The Mingary Castle blog is written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Working On Despite Dismal Weather

For both those working on Mingary Castle (arrowed) and the salvage teams working to salvage the Lysblink Seaways, the cargo ship (at left in picture) which ran aground at Kilchoan over a week ago, this has been a week of pelting rain, hail, snow, thunder and lightning, and frequent gales.  After many difficulties, the ship has now been towed away, but the appalling weather hasn't made the slightest difference to the speed at which work is progressing at the Castle.

When I arrived this morning a new piece of machinery was on site, a tele-handler hired from Inverness to lift materials up onto the scaffolding.  The reason for its arrival quickly became evident....

....when I climbed up to the battlements, where several men were laying flagstones - once again Yorkshire stone - large quantities of which have been lifted up using the new machine.  Picture shows Damien working on the walkway round the battlements, while....

....Richard was working at the other end of the walkway.  The flight of steps leading from the east range up to the battlements on the north side of the north range, seen in the background here, has also been rebuilt in the last week or so.

Mark Chandler and his men have almost finished the slates and leadwork on the two smaller ranges, and a very good job they have done. This picture shows the west range, and....

....this one looks from the end of the west range across to the smaller east range.  They should be finished in the next couple of days, at which point the scaffolding in the courtyard will be dropped so that work can start on the courtyard flagstones.

All the buildings are now weathertight except for fitting the exterior doors.

There's been rapid progress too inside the north range.  The first of the fittings are in - this is the bath on the attic level - the plywood floors are being laid, and all first fix electrics and plumbing are complete.

The attic is insulated ready for fitting the plasterboard, but one can already appreciate what a light area this will be when the job is completed.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Scaffolding Collapse?

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, builder Mark Rutherford Thompson was almost thrown out of his bed by a crash which he immediately thought was the scaffolding collapsing around the castle - or an earthquake.  It was neither, but sound of the impact made by a 7,500 tonne freighter travelling at 12 knots as it struck the rocks at nearby Mingary Pier.  The Lysblink Seaways is now the subject of a major maritime accident investigation and a huge salvage operation.

Despite the excitement in the nearby community and the jam of heavy vehicles carrying salvage equipment coming down the local single-track roads, Ashley Thompson's builders have been working apace.  The slaters have been here since Monday, starting on the east range, which is nearly finished.  It'll take them another two weeks to finish both east and west ranges.

The slaters, like so many of the men working here, come from Yorkshire, and are intensely proud of the quality of their work.  Led by Mark Chandler (standing left), the team consists of his son Graham, who is a partner in the business, another son Brent, who has recently joined them, and Gareth.  It may be no coincidence that Martin Chandler, a joiner who has been working at the castle for some months, is Mark's brother.

One of the Chandlers' specialisms is leadwork, of which a considerable amount is needed in the intricate roofing of the east range and around the dormers in the west.  I asked Mark if he had a website.  He doesn't, and it's a credit to his team that they can work entirely by reputation - but if you're looking for a quality roofer, 07891 675 956 will reach him.  Not surprisingly, therefore, he and Mark Rutherford Thompson have been working together for some 25 years.

Each time I walk on to this site, I have my breath taken away.  The effects of the white insulation which is going into the walls on the north range is suddenly to make it look like a house, and no longer a dank, dilapidated stone castle.

There are other changes which enhance this impression.  One of the big rooms on the second floor has been subdivided to provide space for bathrooms, while....

....the two gable ends in the attic have now been rendered with a special plaster which will help to repel any water ingress.  Other than the curtain walls themselves, these two gable ends are probably the most exposed to the weather.

To follow the Lysblink Seaways salvage operation, try the Kilchoan Diary.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Courtyard Buildings Take Shape

The weather has been uniformly grey for the last week, but at least it hasn't rained too much and the temperatures have held up, so the builders have been able to crack on with the outside jobs; and this morning the sun came out, which cheered everyone up.

