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.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Rapid Progress on the Site

Having been away for a week I was so anxious to find out what was going on at the site that I was down there before eight this morning.  The recent fine weather has helped, but both the team from Vertical Technology and the Addyman archaeologists have really cracked on.

VT team leader Simon Scale's work on pinning the cliffs is almost finished.  Of the 85 holes the engineers estimated needed doing, his team has completed over 80.  There are one or two extras to do, where he feels the rock needs a little more support, but the job's largely done; and the good news is that the underpinning has been a huge success.  From being a castle which might, at any moment, collapse into the sea, Mingary is now, once again, on a sound foundation.

One of the main tasks that's left is going round and replacing the cores of rock that cap and conceal the holes they've drilled.  John Willis can be seen here holding a core which he's about to mortar back into place, while to the left of his helmet is one he's just completed.  Given a bit of west coast weathering, little visible evidence will remain of all their hard work.

Simon says that the work has gone very smoothly.  He had thought that they might have to inject concrete into the fissures between the rocks but this hasn't been necessary, and the amount of movement of the huge blocks have been negligible.  Only one 'tombstone' fell off, and they had to use cable strapping - a system which holds a rock in place while it's being drilled - in fewer than eight places.  So most of the team will be away by the end of the week, taking their Kilchoan suntans, and their cheerful smiles, with them.  We'll miss them.

Meanwhile, the work achieved by the now five-strong team of archaeologists has been stunning.  The eastern end of the moat has been stripped back, and Dave Henderson can be seen working at a depth of about a foot.  In one place, to his right, the archaeologists have sunk a deeper trench at the request of the architect, who needed to know the depth of the basement rock.

This tray contains some of Dave's finds from the last twenty-four hours.  It's mostly china, dating back to the 17th century, along with glass, bones, the tooth of a dog, and bits of iron.

In the deeper trench they unearthed this block of stone - the scaffolding pole at top left gives a sense of scale - which Kenny Macfadyen, one of the archaeologists who has recently joined the team here, identifies as a quoining, a corner stone which forms part of the vertical frame of an entrance, possibly, in Mingary's case, the main entrance.  The stepped effect at right is because this pillar of rock supported both an outer, wooden, door and an inner iron grill.

Against the land side of the moat the archaeologists have found this mound of winkle shells - known locally as wilks.  Dave Henderson thinks they may date back to the 17th century, and he suggests they may have formed part of the rubbish dump of a group of fishermen - wilks make good bait for longlining.  This suggests that the fishermen may have been living on the flat land to the north of the castle, and keeping their boats on the beach below.

Further progress has been made indoors.  This shows Kenny Macfadyen working in the west room of the north range where he is making detailed drawings of the quadrants they have excavated.  In this room they have taken the level down to the slate rubble which fell when the roof was removed, possibly in the mid-nineteenth century when this building was stripped of its timber.

Kenny's drawings are wonderfully detailed, showing every single artefact in place.  Once he's completed he job, they'll take the level further down, though in three of the four quadrants they are already almost down to bedrock - which suggests that, at some stage, the floor has already been cleared out.  Only in the northeast quadrant is there a thicker layer of rubble which may contain older artefacts.

In the middle room, which used to house the stairway, Ross Cameron is working his way down through a much deeper layer of detritus.  This is a fascinating part of the building, not least because, at the far end, there are low doors to right and left.  If the back of this ground-floor room was sealed off, the two doors might have been part of a passageway from the west room through to the well.

Another recent arrival is Tanja Romankiewicz, who comes from Cologne.  She's excavating the east room, at the back of which is the internal wall which separates off the castle's well.  It's now becoming apparent that, in the 17th century restructuring of the north range, there was no access from this front room to the well.  Tanja is seen here working in the 'bay window' formed, during that phase of building, into the mediaeval courtyard wall of the range.

After a run of bright, sunny days, the weather has changed, with a sharp southerly wind blowing, the temperature struggling to top 10C, and a gentle rain beginning to fall - so it's no fun working, mainly, on your knees.  But the sense of excitement amongst the archaeologists is undiminished.

No comments:

Post a Comment