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, 30 September 2013

Stabilising the Windows

Back in May of this year, before any work started, some of the courtyard windows in the north range were in such a precarious state that they had had to be blocked up to prevent whole sections of the front wall of the building collapsing.  Historic Scotland has given permission for these windows to be stabilised, and some of the men from Ashley-Thompson, the main contractor, were working on them on Thursday when I went to visit the site.

This picture looks from the interior at the lintel of one of the windows which is in reasonable condition.  Behind the window's carved sandstone lintel and jamb, the walls are over a metre thick, and they're held up by oak timbers.  In many of the windows some, if not all the oak has gone.

 Temporary wooden lintels are installed to hold up the wall while the rotten timber is removed.

Then, working from the outside inwards, concrete lintels are place across, with a layer of damp proof course above them.  Mortar is then rammed in above the DPC.

The new concrete lintels of this window are all in place.  The DPC hangs down inside the sandstone surround, and the new window will be put in behind it.

Many thanks to H. for explaining all this to me.  Any errors are mine.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Exterior Scaffolding Complete

The exterior scaffolding on the castle is now complete.  There are four levels - or 'lifts' - round the southern walls, with six lifts along the northern walls to give access to the main building inside.  The structure was an impressive sight in this morning's bright sunshine.

Projecting to the right, the north in this picture, are three loading levels which are now served by an electric pulley system, enabling heavy loads to be raised.  The only thing that's missing are the access stairs, in a tower which will be bolted on to the outside.

At present access is up three ladders, which look intimidating to the uninitiated but are well worth the climb.  This picture was taken from the sixth lift on the NW wall, looking at the uppermost of the loading areas.  This is an important level as it gives direct access to the battlements which, as can be seen to the right of the picture, are in desperate need of restoration.

The top lift also gives an excellent view across the gabled roofline of the north range, the main building.  There are three gables, the one at the nearer end being in best condition.  Their restoration requires them to be taken down stone by stone, and then rebuilt, something which will have to be done pretty quickly if a roof is going to be put on this range in time for the winter.  It's hoped, then, that work on the range can continue throughout the, often very wet, winter months.

The views of the castle are impressive enough from the top lift, but the views outwards are even more stunning.  This picture was taken at low tide looking southeastwards towards the point called Maclean's Nose.  In the distance is part of the mainland called Morvern.  The rocks here are Jurassic limestones cut by Tertiary igneous intrusions from the period when Ardnamurchan was a volcano.

With work complete on the exterior, the scaffolders are starting in the courtyard, working on all three buildings at the same time.  The courtyard's surface is extremely uneven, and has some huge holes in it, so getting the base of the scaffolding in has been difficult.  But at least the scaffolders are now working in an area protected from the weather: they were working on the exterior when, the other day, we had almost 40mm of rain in a 24-hour period.

The men on the site are getting so used to me that conversations don't stop when I heave into view.  But it does enable me to take pictures of them at work: this one shows builder John-Paul Ashley, left, who is responsible for all the works on the site, talking to head scaffolder John Forsyth.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Laser Scanning of the Courtyard

One of the many pleasures of being allowed on to the Mingary Castle building site while work is going on is that I meet up with so many people, from all sorts of backgrounds, who are coming together to make a great job of this restoration process.  David Crawford (above) and David McCreadie have been here before but I missed them.  Their company, IIC Technologies of Harrogate, specialise in 3D modelling of buildings like Mingary.

David McCreadie showed me the Faro laser scanner they use to create a cloud of co-ordinates of points on the walls of the building.  Onto this they then merge high quality stereo photographs.  This enables them to create a virtual, 3D model which will be an exact replica, and preserve the texture of the building in its present, stripped-down state.  As far as the layman is concerned, this will enable us to 'walk in' to this wonderful building, knowing that everything we see is so accurate that exact measurements of features can be made; and what they are doing will be a highly realistic and accurate legacy for future historians.

I was intrigued by the white balls they had festooned all around the courtyard.  These give the laser scanner common points which are used when the scanner is moved to different parts of the courtyard to enable the whole interior to be done.

