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, 30 July 2013

Starting the Scaffolding

When I visited the site last Thursday the first scaffolding was beginning to appear at the base of the sea gate wall.  I didn't have time to have a look at it but took this picture to show the level which is reached by a high tide - the one on Thursday was just past its peak, was unusually high, and unusually calm.

By this morning the scaffolders were working their way around to the west wall, and beginning to find solutions to the multiple problems of erecting scaffolding on the Mingary Castle site.  As with the sea gate wall, they were able to put the base of the scaffolding straight onto the limestone of the wave cut platform, but....

....this meant that John-Paul Ashley, the main contractor, had had to dig out the single beach which covered it to expose the rock.

The contract to erect the scaffolding has gone to JRandM Scaffolding - they have a Facebook page here.  John-Paul of builders Ashley Thompson has worked with John Forsyth (above) and says of his scaffolding skills, 'there's nothing he can't do'.  J-P recalled a complex job they had in London where 15 metre-high scaffolding had to go around a building on a very restricted site, round a chimney and across a conservatory.

On this job John, centre, is helped by Stephen Holmes (right).  John is from Bradford, Stephen from Leeds.  John-Paul's men are carrying all the poles and fittings from the car park down to the beach - that's Roger Piccolo on the left, now one of J-P's men though he originally came to the site working for Vertical Technology - he liked the area so much he chose to stay.

This picture shows progress so far.  Bearing in mind that the scaffolding will cover the whole of the outside of the castle, John Forsyth estimates that it will take about eight weeks to erect, if all goes well, and will be in place for upwards of two years.  When I asked him whether he was confident it would stand the gales and fierce seas we have during the worst winter months, he nodded, and took me on a tour to demonstrate how the structure was being built - the subject of the next blog.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Arrowhead Found

There was huge excitement on site on Thursday with the discovery of an arrowhead.  I use the word 'discovery' carefully - the arrowhead had, in fact, been dug out of the rubble in the castle courtyard some weeks previously, the finder being Dave Henderson, but no-one recognised it until the artefacts were being washed and cleaned ready to go back to Addyman Archaeology's offices.

The delay in announcing this stunning find was to give Ross Cameron of Addyman Archaeology, who is an expert on Scottish west coast castles, a chance to do a little research.  He writes, "We cannot fit the shape of the arrowhead into any known or accepted typology that we can lay our hands on, but when it goes to a specialist, I am sure they will give us a date.  What I do have is a couple of quotes:

"Scottish Arms and Armour by Fergus Cannan (Shire Publications 2009), says, 'George Buchanan (in his History of Scotland completed in c.1579 and published in 1582) observes that Highlanders fire arrows ‘for the most part hooked, with a barble on either side, which once entered within the body, cannot be drawne forth againe, unless the wounde be made wider.’

"Cannan goes onto say, ‘These sound like barbed hunting arrowsheads pressed into battlefield use – John Taylor in his Pennylesse Pilgrimage (1618) in fact says of Highlanders that 'their weapons are long bowes and forked arrows… with these armes I found many of them armed for the hunting.'’

"Thus it is clear that the arrowhead could easily be in use in the 17th century at the time of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (ie MacColla’s siege and subsequent siege by Campbell). The context is not particularly helpful, as it lies just underneath the topsoil. It could also be a hunting arrowhead, unrelated to warfare, although it is tempting to think otherwise.

"None of us on site have ever found an iron arrowhead before, so we are all tremendously excited about it."

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

What Happens to the Finds

Last week, in very inclement weather, Philippo Peritone and Lara Ferrarotti had the unenviable task of cleaning out the bottom of the excavation in the moat.  It was miserable work, ladling the mud slurry into buckets while, at the same time, trying to check for any artefacts, then carrying each bucket to the top of the slope to empty it.

Once almost down to bedrock, they were able to start using the water which is, at last, on site, to work through the crevices in the rock, in the hope of finding what should have been some of the oldest material.

The basement rock looks so fresh it might have been cut yesterday - in fact, it might as well have been, because....

 ....they found very little to excite them.

