It may just be one of the saddest things I think I’ve ever seen.
I returned to The Maltings a few weeks ago now, purely for the purpose of showing it off to The Most Amazing Man In The Universe. I wasn’t expecting much to have changed at all. My mum had told me, months ago, that there had been a fire, a massive blaze. Maybe something left by squatters, something hot and combustible to pour thick black smoke into the chilly Highlands night air. And Google tells me there has been other fires since, one just ten days ago- most of the recent ones deliberately lit.
The fire, the possible damage.. it was in the back of my mind somewhere. But I was thinking- what could possibly have burnt, when most of what was left was solid concrete or brick? How much could a fire have possibly taken hold, when it was all so spread out and so solid…?
I hadn’t thought about the house, the tiny cottage where I felt like I met a ghost and her very real, iPhone-carrying descendant. I hadn’t considered that possibility at all.
Which just made the discovery of the cottage, charred and blackened, even… sadder. Heavier, perhaps. A simple pensievity at the way the world eats pretty things. Sorrow enough to suck the breath from my lungs in a sharp, shocked sigh.
Seeing the iron roof curved upwards and twisted, the inside walls blackened to thick carbon… it hurt like witnessing the death of a wild thing.
Because it’s gone… all gone. Not the structure– houses built over a hundred years ago were built tough, their frames made to withstand freezing winters and blistering summer suns, a fortress to keep a family safe. The outer walls, parts of the roof…they remain.
It’s all those beautiful things within that are gone. Solid wooden floors are covered with inches of soot and charcoal and, as The Most Amazing Man In The Universe points out, probably asbestos, too- by the time I return to take photos there is red and yellow hazard tape stretched across what’s left of the cyclone fence, which I willfully ignore.
Carved cornices and solid baseboards are burnt and scorched, missing completely in most places. Wallpaper has been torn or vaporized. The tiny, warm master bedroom is just a shell of itself. The benches built into the back sun-room are covered in soot too black and thick and hazardous to bother poking through.
And– perhaps worst of all– what was left still mostly-intact kitchen is now an acrid-smelling black hole who’s roof yaws inward and peers down dangerously, who’s floors are covered in shattered glass and that same thick coating of charred wood. The frame of the tiny kitchen nook remains, twisted and overturned. I find the tabletop outside the kitchen window, unburnt but broken and useless. And the small green stove is broken and bent, damaged by fire and smoke and high pressure jets of water.
On seeing that, I think I might just cry, and I’m so thankful The Most Amazing Man In The Universe doesn’t laugh at me, doesn’t seem to think it’s strange that I find this distressing. I can’t even explain it… it’s one of those things that are just sad. The knowledge that this house was here, it was intact and real and breathtaking in the simple richness of it.
And now, all that is gone. And part of the story the building tells is gone, too. It feeds my fascination in the most basic manner- I always want to know how structures degrade like that, the humanity that they once held all but forgotten.
From a wallpapered house, still with a mark on its floors where a carpet runner sat for years and years… to a burnt, ugly, corroded shell, the best of it eaten by fire.
There’s a certain bizarre pride in having seen it, written it down, before that happened.
But there’s a certain heavy sadness in it, too.
More photos on Flickr…