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
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....
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
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
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
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 slatter 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
depends on money - we have not borrowed a penny, just saved up and paid
cash as we have carried out the work.
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
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.
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.
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
time go – I’m sure that in the 16th century they never took
this long to build a Fortified Tower House..!!
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.
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
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.
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
up-dated the Diary below to reflect the status as now.
Started looking for a Tower House in the Aberdeen area to renovate. Not
much success for the required money.
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
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.
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.
landscaping work - Extend the pool, re-route the burn, plant trees.
Prepare the site for the start of the main building program.
Start the Tower 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 more clothes..!!’