping and
finalizing the site for rental in the initial 1st
year or so or until I retire from the Offshore Industry and also
convince Meryl that Scotland is a nice place to live and that
‘Cold is just a state of mind that can be overcome by wearing