The Mingary Castle restoration blog was written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan. Now that restoration is almost complete Holly and Chris Bull will take over to report on bringing the Castle back to life.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Find of the Day

From Dale Meegan:

It was an extremely wet and muddy morning's work but I made further progress on the cobbles. Tom Addyman found this 'lid' made of slate. Apparently these were used on the top of pots or jars. It was found in room 10, the southern of the two in the west range, now to be known as the larder!

Dale is an 'amateur' archaeologist working on the castle excavation.
Many thanks to her for picture and story.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mingary Castle Excavation: Progress Update

The archaeologists have been very fortunate with Ardnamurchan's weather over the last few weeks, but it was bound to break at some point - which was today.  As a result, it isn't only those still paddling around in the moat who are up to their ankles in mud.  Despite the rain, the place was a hive of activity this morning.

The two amateur archaeologists are cleaning cobbles in the main courtyard, and it's been rewarding work.  Just to the right of where Dale Meegan is working there's evidence of what may be a mediaeval drain.  The cobbles seem to slope down towards it, and holes can be seen between the cobbles which open into an underground space.  This may be a drain which runs away from the photographer under the larger, flat rocks - mediaeval manhole covers?  Further, as can be seen in the top picture, which looks in exactly the opposite direction, Tom Addyman is standing at a point where he thinks he may have found a lateral drain which runs from the west, kitchen range into the main drain.

The amateurs have found a wealth of small artefacts, of which this piece of pottery, about 20mm across, found by Dale, is rather pretty. Tom identified it as Whieldon ware, produced by Thomas Whieldon in the Staffordshire Potteries during the mid-eighteenth century.

Ross Cameron has been working in the northern of the two rooms in the west range, a room which was probably a kitchen.  His most exciting find is what he's kneeling on - the foundations of a substantial wall which, because it's bonded in to the main castle wall, is very early.  It runs away from the west wall at right angles.  Once he's lifted the slabs which formed part of the kitchen floor, he'll be able to see more clearly what purpose it might have served.

In the other, southern room of the west range, Dave Henderson has been working in an area which was full of cobble stones.  Since much of the cobbled area in the courtyard has been destroyed, they may have come from there - but who removed them and piled them here, and why?

Both rooms in the east range are now completely clear.  This is the northern of the two and shows that its walls were built directly on the rock foundation, that it had a suspended floor, and that it was plastered.

The main range has also been cleared.  This is the eastern of the three rooms, the one where the cannonball was found, and it has been excavated down to bedrock.  The depth of material that has been removed is evident from the muddy 'high tide' line.  This view looks across it to the wall which separates off the 'well'; the four square holes in the masonry are a bit of a mystery.

This is the middle room, the one that housed the staircase.  In the right, bottom corner, a board covers the stone drain that Ross was working on.

The next stage is for the builders to erect scaffolding in all three rooms.  They've started the job in the western of the rooms.  Once up, the scaffolding will enable the archaeologists to survey the walls and the builders to then start work on the tops of the main range walls, where the mortar is most corroded.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

An Exciting Day for the Archaeologists

I have spent the whole day on site again, most of the time with Dale Meagan working on the cobbled area in the courtyard, but we were constantly being summoned to see what was going on in the moat, where archaeologists Tom Addyman, Ross Cameron and Dave Henderson, with the help of John-Paul Ashley on the digger, were finding treasures.

One after another, the jambs and voussoirs - that's the curved blocks on top of the arch - of a sandstone doorway were being lifted from the moat.

It was a complex operation, with Martin Newton on the big digger helping to clear the moat of debris....

....while John-Paul did the delicate work, shifting rocks and, once a part of the doorway had been carefully excavated, using strops to lift it out.  Of course, while the archaeologists were enjoying themselves paddling round in the muddy sludge, he had to be a little patient.

This picture shows Tom Addyman recording the ninth section before it was moved.... join the others.

As if this steady stream of discoveries wasn't enough, a close inspection of this piece, in particular, led to an exciting conclusion.  The style of the doorway can be dated to the 16th century, but the yellow sandstone from which it is made is distinctly pink in places, a sure sign that it has been subjected to fire.  And this block proves the point - it is also blackened.

