It is almost thirty years since I first spoke to Nigel Tranter. I had recently moved to East Lothian, and one day when out driving towards Aberlady, I recognised him walking on the footpath notebook in hand. Without much thought, I stopped the car and found myself in conversation. I have to say that his surprise at being accosted by a complete stranger was kept well hidden. His warm greeting "How do you do?", on hearing my name, made me feel as if he had all the time in the world. Little did I know then, that this was his regular writing time. We spoke briefly and with more than a little youthful arrogance, I told him that I wanted to restore a castle.
He showed no surprise and promised that if he heard of a castle in need of restoration, he would let me know!
Over the years letters would arrive, from Nigel, asking if I had looked at this ruin or, had I looked at so and so? If my enthusiasm faltered at times, his certainly did not!
Some twenty years on, in October 1988, the telephone rang, Nigel's now instantly recognisable voice quickly came to the point. "Have you seen Ballencrieff ruin"? The fact that I had, was ignored and the following Sunday I found myself clambering over the pile of stones that was to become my home ten years later.
Nigel's enthusiasm was total! When I mentioned to him one day that I required background history for Ballencrieff and that I was "stuck". Within the week he presented me with a complete record of the main owners and some of their relatives!
He attended "greeting meetings" at Historic Scotland with me. We met with county planners and he even laboured one weekend to assist the archaeologist.
It was a proud moment for Lin and I when he was able to stay for one of his birthday nights here at Ballencrieff.
And now he is gone. His familiar figure, with Joan his dearest friend by his side, walking up our drive, we will never see again.
To the potential castle restorer, the many castle owners and castle folk in general, the loss will be even greater. In Nigel Tranter, Scotland has lost one of its greatest champions of modern times, and I have lost a chum.
Words: Peter Gillies of Ballencrieff Castle
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View our extensive collection of castle postcards (circa 1900).