Heady heights at Kirklands

Standing on a roof is, generally, an infrequent experience for me. Standing on a roof, 10m off the ground, that’s protected by a covered scaffold is a first.

The scaffold, and the work beneath it, marks the start on site for the Kirklands of Cluny project. The house is 162 years old and half of the slate on the roof is believed to have been on the house for a large proportion of that time. As a result it’s a little past its best. So first things first, replace it before work starts on the house’s interiors and the new ground floor extension is built.

Standing on the scaffold sheltered by its tarpaulin sheets I felt as though I was standing on the ground (until I caught a glimpse of it through gaps between the scaffold’s floorboards). The fact that that I was, at the same time, at eye level with a roof that for the last four years I’d only ever seen from the ground made for a curious and slightly disconcerting experience, particularly as I watched the contractor’s very experienced slater scamper upon and down its pitch, removing the slate tiles.

Replacing the slates on a roof, in Aberdeenshire, in January, is not the easiest thing to do to a C listed building, or any existing building for that matter. It would have been much more ideal to do it in the summer months without the heightened risk of heavy driving rain, sleet or snow. However the discovery of a maternity roost of 247 bats in the roof has dictated otherwise. It has meant that any works involving the roof could only be carried out in the winter months when the bats had moved to their warmer winter roost. To mitigate against the heightened risk of the elements damaging the house’s interiors the most sensible thing to do was to erect a scaffold that would not only give access to the roof but also protect it, a significant upgrade from a standard scaffold that would be required for a job like this.

Aside from the excitement of the covered scaffold, the stripping back of roof space has itself been thought provoking. It has exposed joiner work that’s been hidden for over a century and it is fascinating to see, particularly in comparison to how we build today. What concerns us nowadays in terms of restricting water ingress, heat loss and air tightness weren’t things that mid-19th century builders needed to consider to the degrees we need to nowadays. But equally it’s very interesting to see that some of the ways things were done in the 1850s still carry through into construction today.

Getting to see, and help protect, such an old building’s secrets feels like a real privilege. The timelessness of working on a house like this is provocative and makes me wonder who’ll see the roof at this close angle, or the joinery work beneath it, next, once the scaffold is gone and everything’s covered up again.