Patrick Gordon of Ruthven, in his history of the Civil War in Scotland, wrote, "Hee forced the castell of Mingarie by a desperate assault with meir resolution, for they had neither cannon to batter nor pittard to blow up, nor scalled ladders to ascend the walls....  [They] marched and adwanced speedily until they ware at the foote of the wall, then fyred the gates and heaping on all sorts of combustible stuffe round about, they set fire to the castell...."

The "hee" referred to was Alasdair MacColla MacDonald, and the date was 1645.  It is very rarely that archaeologists can date something they find as accurately as this.

The castle was refurbished some time around 1700 so, at that point, the broken remains of the arched doorway may have been thrown into the moat.

It was an exciting day, but the icing on the cake was sitting on the seaward side of the castle to eat our lunch and watching an otter hunting through the seaweed exposed at low tide.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Amateur Archaeologists

Dale Meegan and I, both from the local village of Kilchoan, were today invited to join the work on the site at Mingary Castle by John-Paul Ashley of Ashley Thompson builders and Tom Addyman of Addyman Archaeology to get an idea of what a dig was like.  It wasn't a gentle conducted tour around the site.  After a thorough briefing by Ross Cameron, we were issued with archaeologists' trowels, safety helmets and tabards, brushes, coal shovels and a bucket, and put to work in a corner of the courtyard that's adjacent to the eastern garderobe.

Our task was to remove the rubble which covered a cobbled pavement.  Most of the debris had fallen from the walls.  It wasn't long before we were uncovering our first finds.  This, according to bone expert Dave Henderson who was working beside us and keeping an eye on our activities, is the tibia of a sheep or goat which was under 3 years old.

Dave was working on a particularly interesting section of the cobbled pavement adjacent to the east range as it was thought it might be a drain of some sort.  He was also interested in the relationship between the pavement and the range's wall, looking for evidence of which was the older.

Dale and I started at 9.00am, but the archaeologists had arrived long before us.  After a brief break at mid-morning, a quick lunch was taken on the grassy slope to the west of the castle.  Dave Henderson in the foreground, Tom Addyman at left, Dale and Ross Cameron at right.

After lunch Ross instructed us on the use of the surveying instrument with the ranging poles.  He had been working in the west range and wanted to take the exact heights of some twenty points within it.  Great credit to Ross for trusting us so quickly with taking the readings.

Our work on the pavement was interrupted during the afternoon by Tom Addyman's discovery of two sandstone blocks in the moat.  The one to Tom's left was probably part of the stonework round one of the hall windows as it had a glazing grove, the another - behind Tom's right hand - part of the door frame, possibly part of its arch.  These may have been removed from the main range during alterations made late in the 17th century or early in the 18th century, though it's very much a mystery as to why such fine pieces of stone should have been thrown away.

Even though we've had relatively little rain recently, water is constantly coming in to the moat, giving further evidence that it may have been a wet moat rather than a ditch.

By 5.00pm we had, according to Tom, cleared some nine square metres of the cobbled surface.  Part of the possible drain that Dave was working on can be seen at right, and the garderobe at top right.

These are some of the fruits of our labours, including bones at right, glass, and pottery at left.  My favourite pieces are amongst the pottery at inner left, which Tom Addyman identified as late 18th century 'creamware', including the handle of a small jug at top, and a piece with a rather pretty flower on it at centre.

It was a tremendously enjoyable day during which we learned a huge amount.  We thoroughly enjoyed the company and the warm welcome we received from both builders and archaeologists.  And it was good, at its end, to look at the area of cleared cobbles with a sense of achievement.  Many thanks to all at the site for your kindness.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Octocopter at Mingary

Many thanks to Ross Cameron, one of the archaeologists at Addyman Archaeology, for these pictures of Flying Scotscam's octocopter in action while taking the photos we featured in yesterday's post.

In this picture the octocopter can be seen in the foreground sitting on the rocks below the castle before taking off.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

An Octocopter View of Mingary

While I was away, a very detailed photographic survey of both the exterior and interior of the castle was carried out from the air.  The interior views wouldn't have been possible using a helicopter or a fixed-wing plane, so it was done by an amazing little machine called an octocopter, operated by Scottish business Flying Scotscam.

