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

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Progress in the Chapel

Deep inside the north curtain wall, the builders have been steadily working away in the chapel area.  Readers may remember that, at some point in Mingary's history, this had been infilled in order to strengthen the wall once cannon had been introduced as a siege weapon.

The transformation has been remarkable.  When I first entered the room, water was dripping from the ceiling, and, despite the steel props everywhere,  it felt as if, at any moment, the whole roof would collapse on us.

No such fears today!  Reinforced concrete lintels, held in place by lengths of steel with L-shaped cross section which have been bolted to the walls, have been manoeuvred in to hold up the ceiling.  Above this is a layer of damp-proof membrane so, although there are still one or two drips coming through, the place is drying out.

The outer wall, which had been severely damaged by cannon fire, has been rebuilt and pointed.  Huge chunks of oak now form the lintel above the unique double lancet window.  The space is now almost ready to be transformed into its modern use, as two bathrooms.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Craftsman

Damien Summerscales in one of several true craftsmen that builders Ashley Thompson have employed on the Mingary Castle restoration project.  He's a stonemason, a man who takes huge pride in the work he does.

In the picture he's cutting a piece to go in to the surround of one of the lancet windows.  Some of his tools may be modern, but....

....the stone he's carving is ancient.  It's York stone, quarried near Halifax.  Formed in the Carboniferous period some 360 million years ago, it was originally laid down as a sand in the delta of a river.  Being a very durable, fine-grained sandstone, it's ideal for detailed carvings and moulds.

Damien's skill is in carving each piece of stone so it fits exactly in to the place where the rotten stone has to be removed.  So, as can be seen, not all the stonework in the lancet's surround is being replaced.  Once the new block has been fitted and mortared in, Damien then has to infill the gaps round the edges.

The stonework he's removing may be over 700 years old.  It would be good to think that Damien's work will still be there in another 700 years time.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Slating begins

Blue skies, warm temperatures and light winds aren't what one might expect on the west coast at this time of year, but autumn is often one of the best seasons for weather.  Certainly, this morning's visit to the castle was a pleasure, with the place humming with activity and everyone hard at work.

I headed straight for the attic level, where stonemason Damien is busy building up the parapet at the front of the building.  To the right can be seen the leadwork which is going on to the sides of the dormer windows, work which is being carried out....

....by local slating contractor Andy Gow, who has an enviable reputation locally for the quality of his workmanship.  He's seen here to the left of the chimney, with Sean Mathers in the foreground and Lewis Birrell to the right of the chimney.  Andy's company can be contacted on 01397 703 466.

Sean's job at present is to prepare the 17,000 slates which will go onto the roofs of the three ranges.  The slates, Burlington greys from the Lake District, come in a variety of sizes, from 20" down to 12", and each has to have two holes drilled into it for the fixings - which is what Sean is doing in the picture.  The slates go on with the largest at the bottom of the roof and the smallest at the top.  As with everything in this build, these slates have been hauled up to roof level by hand.

I missed this - the sealing of the tops of the dormer windows on the north side of the north range, work which was completed yesterday.  This was carried out by another top local company, GCF Joiners of Fort William, gcfjoiners@btconnect.com, who specialise in everything from Grade A and Grade B listed buildings to renovations and restorations, including those on listed buildings.  They've used the Dryseal GRP fibreglass roofing system which provides a seamless cover which will be totally waterproof.

While most of the work was going on in the bright sunshine, stonemason H was in the cobbled courtyard starting on the next building, the west range.  When it's finished, the current plan is for it to provide accommodation for the live-in cook/housekeeper.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Windows Go In

Over the last week the Georgian-style windows have been going in to the north range.  They were manufactured and installed by Gary Bibby Joinery of Stokesley in North Yorkshire.

Whichever way you look at the courtyard-facing side of the building, the windows are very smart indeed.  The whole building seems to have come back to life and will look superb once the slates have gone onto the roof - the slaters are due in the next week or so.

The windows on this side are all sash windows.  The wooden frames have been 'mist coated' with Butinox 3 before the panes were inserted, but will need at least two more coats to withstand the Ardnamurchan weather.

The joinery company may have installed the windows, but the finishing round the edges has been left to the builders.  Picture shows Nick Smith working on the attic dormers from which....

....there are superb views out across the Sound of Mull.  The toughened glass panes have been given an 'olde world' finish - this can be seen in the pane at top left in the picture.

The much larger windows, and the french door, have gone into the north side of the attic level.  From here, residents will be able to step out onto the walkway that leads round to the battlements.

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.