Mark Rutherford Thompson was in the office as I arrived, compiling orders for all the materials which will be needed once the panelling begins to arrive.  While he's found the suppliers in local town Fort William - two hours away down a single-track road - quite good, what has been trying is that an order will come in - delivery once a week - with everything except a couple of items, without which work on a particular job can't start.  So he's had to order from Glasgow, Yorkshire and as far a way as London to ensure that materials are on site ready for when they're needed.

The three 340kg York stone heads for the dormer window are in position and look magnificent.  Having rebuilt the scaffolding in front of the range, and added strengthened scaffolding platforms under each of the windows, it then took six men, a block-and-tackle, two days' work and, as Mark put it, "a lot of blood, sweat and tears," to get them into place. Each head sits on a wooden dowel set into the underlying stone lintel, and is held to the sarking (the roofing planks) by two L-shaped brackets.  Billy can be seen on the battlements at top left, finishing off the pointing of the two chimneys.

All that remains of the exterior work on this range is the leadwork and slates. The slaters should be here on Monday.

The exterior of the east range is also moving on fast.  The one external addition to the buildings in the courtyard is the room to the left of this picture, joining the original east range to the north range.  While in the early plans it was to have a glass roof, it will now be slated, but it'll still be a light room as the front will have three floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

At the back of this room, which will be the breakfast room, is the eastern of the two garderobes, originally open to the courtyard. This small room isn't going to change its function as it will be a toilet off the breakfast room.  Chris is seen here fitting the 175mm-thick floor insulation around the open garderobe hole which, to keep the drafts out, will be covered with a plate of glass.

Joiner Martin Theaker continues the work in the main range attic.  Most of the insulation is now in the roof, and he's seen here adding strengthening to the rafters for the shower cubicle.  Except where he's working, with the plumbers almost finished in here, plywood once again covers the rafters.

The electricians, Brett, left, and Tigger, are well on with the first fix in the west range, a job which should be finished in a week.  They're seen here in the sitting room of what is planned as the caretaker's house.  Asked what they have found most difficult working in such a remote place, they said the same as Mark: getting materials.  But they added that the other serious deprivation was being unable to go out for a curry.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Now It's Frozen Pipes

As forecast, the weather has been even colder this week than last.  We've had hail and snow brought down on a bitter northerly airstream, and a nightly ground frost, with the temperatures only beginning to rise on Thursday.  Picture shows Mingary Castle from the hill to its northeast, with the Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry at Mingary Pier.

Not that four mornings of frozen pipes - meaning that blow torches had to be used to clear them - and miserable outside working conditions seem to have dented these men's cheerfulness.  John-Paul Ashley, left, and Mark Rutherford Thompson of Ashley Thompson are the main building contractors for the project and are maintaining a cracking pace with their workmen.

The roof on the East Range, with the new, connecting room shown here, is now on, and....

....joinery specialist Martin Chandler - seen on the ladder in front of the West Range - who has built all the roofs, was due to be away at the end of the day.

This leaves the builders to lift the three 340kg Yorkshire stone heads for the West Range's dormer windows into position.  Since there isn't, and never has been a crane in the courtyard, they will have to be lifted and fitted using a block and tackle and manpower.  They're an awkward shape to lift - it took five men just to raise them enough to get the packing off.

Meanwhile, in the North Range, work continues on the joinery and insulation of the attic rooms.  James McGinley has recently joined the workforce.  He comes from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.  His father's family was from Scotland, but it's James' first time in the country.  He hasn't worked on anything like this project before and has one word for the castle, the views and the job - "Phenomenal!"

Martin Theaker has been fitting the cabinets in the window alcoves.  In the style of the early 18th century, shutters will go above them.

Tigger Peacock is seen finishing what is almost the last of the plumbing first fix in the North Range.  The plumbers will then move in to the West Range to start work there.  The electricians have some days of work to do before they can move across the courtyard.

Despite the dire weather, everyone's spirits remain high, so my Thursday visit continues to be a great pleasure.

Friday, 30 January 2015

More Snow

I made the mistake early on of assuring builders Mark Rutherford Thompson and John-Paul Ashley that it didn't snow here much.  Probably as a result, we've had more snow that usual, with further flurries coming across Ardnamurchan over the last two days, brought across from Greenland on a chill northwesterly wind.

