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

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Mingary in the Sunshine

With the weather taking a turn for the better, we were out walking along the beach to the east of Mingary on Monday enjoying the views across the bay to the castle. The low, rocky point which sticks out into the Sound of Mull to the immediate left of the castle is Rubh' a' Mhile, off which a ship was sunk during the siege of Mingary in 1645.

The castle's repointed walls now catch the sunlight so the building stands out against the darker hills.

In this picture, the distant houses of Ormsaigbeg, one of West Ardnamurchan's crofting townships, can be seen in the distance.

The castle is seen here from the Ardnamurchan Estate's lands to the east of Mingary, with the hills of Maol Buidhe and Druim na Gearr Leacainn in the distance.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Almost There....

On any normal building job, the conditions over the last week might have been terminal. Two major storms, Gertrude and Henry, have passed through. We've had winds gusting to 131mph a mile or so from Mingary; we've been pelted by rain, hail, sleet and snow; and then, yesterday, the sun smiled briefly, apologised, and disappeared again - so we're now back to rain.

Despite the extreme conditions, the damage on site has been minimal, with one exterior door torn from its hinges and the eagle blown off his plinth in the ornamental garden.  On the other hand, the workmen have suffered indirectly, with one of the main mobile (cellphone) systems down for over a week, no internet, and their caravans battered for hours almost every night by the wind. 

But progress has been such that, despite the storms, Holly and Chris Bull, the castle's managers, will be starting to move furniture into the three ranges early next week, after the builders have spent the weekend on the final small jobs and tidying up. Some major things will be completed later, like the sea wall, the drawbridge, and the lift in the dungeon/cellar, but the impression one gets as one walks around....

....is that the rooms in the main, north range are almost ready for occupation. In fact they aren't, with the first letting scheduled for mid-May, because there is still a huge amount to be done.

About half Sandra Jeffrey's curtains have been measured and hung, but all except those in the west range, in which the builders have finished work, have been taken down again and re-wrapped in polythene because there's still too much dust around. Picture shows Sandra working with joiner Martin Theaker. The painters and electricians are still on site, and there are one or two joinery jobs to be finished.

The period furniture, which has been in store on the Estate, will be coming in on Monday or Tuesday. This is the main lounge, which is complete. Coming in to it today from the cold and rain, it felt as warm as toast  - as much from the biomass central heating as from the feeling of warmth given by the magnificent oak panelling.

This is one room which is really is finished. It's the bathroom for the second bedroom in the north range, built inside the great curtain wall.

Various jobs have been finished off outside as well. For example the iron safety bars have been fitted in the crenellations along the battlements, the work done with all the neatness that has been characteristic of this build.

This neatness and attention to detail is even reflected in those materials which are no longer required and are beginning to be moved off site.

Readers will have noticed that a flag is flying at the masthead on the north battlement. It's the Yorkshire flag, and it deserves to be there because it has largely been Yorkshiremen like builders Mark Rutherford Thompson (left) and John-Paul Ashley who have survived for two and a half years in very difficult circumstances to make the Trust's dream of a refurbished Mingary Castle become reality.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

An End in Sight

As is so typical of Ardnamurchan, the weather has been highly variable over the past couple of weeks, with some fine, clear days and some impressive gales. The workmen were rocked around in their caravans on Monday/Tuesday night by a gale that hit hurricane force on the north coast, and they're in for another rough ride over the next 24 hours. The trouble is that the gales leave all sorts of problems behind them: for example, the mobile 'phone network is down again, and the telephones have packed up. For builder Mark Rutherford Thompson, there's little point in carrying on with the sea wall - high tides have coincided with these westerly gales - so the lads who were working on it have gone home for a break.

Despite all the problems, progress has continued to be rapid and, as a result, there's some very good news: the castle itself will be handed back to the Mingary Castle Preservation & Restoration Trust next Friday, when the first of the furnishings which have been in store will also start to arrive.

So today's visit saw impressive steps forward indoors. Almost all the beautiful oak panel work is now in place, leaving the joiners....

....to concentrate on a mass of finishing-off jobs like fixing the brass fittings to the doors. These are great quality, as one would expect from the suppliers, a very old, family-run Bradford hardware firm, H Ellis & Son of Joseph Street, which was established in 1899.

This picture shows the two joiners, the two Martins, who have done the vast majority of the joinery work on the panelling, with 'fettler' Richard at back left.  Those who have the good fortune to visit the castle will be able to enjoy the superb quality of their workmanship for years to come.

But they have plenty still to do.  At centre of this picture is the main door of the castle with, behind it, the smaller door which will go in at the water gate. Since both will be subjected to the very best of Ardnamurchan weather for years to come, at present they're being painted with layer upon layer of varnish.

