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

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Plasterers Start Work

It was a lovely morning when I arrived at the castle but it hasn't been so good throughout this last week.  Monday was a complete washout, with an inch of rain in the twenty-four hours, which put a stop to most outside work.  Despite this, progress is impressive, and the finishing date for the project, July/August, looks attainable.

The biomass boiler has been working for some months but it's only now been possible to set about completing the roof covering and the stonework at its eastern end.  The building - the picture is looking straight down on it from the top lift of the scaffolding along the north curtain wall - will effectively be buried in the east end of the moat, but the stone walls need building up.

Stonemason Damien and Richard are doing the work.  Along the upper level they've built a superb drystone wall which will be a feature of the approach.  It drops down to the lower level as it approaches the castle wall.  While I was watching....

....they lifted the first of the capping stones into position; these, as can be seen, are being stabilised with a bit of concrete.

Inside the north range, Tigger (left), from R&B Electrical & Renewables is back.  When I came in he was working with Chris in the kitchen to instal the datalink cabling.  There's some urgency in this as the last section of plasterboard needs to be finished and the place plastered as soon as possible, because the kitchen fitters are arriving on Monday.

Which is why, when I went back in half-an-hour later, John-Paul was in there fitting some dowelling along the cornices preparatory to starting the plastering.  This will give a curved edge, rather than a sharp one, along the cornices, something which was common in older plasterwork.

J-P may be the boss of his own, very successful building firm today, but he's a plasterer by trade, so it was very interesting to go upstairs with him to meet....

....the man to whom J-P was apprenticed when he was learning his trade.  This is Neil Hobson whose firm, Neil Hobson Plastering, is based in Otley, North Yorkshire.  You won't find the company on the internet - Neil's reputation is quite enough to keep him in work - but, if you're looking for a top-rate plasterer, he can be contacted on 01943 468 013.

Working with him now are his son, Jess (right) and Dave Nicholson, seen here fitting plasterboard in the stairwell of the north range.  The three will be back and forth over the next few weeks as the various areas that need plastering become available.  In the north range, there's the whole of the attic - which is where they were working today - the kitchen and the hall, and they have all the east and west ranges to do.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Light in the Courtyard

At the time of last week's post, the weather had just made a change from a long winter into a late spring.  The fine spell has stuck, so when we went down to the castle this morning it was bathed in sunshine.

On this visit, time was spent walking around the castle to obtain a feel for the amount of light that would get in to the living areas, which are all inside the high curtain walls.  It's spring, and the sun will climb much higher as we move into summer, but even shortly after nine in the morning the courtyard is already filled with sunlight.  In this picture, the west range is to the left, and the main, north range to the right.

The attic rooms are the only ones which are high enough to look over the battlements.  As the sun moves round with the day, they'll receive plenty of sunshine and the view, on a less hazy day, across the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, will be spectacular.

The second floor windows too will receive plenty of direct sunlight, but their view is restricted to the courtyard.  If, as is now planned, the walls of the interior of the courtyard are harled - that is, covered with a lime render which is full of small stones and pebbles - it'll be lighter still.  Harling is used on most west highland houses in this area, and has another purpose, to help resist rainwater penetration.

Although deeper into the courtyard, the first floor windows also receive plenty of direct and reflected light.  The latter is pleasantly warm from the colours in the local and York stones.

The big ground floor room will be darkest, but by late morning the sun will be shining straight into it.  The completed courtyard terrace, paths and cobbled areas will provide plenty of interest in its outlook.

With much of the work on the interior fittings of the north range completed ready for the arrival of the plasterers and oak panelling, several of the workmen were sweeping it out, and while we were there the kitchen units arrived.  Both of these gave us a feel that another milestone has been reached in the refurbishment of the building.

The stonework in the dungeon is now complete, so stonemason Damien has moved to the retaining wall at the east end of the moat.  Tucked into the moat here is the biomass boiler which provides heat for the castle.  Once the wall is raised and the roof of the boiler house completed, this building will, effectively, disappear underground.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Dungeon's Future

We've just been through another patch of rough weather, with snow down to sea level and gales earlier in the week, but the weather is changing for Easter, and my weekly Thursday visit to the castle was in hazy sunshine and a warm, light breeze.

High above, a skein of greylag geese crossed the sky, moving northwards with the changing season, movement which was reflected in the castle workforce, several of whom have gone south for a well-deserved Easter break.

Despite this, there were plenty of progress to be seen since my last visit.  The courtyard drains are largely done, and the upper part terrace isn't far from having its Caithness flags laid, but the main progress has been is a small, underground room off the courtyard.