The two Davids are back because they weren't satisfied with the quality of the first survey they did - the outside of the building was fine, but they needed to re-do the interior.  It's a reflection on the project's attention to detail.

As if seeing these two highly skilled professionals at work wasn't enough, it was good to go outside again and see the pride the scaffolders take in everything they do.  Picture shows John Forsyth sweeping the entrance to his scaffolding world - more about where that has got to in the next post.

Many thanks to David Crawford and David McCreadie for their patience in describing what they were doing.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

3D View of Courtyard

Archaeologist Tom Addyman took his photos of the interior of the castle just over a week ago (see composite picture on Thursday's blog post), but by the time I went up to the battlements on Tuesday, in rather better weather, the builders had already started to move scaffolding into the courtyard preparatory to scaffolding the front of the north range (at top in this picture).  Despite this, Stuart, who manages the website for the Trust, has used the pictures to put together another 3D tour - view it from the 3D-Tours tab at the top of the page or click here.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Who Built Mingary Castle?

View from South, Mingary

There's a very simple answer to the question "Who Built Mingary Castle?": we don't know.  This isn't for want of trying to find out: one of the first actions of the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust was to commission Richard Oram, Professor of History at Stirling University, to carry out preliminary research on the history of the castle.  He begins his report with the words, "Until its first emergence into the historical record in 1485, Mingary is a silent presence in the background of the long and complex history of the lordship of Ardnamurchan and, especially, its fourteenth- to early seventeenth-century MacIan owners."

Part of the trouble is that few written records were kept, or have been preserved, from the time of Mingary's early years.  In the internecine warfare between the clans of western Scotland, there seemed to be little inclination to write things down, though stories would have been passed on orally.  To make matters worse, in this struggle for possession of the lands of the west coast, the clans had a habit of rewriting history in their favour: the MacDonalds, for example, attempted to write out the inheritance of the MacDougalls in the pre-1300 period.

Castle Tioram

Most attempts to date the castle have therefore had to fall back on its architecture and, in particular, to its similarities to some of the other castles of the west coast: Kisimul on Barra, Dunstaffnage near Oban, and the nearby Castle Tioram in Moidart.  Yet, on the basis of this, three families are suggested by recent historians as the builders of Mingary: the MacDonalds of Islay, the MacRuaris, and the MacDougalls of Lorne.

Lancet windows, Mingary

When Ardnamurchan is first mentioned as a distinct territory in 1293, it was under the lordship of Alexander MacDougall, lord of Argyll, and had obviously been MacDougall land since at least the 1240s.  On the basis that the castle shows distinct 13th century features, such as form of its battlements and the lancet windows in the north curtain wall, above, and that the MacDougalls lost their lands during the first decade of the 14th century, it seems likely that the castle was built by them.  A charter dated just before 1320 is evidence that King Robert (Bruce) assigned Ardnamurchan to Angus Og MacDonald, through whom it passed to his great-grandson, John, the first of the MacIains, the family which then held Mingary, and Ardnamurchan, for the next three hundred years.

Kisimul on Barra

Much of what I have written here is drawn from Professor Oram's paper - and I apologise in advance for any mistakes I have made.  The Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust has now published his paper in full.  To access it, click on 'History' in the menu at the top of this webpage, and select 'Analytical and Historical Assessment', or click here.

Picture of Castle Tioram courtesy Dave Wilkie on Flickr, here,
and of Kisimul, Barra courtesy of Jan Smith on Flickr, here.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Scaffolding Grows

Mingary Castle, now almost sheathed in scaffolding, seen from the sea.

The Excavated Courtyard

One of the last things lead archaeologist Tom Addyman did before he left the castle last Thursday was to take a series of photographs of the castle courtyard from the south battlements.  By that time a stiff westerly wind was blowing, bringing in heavy rain.  Despite this, the composite picture Tom has put together came out well.

The south battlements have only just become accessible with the steady growth of the exterior scaffolding.  When this is finished in the next couple of weeks, the scaffolders will set to work on the courtyard, so it was the last chance to take a picture of this area before it becomes part of the new building complex.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Rainbow over Mingary

The castle this afternoon, picture taken from the Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry.