To the right is the door from the breakfast room into the main kitchen, with all the chinaware still wrapped on the shelves, and to the left are the big glass doors which lead out to the courtyard.

Three other trades are also working hard to the deadline. The maze of wires and pipes associated with the electrical side, the alarm system, and the fire breather system all now come neatly into this little cupboard under the stairs.

Representatives of each of these building trades are shown in this picture. At left is Dom of Mark Galley Decorators; Rob and Tigger of R&B Electrical & Renewables; and Paul of Proficient Plumbing of Whitby, Yorkshire.

Another trade was hard at work in the main room in the West Range. Sandra Jeffrey, who is responsible for all the crewel-work curtains and hangings, has about three weeks work remaining. She's seen here working on one of the hangings for the four poster in the second bedroom in the North Range.

There are still one or two other things which have to be completed. The lift mechanism for the dungeon has to go in - the dungeon will then become the castle's wine cellar - and, although the drawbridge has been fitted, there's still more work to be done on it.

It'll be a couple of months or so before the castle opens for its first guests but the main build, after almost three challenging years, really is approaching completion.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Working in the Cold & Wet

After last week's spectacular dawn, today's weather has turned nasty again, with southeasterlies gusting to gale force forecast to continue through the next two days which, along with the current low temperatures, is making outdoor work a misery.

Despite this, a great deal has happened since last week, with the drawbridge finally installed - the hydraulics have yet to be connected to the electric motor - and a very important visit from Historic Environment Scotland on Tuesday, when their officers inspected and passed all the work that's been done over the last two and a half years.

Although I was told that all the oak panelling is now on site, including the front door of the north range - pictured - I wasn't allowed inside. The job is now so close to completion that the builders don't want to spoil the impact the interiors will have when they're finished and and the place cleaned, which should be done in time for next week's visit.

Tim Birbeck from TSB Ironcraft has been here raising the levels of the iron railings and bannisters which were a few inches too low - picture shows the top of the stairway from the courtyard up to the battlements - and has also installed....

....safety bars across those points along the battlements where people could, in their eagerness to enjoy the views, fall out. He'll be back as there are more of these fine railings to be installed in various other locations around the site.

While the joiners were hard at work indoors - two more have arrived on site to speed things up - the rest of the team - J-P, Chris, Richard and Damien - were out in the rain, wind and cold, building the stone facing for the sea wall. Over the weekend they finished the last pour of concrete, and now rocks which have been brought to the beach at the west side of the castle are being built up as a facing against the concrete wall.

In amongst the mortar between the rocks are steel strengthening wires, and there are also lengths of steel protruding from the earlier pours of concrete, all of which will stabilise and strengthen the stonework - the blog of 30th December shows engineer Brian Smith's drawings for the work. A mixture of concrete and gravel is then poured in behind the stone facing to bond it against the earlier concrete.

The wall built so far took two men a day and a half, and the job is going to become more difficult as they build higher, so there's an estimated eight weeks of work here, all of which is controlled by the weather and the tides.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Crewel Work and Fettling

A different sort of winter has arrived, bringing clear skies and frosts accompanied by light flurries of snow and occasional rather heavier falls of hail. This picture shows the castle at nine this morning, with the sun rising behind it over the hills of Morvern, while....

....this was taken from the northeast a few minutes later, with the early light picking out the ancient stonework of the curtain walls. Beyond the castle lie the waters of the Sound of Mull, with the low-lying Isle of Mull in the distance.

The castle is an exciting place to be at the moment. Yes, conditions for the workmen are still hard, with the water pipes frozen this morning so the resident Yorkshiremen couldn't make their early morning cup of tea - a serious matter - but with the end really is in sight. The job should, all being well, be finished in a few weeks' time, so the men are cracking on with their work.

This picture shows the sea wall with the latest pour of concrete completed. It went in on Sunday and it's already gone off. However, they can't make further progress this week as the tides are at springs, but they only have one more level to build, about another metre high, for this part of the job to be finished. Then they have to clad it in natural stone.

This was one of the highlights of today's visit, seeing Sandra Jeffrey with her completed master bed. It's now a proper four-poster, with crewel work curtains to close it in, though these can easily be removed if a visitor prefers, while....

....this is the view up into the canopy. The work has been painstakingly done, and these beds - there are four others which will be similarly clad - will be a feature of the castle.

I had never heard of fettling, but this is a fettler. Richard has been given the job of going round all the panelling and other joinery and, using planes, chisels and sandpapers, smoothing off all the rough edges. The word is usually applied to the same task in iron working.