These finds, being from one 'context', were placed in a plastic bag and carefully labelled with a find number and the number of the context, along with the date and the names of the archaeologists who found them.

When I went down to the site this morning, Kenny Macfadyen had returned to the castle after a few weeks away, along with Ross Cameron.  Kenny was in the moat making careful records - along the lines I described in yesterday's post.  He's seen sitting on the low, clay-lined wall that runs at an angle across the eastern end of the moat, a feature which has yet to be explained.

It being a lovely morning, Ross put me to work on the next stage of dealing with the finds.  Each plastic bag is emptied into a tray, and then every find is very carefully washed before being placed on a layer of newspaper in a clean tray to dry.  Conditions were ideal: the finds dried quickly in the sun and light breeze, and I worked on my suntan.  The only difficult part of the job was making 100% sure that the finds didn't get muddled, so the original plastic bag was pushed under the newspaper in the tray.

This is a typical tray, in this case full of animal teeth and bones - presumably from meals once eaten in the castle.  When dry, they are placed in a clean bag which is carefully numbered; the bags then go away to experts.  This collection of bones will go to a bone specialist who will know which animal each came from, and will be on the lookout for things like butchery cuts into the bone - we think the large bone in the middle may show some.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Detailed Archaeology

The sort of detailed work being done by the archaeologists from Addyman Archaeology is well illustrated by Ross Cameron's activities over the last few weeks.  Ross is an expert on west coast castles so I hope that working at Mingary has been an enjoyable experience for him.

Much of his time has been spent in the northwest quadrant of the kitchen range - it's marked, palely, with a red oval in this picture, which was taken looking down from the battlements.  It's the point where the original stairway accessing the battlements reached the courtyard of the castle, and some of it therefore pre-dates the existing kitchen range.  Ross ended up with quite a deep, and very restricted hole, but what he found down there was quite amazing.

In all, he identified no less than twenty-one different 'contexts' - that is, accumulations of material each with different characteristics.  I have marked four on the picture, which shows the upper part of the section through which he worked.  431 is the castle's west wall, and 401 is the topsoil layer.  409 is a layer of mortar and other debris indicting a demolition phase - this is difficult to date.  403 contains slates, rocks from walls, and a mottled, mid-brown clay which dates back to the removal of the roof, some time after 1838.

All these are marked on a very detailed cross-sectional drawing, though this one is further complicated in that it shows sections at right angles to each other.  The important thing is that it illustrates the spatial positions of all the different contexts.

Their relationships are simplified in a Harris Matrix.  The context numbered 429 is interesting: it's the contents of a stone-lined drain which Ross found towards the bottom of his trench; these may have accumulated over a long period of time, so it's indicted as 'active' right up through the section.  431, which I mentioned above, is the castle structure - walls and so on - which is marked within a house-like symbol.

Once he'd finished with his corner of the west range, Ross moved on the the area around the well.  The picture was taken after the wall had been removed which separated the well area from the room at the front of the building.  To the right, under the algal-green stonework, is the well itself.  The flagstones Ross has excavated to the left were the floor of the room which accessed the well, over the partly demolished wall at centre.  In the foreground are the layers beneath - neat cobbles laid on a sandy base.

The archaeologists at Addyman Archaeology are excited about continuing the excavation of the well itself, partly because it may contain deposits that go back through the early history of the castle, but also because they're not sure exactly what it is, a well or a cistern, or how it worked.  When they return this week, they'll be back working on it.

Ross was, as always, very patient and generous with his time when he explained all this to me, but I'm quite sure I've got some of it wrong.  Any errors are therefore mine, and I apologise for them.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Scaffolding Arrives

For the past ten days, lorries loaded with scaffolding poles, boards, clips, beams and other material have been arriving on-site.  Everything has been offloaded and stacked carefully so it's easily accessible for the specialist scaffolders.

L to R: John-Paul Ashley, Phil Masters, Wayne Heavey
John-Paul of Ashley Thompson kindly read me a list of everything that's been ordered.  It starts...

21' scaffolding poles - 713
18' scaffolding poles - 558
16' scaffolding poles - 770....

....and ends....