Started seven years ago by father and son partnership Michael and Gerry Smith, the opportunities Flying Scotscam offer have been seized upon by archaeologists wishing to make available the work they are doing on the ground to as wide an audience as possible.  So, for example, this has enabled the archaeological excavation on the remote island of Westray in the Orkneys to be been brought in to everyone's living room - see link here.

At Mingary Castle the octocopter took multiple pictures of the exterior of the castle from above, from a 45 degree angle, and from the horizontal.   The job took three days and, as can be seen from these stunning pictures, they chose some beautiful weather.

The images, taken by a 14 megapixel camera, will be used to create a photogrammetric survey. The resulting tour of images will be different to that of Westray though it will be presented in a similar format.

Mike and Gerry started their business by building their own machines using open source technology from the internet, but recently they have invested in a German octocopter,  an Asctec Falcon 8 built by Ascending Technologies.  To get some idea of the capabilities of this little machine, even in a strong wind, watch the YouTube video here.

I have kept the best part of the work they've done to last.  As I said, the octocopter's most promising applications are in taking pictures in confined and possibly dangerous places.  The interior of Mingary Castle was a chance for Michael and Gerry to show what their machine can do, so they have begun to create a survey which takes the viewer right into the castle.  This is a preliminary version: the link is at

That the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust has invested in this survey is further proof of their commitment to making the process of restoration open and widely available.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Site Update

This photograph, taken a few days ago by archaeologist Ross Cameron of Addyman Archaeology, shows the west room of the main building after it had been excavated down to the demolition layer resulting from the removal of the interior timbers and the slate roof in the middle of the 19th century....

....and this is the same room today.  All the material has been removed, and what we are looking at is the bedrock upon which the castle walls were built in the 13th century.  Kenny Macfadyen is also, therefore, standing on the floor of the mediaeval hall.  It's far from flat, so one assumes that some sort of material was laid to level it, after which rushes may have been used to cover it.

The archaeologists are coming to terms with the fact that the early 18th century alterations to the building, which divided the original great hall into three vertically floored areas, also included a complete clear-out of all existing floor debris, so there is now no chance of finding any older artifacts here.

Despite this, accurate plans has been kept of the various levels as the archaeologists have worked their way down through the layers that have accumulated over the last three hundred years.  Kenny showed me this plan, which is so detailed that even the holes in the slates, used to nail them to the roof, are drawn in.  He had also noted heights, rather like spot heights on an OS map, so the undulations of each level are recorded.  Click on the picture to see it more clearly.

This is a close-up of the northeast quadrant, where most of the material accumulated.  It may be that, as they carried out the timber demolition from the top down, they knocked holes in the northeast corner of each floor, through which they threw the resulting rubble.

Kenny has just started on a final plan, showing the bare-rock level, which will be added to the others the archaeologists have done.  These will be scanned into a computer and then redrawn, so a series of neat, accurate plans will join the catalogue of the artifacts removed from the room.

This picture shows progress in the moat.  There is more and more evidence accumulating that the moat really was a moat and not a dry ditch.  The excavation at top right is full of standing water, even though we haven't had much rain here recently.  This water would then have drained through the bricked-up area at top centre into the cistern in the east room to provide a water supply for the castle.

The archaeologists have been concentrating their efforts on the interior of the main building to enable the builders, Ashley Thompson, to start to erect the scaffolding.  Once this is done, the archaeologists will have close access to the walls which will be recorded with as much detail as the floor; and the walls go right back to the late 13th century, so they will have a fascinating story to tell.

Many thanks to Ross Cameron for the photograph.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Oldest Finds So Far

The pace of work down on the site seems to increase each day as more and more of the facilities needed continue to arrive.  Today two containers were delivered and lifted into position - not containers at all but a site office and a tearoom with toilet facilities - a place where everyone can escape once the dreaded Highland midges get started.

With Ross Cameron away for the week, Kenny Macfadyen is in charge of the Addyman Archaeology team.  He's working in the eastern room of the main range excavating the floor near where he found the cannonball.  This morning he was carefully lifting slates which appear not to have been debris from the 19th century roof demolition but, with a layer of gravel and cobbles, part of a temporary floor level, perhaps associated with the insertion of the internal walls during the early 18th century.  Interestingly, and inexplicably, under some of the slates there is a 10-20mm layer of yellow-brown clay.  While I was there Kenny seemed to confirm the approximate age by the discovery of a piece of 18th century green glass, perhaps part of a bottle, from the clay layer.

