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

Friday, 29 August 2014

Magazine Article Features Mingary

This month's 'Scottish Island Explorer' carries an article about the restoration work at Mingary Castle, written by historian James Petre.  Look in the right-hand column of the magazine's website, here.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Still Battling the Weather

It may have been a lovely morning at the castle today, but it came after a night of torrential rain, with almost an inch falling in the last twenty-four hours.  Not that the continuing wet weather has prevented some very rapid progress since last week.  John Forsyth, the scaffolder, has been back since the weekend building two roofs within the courtyard area so that builders Mark Rutherford Thompson and John-Paul Ashley can press on right through the winter, whatever the weather throws at them.  The scaffolding frame is covered with 'visqueen' polyethylene plastic sheeting which, although there will be a gap in the middle, completely covers the east and west ranges on which they'll be working.

The chimney and gable end at the east end of the main, north range is now finished - that's the last of the main exterior stonework on this building.  The slates for the roof have arrived, and the windows for the Georgian fascade that faces into the courtyard will be here shortly, so we should see them going in next week.

Work has also started on the battlements on the north side of the curtain wall.  Because the crenellations have largely been lost and the top of the walls currently look ragged, they're being built up, levelled off, and topped with flagstone.  The blue tarpaulin is covering a section to keep it dry while the mortar goes off.

Immediately underneath, Damien - in the waterproof - and Nick have fitted steel wall brackets along the sides of the chapel and are now lifting concrete lintels into place, after which they fill above them with mortar.  It's dark, cramped and wet work - wet because water from last night's rain is pouring in through the battlement walkway above them.

More lintels, oak this time, are going into one of the recesses in the east wall which has a lancet window at the end of it - but first the old oak has to be removed.  'H' is seen here measuring up for the first of the new pieces.  It would be interesting to know how old this oak is as these lancet windows are original, some 700 years old, and it wouldn't surprise me to know that the oak is also original.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Despite the Weather....

August is often thought of as the warmest and sunniest of the summer months but here in Kilchoan the last week has been rather wet.  Over Sunday and Monday we had some 49mm, that's almost 2", of rain, and the skies have remained grey ever since.  With several of the men away on holiday, things might have been slow at the castle, but I went down today to find the east gable end of the main building nearing completion.  While Damien - in the picture - has been working steadily at it, H. is now back, so it should be finished very shortly.

This is an interior view of the gable end, showing the fireplace.  In some ways, it's a pity the whole of the interior of this block is going to be panelled as the pointed stonework looks so good.  As can be seen, the doorway from this attic level leads out onto the stone walkway round the roof.

This walkway is the subject of some minor concern.  The castle - as all good castles should - has always housed bats, but they have been monitored throughout the work by Direct Ecology.  The bats left the north range some time ago but it's possible that some may have taken up residence in gaps in the battlements, so someone from DE has been asked to come and check on their welfare.

One has to take one's hat off to the pointing team - from front to back, Adam, Lars, Rick and Chris - who have been soldiering on despite the rain and the midges.  As far as the midges are concerned, they've been lucky as the site is fairly exposed, so they benefit from the slightest winds.  When I asked the two Swedish students what had kept them going for some eight weeks now on what might have seemed a boring job, they replied that they loved working on this beautiful old building, but also they'd enjoyed the 'craic' - or, as the two Yorkshiremen termed it, the 'crack'.

With progress already speeding up, the team will be changing in to top gear.  The slates and slaters should be here shortly to complete the roof on the north range, and the scaffolder, John, returns next week to erect a framework which will enable a cover to be stretched over the whole of the courtyard so that work can continue on the two other interior buildings whatever the weather.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Progress on the North Range

With the workforce down to four - several of the men are away on holiday - progress on the castle just at the moment is steady rather than spectacular.  The east and central gables in the north range, with their chimney stacks, are now complete, and stonemason H is seen here working on the west gable.

Nick Smith is completing the process of laying the 'felt', a polypropylene breather membrane which, while air permeable, will help to keep Ardnamurchan's rain out.

This lies on top of the sarking boards, and now awaits the laying of the slates which will cover the whole roof except for the flat areas above the windows on the north side of the building.

The laying of the plyboard flooring is almost complete - this picture shows the attic room - while the Swedish students Lars and Adam are soldiering on with the pointing.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Progress on Every Level

After almost 30mm of rain over the weekend, it was good to find the castle in bright sunshine for the start of the working week.

In this picture, taken from the northeast and looking across the Sound of Mull to Mull, the whole castle and its sheath of scaffolding looks as if it's leaning to the left.  This effect seems to be particularly evident in today's post, where several pictures show vertical structures - which the castle still is - appearing to lean perilously.