There seems to have been some uncertainty as to what the dungeon was going to be used for.  Its entrance, just in from the main gate and above the level of the courtyard, is shared with the western of the two garderobes - and to reach the garderobe one has to step across the dungeon's vertical access point.  So, in the days when it was in use, there must have been a wooden hatch covering, and sealing in, the miscreants it contained.

Standing in the entrance and looking down into the dungeon, one can see how confined the space is - it measures 9ft by 4.5ft, and is 8ft high. The access to the garderobe goes round to the left, where the ladder is lying.

Now that a decision has been made on the future of the dungeon, stonemason Damien is working on the stone walls which are badly decayed in places.  Access will be by a lift, comprising a platform which, when up, will seal the dungeon and provide a safe crossing to the garderobe, but which will lower to enable the dungeon to be reached.

There certainly isn't much room down there - enough for Damien and one other workman hiding in the corner, so it's hardly a living space.  However, there's plenty of room, and certainly the right temperature, for it to store a few bottles - so it's to be the castle's wine cellar.

Imagine the thoughts of its one-time prisoners had they known that, one day, the room would be filled with fine wines!

The arrival of the first oak panelling is imminent, so work on the walls of the rooms in the north range has been progressing quickly.  Joiner Martin seems happy enough at his work, and that's one of the bosses at right, Mark Rutherford Thompson, who also seems to be smiling.  It must have been the weather, because there have been some frustrating delays recently in the arrival of materials, and Mark hasn't seen his home in three months.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Life's Never Easy

Just as we thought winter might finally be behind us, everything changed again, with a north wind bringing snow for the hills and a cold, sleety rain down to sea level.  To add to the builder's problems, the single-track B8007, the only road in and out of the community, is closed for several hours each day while a landslip is repaired, so builders merchants are refusing to deliver, meaning that Mark or J-P have to drive down the road, when it's open, to collect supplies.

Despite this, work continues as a good pace.  With the scaffolding coming down just inside the entrance to the castle, one gets a better idea of what it will be like to walk in to the renovated Mingary Castle when it's finished.  The wooden 'awning' described last week....

....has now been covered with lead, and the Chandlers, Mark, Martin and Graham, who have made such a neat job of the roofs and their associated leadwork, their work done, left the site on Wednesday.

Billy (pictured) and stonemason Damien have nearly finished laying the slabs all round the attic room of the north range.  What's left to do is on the north side, where the lead gutter to carry away the rainwater, installed by the Chandlers, has to be covered with slabs.  They've also been working at head level, finishing off the battlement walkway along this side.  This won't be accessible, so has been capped with uneven slabs of local stone.

Most of the men are working in more comfort indoors.  In the ground floor kitchen of the north range, Martin and James are fitting the 18mm plywood lining to the walls, while....

....Dean is doing the same work on the first floor.  This is one of the rooms which will be fitted with the oak panelling - it's due to start to arriving later in April.

Meanwhile, plumber Andy Stevens is fitting the bathroom furniture in the attic.  The fittings are top-of-the-range and are being installed with great care, so builder Mark Rutherford Thompson (right) is on-hand to help and advise.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Fine Weather

After last Thursday's storm, the weather cleared and we've had a glorious west Highland spring week, with temperatures soaring to 15C, light winds, and the northern lights playing in the clear night skies.  This picture was taken on Sunday from the summit of Beinn na h-Urchrach to the northeast of the castle.

The builders have long ago learnt to make good use of fine weather, so there's been plenty of progress on the exterior.  The two chimneys on the west range have had to be raised a couple of feet, so Chris and Richard have been working on them.  The pointing round the paving stones of the battlement walkway has been completed, and the builders now await the arrival of the company which will be installing the safety balustrade.

In the right-hand bottom corner of the picture can be seen the start of the work in the courtyard, where a curved retaining wall....

....separates an upper, paved walkway from a lower area, where the two paths giving access to the front of the east and west ranges will be separated by a cobbles.

The Chandlers, who worked on the slate roofs of the east and west ranges, have returned, with Martin installing a wooden 'awning' just inside the land gate.  He's built it using timber from oak grown on the Estate, with a plywood roof which will be covered in lead.

Martin's brother Mark, left, and Mark's son Graham, the leadwork specialists, are here both to cover the awning but also to build the lead gutter on the walkway around the roof of the north range.

The lead is like a work of art, with neat welds and sections of rubber between the sheets to take up any expansion.  Once the Chandlers are finished, the walkway will be paved with York stone slabs to match those around the battlements.