First Composite Plan of Castle

The results of many weeks of archaeological work are beginning to come together with this preliminary composite plan which draws together all the sketches made by the archaeologists during their work at the castle.  The plan isn't finished: Tom Addyman and Kenny Macfadyen's recent visit included further drawings....

....for example of the area of passageway immediately inside the main gate, only recently excavated.  This shows that the floor level here was much higher than the one now exposed.  Presumably this later flooring, probably formed during the refurbishment of the castle around 1700, was of cobbles which raised it to the level of the entrance built at that time.  The cobbles were later robbed.

The constraints of this blog platform mean that the wealth of detail in the plan can't be fully appreciated, but some idea can be obtained from these extracts from the main map.  This is the ground floor of the north range.  The room in the centre housed the staircase, and the well can be seen at top right.

The courtyard and east range are shown here.  Many hours were spent excavating the courtyard, including by local volunteers who will be pleased to see their efforts incorporated into the plan.  In this area most of the cobbles were still in situ, but the composite doesn't show one of the most intriguing finds in the courtyard....

....this fissure, up to two metres deep, cut down into the bedrock but later infilled with rubble.  It seems unlikely that this was natural as the edges are so clean-cut, so it was excavated deliberately and, therefore, for good reason - yet archaeologists have no explanation for it.

The west range illustrates how complex it will be to establish the history of the castle.  There is evidence of multiple uses of the rooms, and the plan here shows floor levels of different stages in the castle's evolution.  The northern of these two rooms was almost certainly a kitchen at one stage and a forge later - a number of horseshoes and other metal objects were found there.

A full report of the excavation is now in the process of being written by archaeologists at Addyman Archaeology.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Stone No 016

In one corner of the car park there are neat stacks of stones, many of which came from the castle's door surround, all waiting for conservation work before they go back into the castle.  Every stone has been given a number by Addyman Archaeology, and has its own computer record.  This has its condition, where it came from, a detailed description, its likely provenance, and a photo.

I was shown stone 016 by lead archaeologist Tom Addyman.  He explained that it is particularly special, partly as it's probably 13th century, but mostly because it's another example of an artifact which has a direct connection back, over seven hundred years, to an individual.  It comes from the inner cheek of the door jamb, and it was probably cut from a quarry near Lochaline.  Carved onto the face nearest the measuring pole.... a Z mark.  The stonemason who made this mark is registering the stone as his work because, in those days as in these, many workmen, masons included, were paid piece work - that is, by what they produced.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Excavations End

I have said several times on this blog that the archaeological excavations at the castle were nearing completion.  Well, today they did finally end, and the archaeologists are on their way back to Edinburgh.  The picture shows Tom Addyman of Addyman Archaeology shortly before they left.  He was cleaning the courtyard ready for a series of detailed photographs which were taken from the battlements, this before the scaffolding goes up in the courtyard obscuring the view.

The archaeologists will be back.  Once the exterior scaffolding is complete they'll be on it recording the walls, windows and battlement features.  They had a preliminary look today and they were very excited.

Mysteries and Horrors of the Castle Well

When I arrived on site this morning the archaeologists - Kenny Macfadyen at left and Tom Addyman at right - were still working on the well, and still puzzled by what they were finding.

This picture shows the eastern end of the moat.  To Kenny's left is the clay and rock wall that held back the water so it rose to the point where it could pass through the hole into the well (obscured behind Kenny).  Behind the wall can be seen a grey material which is a mix of compacted peat and clay, possibly to help make the wall watertight.

What is very surprising is that the lower part of the hole into the well is blocked by a rubble-mortar mix, which would mean that water would only flow into the well when it rose above this level, restricting the amount passing into the well.  This is very odd, since any castle under siege would need as much water as possible.  Odder still is the structure below the opening, to the left of the buckets.  It's made of blocks of stone, two of which came from the gate destroyed in 1644.  It's purpose is unexplained, but does suggest that alterations were made to the well some time in the latter part of the 17th or early 18th century.