This was the view yesterday morning from the scaffolding looking east towards Ben Hiant as another snow shower cleared away.  It's making for pretty miserable conditions on site, not that....

....this is preventing rapid progress both indoors and out.  The most visible change since last week is the roof that's going onto the east range, with three dormer windows the sides faces of which will be faced with York stone.

Martin Chandler, right, is the joiner with 46 years of experience in traditional roof work who built the roof on the main range - see post back in July - and he's working with Martin Theaker who is with  Ashley-Thompson.  As soon as they've finished this job, they'll be moving on to the east range, and then on to the frame for the glass-roofed dining room which fits between the east range and the main building.

Because of the weather, most of the Ashley-Thompson workforce is in the north range, working in the chapel area and attic room, and assisting the plumbing and electrical contractors.  Several sections of floor are up, and there's a spaghetti of wires being put in alongside miles of pipework.

At present these red plastic pipes are being fixed.  They're part of an aspirating smoke detection system, mandatory in a commercial building, designed to gather any trace of smoke and carry it to a unit which, through....

....these rather smart matching red wires, will sound the alarms.  Holding the wires is electrician Tigger Peacock of R&B Electrical & Renewables.

Meanwhile, the network of pipework becomes increasingly complex.  The pipes here are made of crimped carbon steel which are longer lasting, but they can only be used for the heating system, the potable water system being of copper piping.  Picture shows Andy Stevens of Proficient Plumbing of Whitby, right, with electrician Brett Ward.

Ashley-Thompson's Chris has the warmest job of the day, working in the attic room where he's fixing the two thicknesses of 100mm insulation.  In fact, the whole of the north range is warm, with every sign that the stone walls are beginning to dry out despite the continuing wet weather - which is just as well as the forecast is for the wind to go into the north and bring some bitterly cold weather.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Bitter Winter Weather

This was the view this morning looking across the bay from Mingary Pier towards the castle, with Beinn na h-Urchrach, in a moment's unexpected sunshine, rising behind it.  The snow which blanketed most of the area by late yesterday afternoon, bringing some difficult driving conditions, has melted at lower levels, but an icy wind continues to blow from the southeast straight into the face of the castle, making working conditions on the exterior....

....very hard for people like stonemason Damien, who has taken over the rebuilding of one of the chimneys in the west range from 'H' who is away for a break.  The west range should be ready within a week for the roof to go on, while....

....the east range is ready and waiting for its roof.

Delays and difficulties are fully to be expected in a project as complex as this one, but the remoteness of the area magnifies them.  Chris is seen here with a hydraulic drill struggling to break down into the granophyre rock under the storage room below the west range.  The granophyre is the igneous rock of the sill upon which the castle sits, and is extremely hard - to the extent that they've wrecked four pneumatic jack hammers trying to get down 18".  Interestingly, there are more massive, harder areas and more shaley, friable areas - the white chunk Chris is working on is one of the harder.

Every time I visit the castle I'm amazed at how much shifting of materials has to be done by hand.  The rubble that's going into the floor of the chapel now that the plumbing's in has all come from where they're drilling in the west range, and has been carried in a bucket down a ladder and up two floors by Billy.

The electrical and plumbing contractors are still on site, with some of the workmen from main contractor Ashley-Thompson helping them.  At least the north range where they're working is warm, with the heating full on to speed the drying of the stone walls.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Mingary Castle in Snow

Snow isn't common on West Ardnamurchan - the peninsula is too much influenced by the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift - so when it does come, particularly with some accompanying sunshine, the scenery can be spectacular.

This is Mingary Castle from the east, with the Isle of Mull half covered in cloud in the distance, while....

....this picture was taken from the shingle beach immediately to the west of the castle, with the highest mountain on West Ardnamurchan, Ben Hiant, behind.

Our morning's visit to the castle was made by a juvenile sea eagle, which soared over the castle ramparts before setting off westwards towards Mull.