Castle Brittahytta began as a secret project for Halloween 2011, reprised for the first Verdigris Saga year for Halloween 2012 and again for Halloween 1914 in 2014, so this year is our fourth version of the castle, with improvements added each time. After some strife earlier this September, I think we’re finally done since we survived the rain this past weekend with lighting intact and only a minor glitch from some giant blustery wind. I still have some last final decorating touches to add, and the front projection show is still being edited, but here is Castle Brittahytta 4.0!
I was hoping for the castle to be up by the end of Labor Day weekend, but as we got the castle walls down from above my garden sheds, one piece of the tall tower was completely missing so needed to be made from scratch to fit, there was a lot of rat chewing damage to repair and repaint, plus the thin foam we used for the round towers in 2014 got too brittle during two years in outdoor storage to bend into shape again…so we had a lot more work to do! Glen brushed all the walls clean of all the dead leaves and blossoms and general crud, I cut, carved and painted the replacement wall, then we both did all the touchup painting, including all the chewed white spots, and lightening the darkest stains to blend with the rest of the walls. Scary Jerry was able to help us hang the ramparts and corner towers on Sunday, but we were still redesigning the round towers and the support for the tall tower. Both of them helped me sketch the curve for the new garage door archway, and convinced me just to buy new foam sheets instead of attempting to recycle really old pieces I had…heh!
The round tower spires I made umbrella-style from marine vinyl, wooden dowels and hula hoops rolled up nicely to stand in a corner inside my garden shed, but those hula hoops were pressed paper and didn’t last the big 2014 storm season. During the year I had found plastic hula hoops the same size (and price!), plus the thin wooden dowels had warped under the weight of the fabric, so I was on the search for additional sturdier spines. Metal rods were $3 each (!) so cost prohibitive, and I tried using some 9 gauge wire which didn’t do much, so I went back and bought 35 wooden dowels 3/8″ diameter. Since the original dowels already met at the top, I placed the new thicker dowels between them, wedge them into the top and taped the bottoms. The tape won’t hold forever, but by pulling them tight over the new columns like a close-fitting hat, they even stayed on the columns during the worst wind we’ve had yet!
Since part of our plan to reinforce the tall tower was to screw through the square foam spire, I decided to sew a matching marine vinyl cover from the last bit of vinyl I had bought in 2014…whew! I pinned it in place inside out over the foam spire to be sure of the fit, sewed it inside, sponge painted it to match the other aged copper look spires, and it works great!
Having the rectangular white garage door staring me in the face while the rest of the house looks like a castle has been the bane of my existence since 2011. I made a canvas curtain covered in wood gossamer but still was a rectangle, then I tried woodgrain contact paper, which fell off last-minute in wind & rain, but also was still a boring modern rectangle…so I demanded castle doors this year! Not only would the garage opening get a rear-projection screen (more in a separate post), but a new foam-carved “stone” garage door arch surround was planned all along. I was finally able to cut, carve & paint it the following weekend and it immediately made a huge difference! Even with the white garage door inside, the arch shape of the surround and the dragon sconces and drawbridge chains at the sides made it look so much more like a castle…and just wait until the garage screen shows the portcullis opening to reveal the heavy wood plank door with giant iron hinges!
The wind kept blowing over the round foam towers so many times in 2014 I was a nervous wreck, so I had already planned to make all of the castle as wind-safe as possible, including internal structure for the round towers. Now that the thin foam walls from 2014 were no longer an option, we completely designed the round towers to use two layers of strong galvanized wire fencing stapled by air compressor to the same plywood bases, then covered the wire fencing in matte finish vinyl fabric that thankfully matched the castle wall basecolor perfectly. I had painstakingly painted a smaller brick pattern on the foam towers for 2014, but we realized in the dark they weren’t even noticed, so this year the towers are plain tan, with the breeze pushing the fabric against the rectangular pattern of the wiring inside giving a little brick effect. Even those strong staples didn’t completely hold through two weeks of constant breezes, and after enough staples worked themselves loose, we had a couple towers come off the plywood bases! We took the nail gun back up onto the roof (thankfully the hose is long enough that the air compressor can stay on the ground!), stapled almost every inch, and that lasted through wind so strong this past weekend that it blew over the plywood bases…but the towers stayed intact! Now we have added some more sandbags on top of the plywood bases so we think we’ll be good for the rest of the season…famous last words?