13' scaffolding boards - 1,354
8' scaffolding boards - 28
1780mm x 3m beams - 41.

In all, just over 5,000 scaffolding poles are in the process of arriving.

All this kit is to scaffold the whole of the outside of the building, and this scaffolding will have to be up for well over a year.  About half of the length of the castle wall hangs over the beach and is exposed to the full force of the westerly gales, so the base plates can't be placed on the rock shore.  It will be fascinating to watch how they overcome this problem.

Work starts on Monday when the scaffolders are due to arrive.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Learning the Art of Archaeology - 2

The next thing we had to learn was how to complete a 'context record'.  A 'context' is a deposit which can be described using factors such as composition, compaction, colour, inclusions and finds.  The context which we had to describe was the very distinctive layer which we had removed from above the cobbles in the main courtyard.

The record is made on a standardised sheet.  The site code, 2016, is Mingary Castle, the courtyard is Area 9, the 'trench' is the whole of the courtyard, and the context number is unique to that deposit.  It was a 'deposit' rather than a 'cut' or a 'structure', so we had to describe the seven factors which identified this particular deposit.

For each 'Area' of the castle, a Harris Matrix is then completed, using the context numbers, in such a way as to show the relationships between each deposit.  So, in this example, 401 (the soil profile) is above 409, which is above 403; but then things get complicated, since 421, 411 and 415 are roughly the same age but are found in different places within the Area.

As if an archaeologist's life isn't complicated enough, every find has to be bagged up, numbered, recorded, taken back to the office, sent to an expert, cleaned, conserved, described, dated and then put carefully away.  Here, Lara Ferrarotti holds a pottery spout which she found near the sea gate.

The invention of the digital camera must have been both a boon and a nightmare to the poor archaeologist.  On the one hand, they enable frequent, accurate records of everything to be made.  On the other hand, every picture has to be recorded in detail on a special sheet.

I'm quite sure I have missed out some of the things we've been shown, and we certainly haven't been back to Addyman Archaeology's office where everything - everything - has to be transferred to computer.  They have employees who tend to stay at the office to do this, they draft in extra people if things get heavy, but sometimes the archaeologists in the field have to go back and do this job themselves.

Once again, many thanks to Tom Addyman, Ross Cameron and the team for giving so very generously with their time.  We volunteers learnt a huge amount in a very short time, and sincerely hope that a little of what was did was of use to them.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Coin Found

When I went up to the castle this morning, Lara Ferrarotti and Philippo Peritone were working in the west range, in the room that was once the kitchen but may, now, also have been either a stable or a blacksmith's forge.  They were very excited as Philippo had just found a coin in a structure which might have been a drain - exactly the sort of place coins roll into when you drop them!

The coin looks as if it is a copper alloy, and is much the same sort of size as the one found in the same room back in mid-May - though this one looks in better condition (see blog entry of 5th July).  The earlier one was identified as a halfpenny of George III, dating from 1770-1775.

Some new photos have been added to the 3D-Tours tab of the Mingary Castle website, one of which shows a 360-degree view of the inside of the courtyard showing the present state of excavations - it's well worth a look.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Learning the Art of Archaeology - 1

The amateurs who've been helping at the Mingary Castle excavation have been taught a huge amount in the short time we've been there.  We started with excavating in the courtyard, mostly the cobbled areas, and were told we hadn't done too badly with that, so we were moved to more sensitive areas - always under the watchful eye of Tom Addyman, Ross Cameron, or one of the other team members.

So I started work on one of the quadrants in the west range.  The picture shows it, with the tools we had to use - trowel, shovel, bucket, a pair of gloves, a brush, a camera and, because working on one's knees for hours can be painful, a cushion covered in polythene.  Some work had already been done on this quadrant, so Ross was able to point out the different 'contexts' - that is, the different types of deposit.   Basically, there were two....

 ....which can be seen in this vertical view of the finished result.  At top left there was a brown, clayey, soil-like material, and the rest was cobbles, though the neat arrangement of the stones seen at bottom left was severely disrupted over the rest of the area.

