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The Tower of Craigietocher
Progress as at December 2010


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 progress.

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 own words....

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 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. 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 not accept
as 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
next - 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 House..!!

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 done.

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 him.

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 1st & 2nd 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 that..!!

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.

DIARY
1992

1995
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.

1997
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....

1998/1999/2000
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 possible.

2000
No more major work this year, we will have John Wetten-Brown do some stone carving over the doors on the Doocot & Log Store.

2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006
Just general site maintenance - save money. Look to finding more farms with Turriff red sandstone to purchase.

2007
Major landscaping work - Extend the pool, re-route the burn, plant trees. Prepare the site for the start of the main building program.

2008/2009/2010
Start the Tower build in March 2008 and continue building over this 2 year period up to 4
th Floor level. Continue to work with building contractor to complete the project at earliest opportunity, 2011 would be good, but 2012 more realistic.

2011

Complete build to wind & water tight. This to include all external work to the Tower. Complete all the internal fittings in the Tower.

2012

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 more clothes..!!’


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