I am being careful about phrasing since as soon as we thought we had the tall tower really solid on a custom-built wood frame over two metal workbenches, plus the old heavy 24″ monitor set up inside the window, not even 24 hours later a huge gust of wind must have blown the top workbench off the roof, since I came home from work to see it backwards on my front lawn, with the other workbench still standing on the roof! The rampart wall and angel’s trumpet tree must have broken the fall and turned it backwards, and all the foam cushioned the monitor so it still works fine…whew! Amazingly and thankfully the top tower was salvageable with only some minor repairs, but since the lower walls were anchored to the lower workbench and the frame, they tore apart and had to be rebuilt from scratch…just when I had put the paint sprayer and foam carving tools away of course! So back to buy two MORE foam sheets, use the broken pieces as patterns, then cutting, carving, painting & aging them…which couldn’t happen until after Halloween shopping weekend. We not only added one more framing piece across the bottom, but lashed both workbenches together with large zip ties, added sandbags to both levels, AND added a rope tied around my one tall skylight so if it does tip over, it won’t be able to fall off the roof to hurt anyone or anything. Good to know that it didn’t even budge when the wind knocked over all the round columns last weekend, so we might have finally triumphed…?
I had a late brainstorm to try my baby battery jack o’ lanterns up along the castle walls and in the windows as more forced perspective. They do make the round towers look huge, and they are adorable in the castle windows! Since turning on all those every night will be a pain, plus we have flicker LEDs from last year’s candles, and I have a resident electrical engineer at my disposal, we are wiring all 15 baby jack o’ lanterns to AC power so they’re on the roof power circuit. The ones on the walls are finished but we need brighter static LEDs for the faces to show through the windows, so those are still in process. They stayed in place during the wind since we used a pair of bamboo skewers angled into the foam so they have to bend to set the pumpkin on top, giving pressure outwards for a tight fit. I’ve built foam shelves to get the pumpkins in the correct window placement, so those are just waiting for their LEDs to be wired in place. Since I’ve already had some feedback that my crawling spiders video show is too scary, hopefully this cuteness might balance the creepiness…?
Glen aimed three warm white lights to hit all the roof towers from the side, which looks great, and our waterproofing succeeded…whew! Scary Jerry came over again as our lighting consultant, and some slow color-changing outdoor LED spotlights aimed from up in the front tree really makes it all pop! It is very nice not to have so many power cables out on the grass, even though I’ll end up with trip hazards anyway once my handmade pumpkin vines are finished and added. The Ghostly Guardian is still watching from the tall tower, but this year you can see her gravestone in the foreground, entirely written in old Nordic runes. All the gravestone spotlights and several of the towers are coming from the projector hidden under the garden well at the front corner…but more about that when I can reveal the full front show with original soundtrack written by yours truly!
All this work looks wonderful, but we are not finished quite yet! I have some garlands on the graveyard fence with hopefully a few more arriving soon, all the gravestones are up on rebar, also not budging in the wind, jack o’ lanterns are almost all in place with extension cords successfully taped against a full day of constant rain, giant pumpkins are still being placed since I’m making pumpkin vines for them, a giant spider photo op will be under the front tree along the sidewalk, and I still plan on placing fake spiders on the pumpkins to go with the spiders climbing the castle walls…but at least we have made this much progress by October 18th, with one more full weekend and week before my big party! Click below to view the entire photo gallery for Castle Brittahytta so far…