Once again, a huge amount has been achieved since my last visit.  Stonemason Damien, working on the interior gable, has cut through the roof timbers and is completing the chimney.  Working downwards from the roof....

....the first studwork has gone in at the west end of the second floor.  Builder Mark Rutherford Thompson told me today that some 43 tonnes of wood has been brought in to build the roof and the three floor levels, every bit of it carried in by hand.

At the east end, work has continued on the gable end, where a chimney has to be built up.  The door opening to the left is the one which, if you turn left, leads to the chapel, and....

....down the intramural passage to the first floor level if you turn right.  Here, because of the damage that was done to the interior part of the curtain wall when the chimney was put in early in the 18th century, the builders have had to insert concrete lintels rather than oak, as in the rest of the passage, and these....

 ....are visible in the back of the chimney, just to the left of the blue rope.

Meanwhile, on the first floor Nick is laying the plywood floor which will carry an insulated floor that will carry the underfloor heating.  At the rate they're progressing, they'll need the plumbers and electricians in soon to do their first fix.

On the ground floor, the old door between the main, west room and the back of the stairwell has been reopened.

For the last five weeks a group of Swedish students have been working on the castle.  They've turned their hands to anything they've been asked to do, such as shifting building materials, cleaning out rubble, and a bit of carpentry, but mostly they've worked steadily away at the pointing, with the result that it's now 90% complete.  Sara and Brask, on the left, are leaving tomorrow, both returning to their building conservation studies, while Lars (in red tee shirt) and Adam are staying on for four more weeks, which should see the pointing finished.  While the work hasn't always been easy, they've worked cheerfully at it and have a sense of achievement - that they've made a significant contribution to the restoration of this wonderful old building.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Working on the North Range

When I visited the castle last week, picture above, the joists on the first floor were just going in.  By the time I went down on Tuesday....

....not only had they been completed and a temporary floor laid, but so had....

....the second floor.  At the top of this picture is the attic floor, completed a fortnight ago.

On the roof, the sarking boards are now all in place, and the next stage is to cover it with felt.  Battens will then be laid along the roof to take the slates which are being laid by a specialist, local contractor.

In the attic, Damien, seen here with Nick, is working on the the stone interior gable which contains four chimneys.  Once he has it high enough to become load-bearing for the roof timbers, then they'll cut through them and he'll complete the chimney from the outside.

One of the most interesting aspects of my regular visits to the castle has been meeting the workmen.  Most are either specialists or have been in the trade some time, but both last week and this I met younger men who are up here experiencing an almost unique opportunity.

Joe Firth is one of the apprentice builders who has been working here for the last few weeks.  He's from Otley, Leeds, left school last year, and has been accepted onto a building course at college this autumn.  Although his father is a plumber, Joe intends to specialise in plastering, building or painting/decorating.  He says that working at Mingary has been a great experience, and he's enjoyed most of his time up here - what he hasn't enjoyed has been some of the weather, and being so far from good shops.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Attic Room Takes Shape

The weather doesn't look too special in this picture of Mingary taken on Tuesday morning looking across the Sound of Mull towards Tobermory, but it was, in fact, a beautiful, fine morning, in contrast to the previous day, when it rained and blew force 5 from the southeast, necessitating several of the workmen to be moved to inside jobs.  The weather was as bad, perhaps worse, yesterday, with a proper westerly blowing and 19mm of what's locally termed 'Kilchoan sunshine' - but that's the nature of a Scottish summer.

Despite this, progress in the last week has been spectacular.  Traditional roof joiners Martin and Sam Chandler have put a sturdy roof on the north range, and it's now covered with sarking boards.  The four dormer windows on the southern aspect can now be seen, along....

....with the windows and door on the north side.  The door is in the foreground, with the flagged walkway round the battlements just on the outside.  These flags are unusual as they're made of local, billion-year old Moine schists - outcrops of this rock are plentiful just to the east along Loch Sunart, and it would be interesting to try to identify the quarry from which they came.

The new roof encloses the attic space.  One can now walk around inside it and get a feel for these rooms, which will be one of the features of the castle, with their 25-mile views and access to the battlement walkway.

Stonemason Damien Summerscales was working on the western gable end.  He works fast and without let-up, so supplying him with rocks and mortar is a full-time job.

The young man helping him, who has to carry the heavy buckets of mortar up two storeys and then reach them up to Damien, is labourer-apprentice Callum McParland who comes from Queensbury, Bradford, in Yorkshire.  Callum left college last year having followed a course in public service provision, but....

.....he's filling in the summer by working up here while he awaits the medical and a short introductory course which should lead to him into the Royal Navy.  Meanwhile, the lad is being worked extra hard - Damien is his uncle.