I was invited to climb down into the well.  It was dark, dank and foul-smelling down there and, as there were three of us, crowded - but fascinating, mostly for all the questions it left unanswered.

This is a view taken from the bottom of the well looking towards the moat.  The well shaft is about 1.5m in diameter but opens into a small chamber at the bottom.  We're looking here at the tunnel which leads out of the bottom of the well to the moat, though it hasn't yet been fully cleared.  The hole that allowed water to enter is about half way down, set slightly to the left.

This is my interpretation of a cross section of the well, left being north.  The water in the moat at left would have risen to the top of the clay wall and then passed in to the bottom of the well - but the picture shows how little would have collected there.

 I was happy to leave the archaeologists to their work, but they weren't alone in the darkness as....

....there were plenty of large and evil-looking spiders to keep them company.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Progress Update

The scaffolding along the north wall is well advanced.  The picture shows how material from the car park can be moved straight on to the platform for distribution around the lower levels, but a second platform, on the third 'lift' (walkway), will be built so material can be loaded directly onto it.

Archaeologists Tom Addyman and Kenny Macfadyen of Addyman Archaeology arrived back on site today.  Kenny is in the moat where he will do a section through the stone and clay wall which holds back the water in the moat - he's standing on it.  The wall was considerably higher in its time, and was designed to channel water so it drained through the hole (just to the right of the surveying pole) into the bottom of the castle well.  Meanwhile, Tom is in the well carrying out a survey.

When they arrived they stopped to admire the hard work put in by the local amateurs who have been digging through the material brought out of the well.  We've already had it confirmed that the well was used as a toilet during the middle part of the 18th century, but Tom has now had a chance to study the claret bottles and pottery that have come out of it, and can date the deposit very precisely to the decade between 1755 and 1765.

The amateurs have been finding masses of broken glass, bits of pottery, bones from meals, leather (including the front of a boot) and some metal objects, but nothing very exciting, which made it all the more galling....

....when Kenny, within two minutes of arriving, picked a coin out of one of the piles which we'd already processed.

It was in some mortar and in too poor condition to be identified, but it's about the same size as the sixpenny piece which Ricky Clark found a week ago.

One interesting aspect of the well deposit is the presence of significant amounts of peat, some of it cut into neat blocks.  It's possible that these were thrown down into the well to absorb some of the smell, in the same way as wood shavings are added to a modern composting toilet.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Scaffolding Wildlife

The eastern end of the moat is now clear of scaffolding, and the platform is in place to the right of the photo so it's now possible to walk straight onto it from the car park in front of the castle.  The scaffolders have been working hard to get this far: they worked until four this afternoon, Saturday, even though the stormy weather brought both heavy rain and, in the sultry conditions between downpours, a plague of Highland midges.

It's amazing how quickly the local wildlife have adapted to the new environment.  The small birds seem to love flying from one scaffolding perch to another.  This is a pied wagtail....

....and this looks is one of the pipits, perhaps a rock pipit.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Scaffolding Meets Across North Wall

Scaffolder John Forsyth is back just in time to see an important milestone - the moment when his structure finally met across the north wall of the castle.

It's been a tricky piece of work as the left hand side of the scaffolding here has to be kept clear of the ground - in this case, the bottom of the moat - so that the boiler house for the castle's heating system can be installed.  So there are four sets of verticals which will shortly be removed: they're only there at present to enable the workmen to move across the face of the wall.

The scaffolding has been built out on the right to form the beginnings of a wide loading bay, but not at the level where the boarding currently is.

The loading bay will be at the level of the car park, so materials can be moved straight across onto the scaffolding structure.

Erecting the scaffolding over the moat has also taken time because of the uneven nature of the rock floor of the moat.  To make matters worse, we've had some 47mm of rain here in the last three days, and the moat had to be pumped out before they could set to work.

The scaffolding can now be seen rising above the level of the car park.  Very shortly, the north and northwest walls will be covered.  Completing the exterior scaffolding will take another two weeks or so, then there's scaffolding to be erected in the courtyard.