The next skill we were taught was drawing.  A one-metre wooden frame, divided into 20cm sections with string, is laid across the area to be drawn, and the archaeology is then transferred onto thick tracing paper laid on graph paper, the scale being 1:20.  A 6H pencil is used, and the outline of every feature is marked on the map, with the help of a minimal key such as S = Slate.  It looks easy: it isn't!  And, because one has to draw the archaeology from vertically above, some contorted positions have to be attempted.  Also, when I did it, it rained.... a lot.

This is my feeble first attempt.  Matters weren't helped by the fact that, however hard one tried, mud seemed to transfer itself onto the precious drawing.  To make matters worse, the tracing paper had another meticulously completed drawing in the bottom corner, which I was terrified of messing up.

We were then taught to use a dumpy, a surveying instrument used to record the levels of the excavated area.  If Dale Meegan looks worried, I can't blame her, as she was asked to do an actual survey as a fast way of learning.  Ross, seen at left, was patience personified.  The man would make a superb schoolmaster.

Even with this mass of learning under our belt, there is still loads more.  Each part of the excavation has to be recorded in a file, all the specimens bagged and labelled, photographs taken, and much else besides.  The picture shows Tanja Romankiewicz doing the hard work, and the second of these two blogs will describe how we fared.

Many thanks indeed to the team at Addyman Archaeology, and especially Ross and Tom, for giving us so much of their time and patience.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

14th July

Ross Cameron has pointed out to me that 14th July is a very significant anniversary in the history of Mingary Castle: it was the date when the castle capitulated in 1644 following a brief siege.  We know this through the journals kept by a Scottish minister, John Weir.  He was a Covenanter who had been in Ulster but, on his return journey, was captured by Alasdair MacColla who was on his way, with 1,500 men, to attack Covenanter strongholds along the west coast of Scotland.  Weir kept a journal, from which this is an extract:

10 July: we came fornent the castle of meagne
11 July: we cam much nearer the castle of Mingary
12 July: the kowes were taken from Mingary castle
13 July: the castle was assaulted by land & sea
14 July: it was rendred upon quarter

From this, it seems that the siege was remarkably short, lasting two days at most, but we already know (see post on 26th June here) that the attack was extremely fierce, as Patrick Gordon of Ruthven, in his history of the Civil War in Scotland, wrote, "Hee [MacColla] 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 discovery by archaeologists from Addyman Archaeology of the original stones from the doorway surround gave us a very immediate connection through to this event.  The doorway was subsequently rebuilt, some time around 1700.  Look carefully at this picture, and you can see that the area above the door shows signs of work, and the rocks all round the doorway have been completely re-done.

Many thanks to Ross Cameron for drawing my attention to John Weir's writing (in the book 'Colkitto', Kevin Byrne, House of Lochar), and to Ricky Clark for the top photograph.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Cleaning the Courtyard

Today started strangely misty, with the distant moan of foghorns from ships moving in the Sound of Mull, so the archaeologists took their break in the moat, sitting on the remains of the doorway destroyed in 1644 - Philippo Peritone at left, Lara Ferrarotti, Tom Addyman and Ross Cameron at right.  Last night Tom gave an a excellent talk on the Mingary excavation to some twenty-five people at the Kilchoan Learning Centre.  With this talk 'sold out' within a few minutes of being advertised, another is being arranged in a week or two.

The active excavation of the courtyard has now become a cleaning operation as the area is prepared for a series of detailed photographs from above.  The picture shows Daniel Wood tidying up the cobbled area in the kitchen range.

More horseshoes were found there, along with odd bits of metal, all of which add to the idea that, after its original use as a kitchen, this room may have been used either to stable horses or by a farrier.  However, the lengths of metal in this picture are more difficult to interpret.

Ross Cameron continues his work in the room next to the well, which is now looking very tidy.  More pottery was found to add to Wednesday's spectacular find.  His last task is to dig deeper into the well itself, firstly to find out how it worked, but also in the hope that he might find some interesting artefacts down it.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

More Finds as Dig Draws to an End

The main excavation in the courtyard and interior buildings is drawing to a close.  While there are still areas that could be excavated, they're going to be left.  This is normal at archaeological digs, on the principle that some of the deposits should be left to future generations who may have far finer techniques than we can deploy today.