Val Dufeu, who comes from France but lives in Scotland, started work on the west range yesterday. She is down to the layer of flagstones and cobbles which formed the floor of what was a kitchen. The bones, pottery, glass and iron she's finding suggest that the level she's working on is 19th century.  To her right is one of two huge chimneys in the room which housed cooking ranges.  The room went through various rearrangements: originally it had two doors to the courtyard but, at some point, one of these was blocked.  Val also pointed out that the whole room is on two levels, the northern higher than the southern.

Another new archaeologist on site is Callum Allsop, a Welshman resident in Scotland, who is working in one of the quadrants in the moat.  He's excavating close to the castle walls where the dark colour of the fill between the rocks has yet to be explained.  On his side the main finds continue to be late 18th century glass, pottery and bones which have been thrown from the castle.

The most exciting find this week has been made by the - justifiably - smiling Canadian Andrew Morrison excavatinging on the land side of the moat.  In general, he's been working his way down through land-based rubble thrown from the flat area to the north of the castle, including bones, but he was thrilled when, in two separate places, he found pieces of clay pottery.

Amazingly, they are parts of the same pot - and they fit together. Andrew is almost certain that it's at least Iron Age - so a minimum of 2,000 years old.  The pot was made by rolling out lengths of clay which were them coiled to form the shape of the pot, after which the inside and outside were  smoothed, often using a handful of grass: the marks left by the leaves are clearly visible.

This is the first tentative evidence that the site was occupied before the 13th-century building of the castle.  The name suggests that the site may have been used by the Vikings; now there is the possibility it was occupied even earlier.  We'll have to wait for a date until the fragments have gone away to be conserved and dated.

Roger and Simon from Vertical Technology are still on site.  They have a couple of rods to insert, and the last of the ropes to remove before making a final record of exactly where all the 85+ steel rods were inserted.  They hope to be away tomorrow - and they'll be missed by archaeologist Val Dufeu whose wheelbarrow Simon nobly emptied.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Polishing Stone

It was a beautiful early summer's day today when I walked across from Mingary Steading, where Ardnamurchan Estate's office is located, to the castle.  The excavations at the moat were deserted, as was the interior of the castle, so I spent some time wandering around it, looking at the progress and very aware of the silence, broken only some pigeons which are nesting along the battlements.

But when I walked up a track opposite the castle to take a photograph from a different angle I found one man at work - Phil Masters of Ashley Thompson builders was working his way through the great pile of muddy, wet stone that had been brought up from the interior of the castle and the moat - the pile awaiting his attention is in the foreground of this picture.

Phil is cleaning, if not quite polishing, every single stone.  When Phil, who is from Middlestone in Yorkshire, explained what he was doing, at first I couldn't believe it.  Every stone is cleaned, then sorted into piles according to its size, with some special ones - like the yellow sandstone blocks from around the doors and windows of the main range - placed separately.  It's another indication of the painstaking work that's going on here.

The rest of the builders are away at the moment because they're waiting for the archaeologists to finish in the main range.  Then they'll scaffold its interior, giving the archaeologists access to the 'vertical archaeology', the story told in the walls of buildings which have been altered several times in their existence.  The scaffolding will also give the workmen safe access to the tops of the walls, which have seen the biggest invasion by vegetation such as ivy, and are therefore highly unstable.  As each block comes down, it'll be numbered, cleaned, and returned, in due course, to exactly the same place.

Ar present, the rooms in the building where Phil is working are mainly used for storage - some of these carefully wrapped parcels are the oak stair treads from the north range staircase - but later they'll be the centre of Ashley Thompson's activities.  For example, one room already houses the mixer for preparing the mortar which will be used to repoint the walls, something that can't be done on site because every mix has to absolutely identical.

When I told Phil I'd wandered round the inside of the castle I was giving the most gentle of rebukes.  No-one, Phil explained, for obvious health and safety reasons, should be inside alone.  With the upper walls so unstable, a block might fall off at any moment, and there would be no way of summoning help.