Richard is working here on the panelling on the stairs. Just about all the panelling has arrived and been fitted, but the last, including the front door of the north range, is due to arrive on Monday and, to push the job to its end, two more joiners will be coming with it.

Builder Mark Rutherford Thompson is rarely seen sitting down on the job but he was needed to model the bathroom screen in the attic, which is one of those glass partitions which, at the flick of a remote control button....

....becomes opaque.

At times there is a slightly uneasy juxtaposition of the very old and the latest technology, but things like dimming lights, high-speed broadband, remotely controlled heating with thermostats in every room, and cutting-edge bathroom fittings are what the clients will be expecting.

The west coast of Scotland rarely sees much snow lying for any length of time at ground level due to the influence of the warm sea, and this effect is shown in this picture, taken from Mingary Pier. To the right is the hill called Beinn na h-Urchrach, which was clear of snow yesterday evening.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Welcoming Warmth on a Wet Day

Getting back to work after a good holiday is difficult enough in any circumstances, but the Mingary Castle team returned to find that one of several gales we've enjoyed in their absence had knocked one of their caravans off its mountings and cut the power to the site, so all their freezers were full of soggy, defrosted food. To add to their joys, the weather since their return can best be described as.... wet and grey.

This didn't mean I found a bunch of miserable people when I visited the site yesterday morning - on the contrary, work was proceeding with a new vigour, even though Chris and Richard, organising the reinforcing rods and shuttering for the next pour of concrete for the sea wall, were working in wind-driven sleet.

Builder John-Paul Ashley was rightly anxious to show me the map that he'd fitted behind the hob in the kitchen. It shows the Ardnamurchan peninsula, its villages and wildlife in a pictorial representation which has been fired onto a reinforced glass panel. It's quite a feature for the kitchen.

But what really strikes one when entering the north range now is the panelling. The panels on the side of the lowest flight of stairs are now in place, as well as the half-height panelling up much of the stairs and on the landings, and it looks stunning.

Although there's still panelling to arrive - as can be seen from this picture - what has arrived and is in place gives this building a mature warmth that is a tonic in this weather. There's no doubt that the panelling will be one of the most memorable features for visitors who come to stay in the castle. It's even more welcoming when one walks into the building on a cold, damp day - the panelling and the wood-chip fired heating, which keeps what might be a chilly castle building wonderfully warm.

The two big fire surrounds, one in the dining room and one in the sitting room - shown here - have both been fitted. They are impressive pieces of woodwork. Normally, such pieces would have had a cheap MDF base, but these are solid oak and, as a result, weighed a ton when they tried to manouevre them into position. These rooms are now almost finished and they're beautiful.

Attention to detail has always been a feature of the work here. This picture shows Richard using a core bit to cut 'pellets', tiny round pieces of wood which cover the screw holes in the wood panels. This 'dirty' work is all being done in the dining room as Sandra Jeffrey is back and about to start hanging the curtains - which do not want to get dusty.

Masses of carved oak has arrived so the joiners can build the architraves round all the arched doors. Each architrave has to be built to fit, which means a great deal of measuring and cutting has to be  done so that....

....they fit an individual entrance. Martin Chandler is seen here fitting one around the door into the bathroom in the west wing.

Long-term readers of this blog will recall that the breakfast room was the only additional structure, and was built into an angle of the courtyard between the east range and the north range, with doors formed into each.  This picture shows the back of the breakfast room where a door leads into the only room in the castle which has not been refurbished - one of the three garderobes. It's a very small room with a Caithness stone floor and....

....a hole beneath which is a long drop to the beach below. This, for obvious safety reasons, and to keep the draughts out, will be covered with a glass plate but is otherwise largely unaltered. However, this ancient toilet does have one modern feature - interior lighting.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sea Wall Drawings

When the site closed for the Christmas and New Year holidays work was progressing as well as could be expected on the sea wall which is being built to stabilise the lower part of the cliff face on which the castle stands. The first part of this process was to erect shuttering in stages along with appropriate reinforcing, and then to pour concrete to form the core of the wall.

Brian Smith, Technical Director at Arc Engineers, who is the structural engineer for Mingary Castle, has kindly made available his latest sketch details for the wall.

The first one shows the point at which the work currently stands, with the upper blocks of granophyre having been pinned some two years ago, and most of the concrete now poured to form the core of the sea wall.

Once the concrete has set, the next stage is to face the wall with local stone so that it blends in to the surrounding rock. Sourcing appropriate rock and moving it into place will be one of the challenges facing the builders and, once again, progress will be heavily dependent on the tides and on the weather, which isn't at its kindest in January and February.