Each drain point is individually built.  The drain here drops into the wall at the front of the north range, makes a couple of sharp turns, and then emerges into a down pipe which carries it into the drains which will run under the courtyard.

Where gutters drain water to the exterior of the castle, 'cannons' have been installed to carry the outflow clear of the curtain walls.  Builder John-Paul Ashley is seen here checking that one of the five cannons is firm: because they're so long, he's had to dream up a unique way of securely fixing them in place.

Not everyone is working outdoors. James McGinley (pictured) and Dean Cunningham have been working on the joinery in the upstairs of the west wing, which will probably be accommodation for the caretaker/cook when the castle is let.

I have been asked to take some pictures of the dungeon.  It's inaccessible at the moment - you can just about see into it through the hole to the left of the centre bucket - but I'll risk climbing down into it as soon as possible - 'risk', because I might get locked in.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

A Change in Emphasis

Many thanks to Iain Thornber who took these aerial pictures of the castle on Sunday while passing in a helicopter.  They give a good idea of the huge progress that has been made on the exterior work.

Iain was fortunate that day with the weather.  When I walked down to the castle today for my weekly visit....

....we were in the middle of the third storm this week, this one a southeasterly gale blowing straight into the sea-side of the castle.  The picture gives no idea of the banshee howling of the wind as it passed through the scaffolding, nor of the piercing cold of 40mph raindrops.

It's unsurprising, then, that there's been a significant change in emphasis in the building work: most of the work is now going on inside the castle buildings. However, they have managed to complete more of the flagstones on the walkway round the curtain walls.  In this picture, taken from above the main gate, we're looking straight down the steps which lead to the west range, and can see the neat little steps which lead up from the 'landing' to the main walkway round the top of the battlements.  These didn't seem to exist before, and have been added at Jean-Paul Ashley's suggestion.

Immediately below those steps, and out of sight in the previous picture, is an entrance into the west curtain wall, where Damien is currently working, inserting concrete joists to hold up its roof.  Immediately below his feet is a vertical drop down to the castle's small dungeon, the only entrance to what must have been a dark, dank place.

To Damien's left is a short, narrow passage leading to the eastern garderobe, where....

....someone kindly obliged with a demonstration of how it would have been used.  With the wind in the east, this, the western garderobe, would have been in use today.

Work has started on fitting the windows into the east range but....

....most of the workmen are now in the north range, where preparations for the arrival of the first panels in a few weeks' time are speeding ahead.  With so much joinery work coming up, a new joiner has been employed, and there will be more shortly.  Dean Cunningham is from Crossroads, near Skipton in Yorkshire.  While Dean has worked in Scotland before, he's never worked on a project like this, which he described as "unique".

The change also sees the arrival of new equipment: this magnificent machine is a chop saw.  Beyond it is one of the lancet windows, and another of the areas that it currently being worked on is the preparations for the panelling around them.  Each will be covered by a shutters, behind which the window will stand in a surround of the original stonework.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Courtyard Scaffolding Dropped

The scaffolding around the curtain walls wasn't due to come down for a couple of weeks, but when I visited the castle on Thursday John Forsyth has begun the long process, though it'll still be several weeks before he returns to drop the rest of it.  However, all the scaffolding in the courtyard....
....has gone, and the facades of the west and east ranges are revealed.  This is the west range, with its slate roof completed and three of the sash windows in.  In the picture, taken from the northeast, one can also see the nearly-complete flagstone walkway around the battlements.

Walking round that walkway, one can also now see the steep steps which lead up to the roof at the back of the north range, which will, in due course, be connected down to the courtyard.

The best view of the revealed east range is from the courtyard, with the one new room at left.  The first fix electrical work is almost complete in the west range and is well on in the east and, with the scaffolding away, work can begin shortly on the flagstones in the courtyard.

All the small windows which were installed with such loving care by Design Glass earlier this week can now be found by climbing around the exterior scaffolding - this one is in the east wall - but by going....

....inside the north range one can now look out through them.  This window is in the bartisan near the southeast corner of the range.

Inside the north range, Martin has started the job of laying the high-quality 18mm plywood sheets which will support the oak plank flooring.

I wasn't the only one inspecting progress.  This eagle appeared high above us, attention being drawn to it by the screams of circling gulls, but they didn't prevent it from....

....performing a low overpass to get a close look.  From the wedge shape of the tail and the white tail feathers, to say nothing of its massive size, this is a sea eagle rather than one of the local golden eagles.