Despite this, today was a very good day for finds.  Philippo Peritone found no less than three horseshoes in the west range.  This area is supposed to have been a kitchen, and it has a huge fireplace at each end, but it could, possibly, have been used by a farrier at some point.

Ross Cameron, who has spent several days in the west range excavating the most complete sequence they've found, moved into the main range, were he's been working around the well.  The well - or it was most likely a cistern - is immediately behind him in this picture, but the area he was clearing out today is in front of him.  It was floored with flagstones but on top of them is a thick deposit of everyday rubbish - hence the deep brown colour.

Both well and small room were separated off by a stone wall, which has now been removed.  Quite what the small room was used for is a bit of a mystery as, in the last refurbishment of the castle, it was inaccessible.

Perhaps this was a good thing - at least from the archaeologits' viewpoint - as it's yielding up some beautiful finds.  Here, Ross is holding a piece of creamware pottery while Tom Addyman of Addyman Archaeology makes a photographic record of it.

But this is Ross' finest find, an almost-complete bowl of 18th century Chinese porcelain.  He's hoping that, in the remaining time he has, he'll find the missing pieces.

Its discovery is important as it shows that the 18th century occupants of Mingary Castle were affluent.  In those days, a piece like this - and perhaps, a full set of the porcelain - would have been extremely expensive.  But to me, a non-archaeologist, the main interest is in speculating how and why the broken bowl ended up in this disused room.  Did the scullery maid drop it on the flagstone floor and, in her panic, throw the remains over the wall to hide her crime?

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Raising a Family

Despite all the noise, a pair of thrushes are still in residence trying to raise a family.  Their nest is somewhere in the rocks at the top of the battlements, so the nestlings have a good view of the goings-on below.

Archaeology Update

This view of the castle from the west was taken at midday today, on a day which saw periods of beautiful, bright sunshine alternating with damp mist, some of which can be seen obscuring the summit of out local mountain, Ben Hiant.

The Addyman Archaeology team today consisted of Ross Cameron, at left, then Philippo Peritone from Bille in the Italian Alps, Lara Ferrarotti from Turin, Daniel Wood from Dunbar, Dale Meegan who is one of the volunteers from the village, Tina Molle from Germany, who is a visitor to the village and volunteered for the day, and, at right, Tom Addyman.  The team looks cheerful because Tom had just  bought them all an ice lolly.

This view from the top of the main range shows where everyone is working.  At '1', Ross Cameron is completing a painstaking study on what is probably the most complete archaeological section found so far, which is in one quadrant of the west, kitchen range - more about this soon.

Lara has spent the last few days working close to the sea gate, at '3'.  The area consists of some flagstone steps and drainage, and she's had to move a lot of rubble - hence the very unladylike mattock.

But her careful work has yielded some good finds, as one would expect from the bottom end of the castle drains.  This is a metal button, possibly 18th century, which she found this morning.

Daniel and Philippo are working in the most unexpected feature of the courtyard.  We had expected the bedrock under the courtyard to be at least reasonably flat but the area marked '2' in the photo has turned out to be a deep pit sunk into the bedrock.  As a result, it's now becoming apparent that the central courtyard was, at least for some of its time, terraced, with a low wall running just behind where Philippo is working in this picture.  The hole is a good 2m deep, and Philippo is still excavating.

The level he has reached is suggested by this find, which he made this morning.  It's a shard of pottery, about 7cm by 4cm, of cone-decorated slipware.  Tom, who is a pottery expert, says that, while the type comes from Staffordshire, not all of it was made there.  What's more important is that he has dated it to the 17th century, which makes it the oldest find so far.

The volunteers have been working both in the area marked '4', where our main job has been clearing the accumulate muck from the cobbles so that Tom can draw the cobbled area, and in the eastern corner of the courtyard, '5'.  Dale Meegan is shown kneeling next to the garderobe working on a drain through the cobbles which appeared to come from the garderobe.  However, her work today shows that it led from the north end of the east range to the centre of the courtyard, where it may have joined a system of drains below the cobbled areas.