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.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Rock Stars

We were at the start of a beautiful Ardnamurchan day when I arrived at the castle site this morning, hardly a breath of wind, the sea a flat calm, and the clouds clearing to give a still, sunny day - all completely out of keeping with the bustling activity around the castle.  Work has now started on the main excavation at the eastern end of the moat.  A small digger is being used to scrape off a few centimetres of earth at a time.  The rubble is about two metres deep, so they'll work this way for the first 75 centimetres or so, after which the archaeologists will be down on their hands and knees with their trowels.

Even now, working through the relatively young rubble, the archaeologists are in constant attendance as each layer is removed - that's Ross from Addyman Archaeology in the blue safety helmet doing his 'real archaeology', while, doing all the delicate earth removal work, there's Howard working the digger and John-Paul of Ashley Thompson, very much a 'hands on' even though he's the main contractor for all building works, driving the dumper.

Inside the castle, excavations has started inside the north range.  This picture shows the main room with archaeologist Dave Henderson working his way down through the debris of centuries.  Look beyond him into the corner and the slates that were once on the roof can be seen, so he's digging at a layer that probably formed when they fell down, shortly after 1848 when the building was abandoned.

Just to Dave's left, built in to the main north curtain wall, is a carefully shaped rectangular piece of rock - look to the left and up from the bucket.  It looks like the flat face of a flagstone.  It doesn't look much, but to me it's part of the fascination of this excavation: that beautifully dressed slab of rock may have been placed there in the late 13th century, or later.  Why?

Phil, one of the workers with Ashley Thompson, is working to clear the upper layers under one of the windows.  In the last few days the more fragile of the entrances and windows have been carefully boxed in with wood to protect them - the sill above his head is an example.

While all this frenetic activity was going on in and around the castle, the danger men from Vertical Technology were.... fishing; or, at least, Tony was, while his three mates were having a cup of tea.  And one can understand why these breaks are necessary, as....

....the work, once it starts, is punishing, and they have to take breaks to prevent injury. Despite this, progress has been spectacular: of the 80 - 85 holes that have to be drilled, they've completed about 40.

The danger these men face every day was vividly brought home when....

....this large slab of rock fell from the cliff while they were drilling through it.  Fortunately, it moved and then stopped so, while it teetered on the edge of falling, John-Paul helped them to shore it up until they could carry out a controlled collapse.  Little wonder there's a television programme in the USA which features men doing this job, called Rock Stars.

This is the end result, with a plate bolted against the end of the steel rod and screwed tight, pulling the loose rock slab back into position.

That whole slabs are falling away shows how precarious the castle foundation has become, and how urgent the work of stabilising it.

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