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, 29 October 2013

The Castle from the Sea

With the tide low I walked round the east side of the castle today, and crossed the shingle beach onto the wave-cut platform, going out as far as I could in order to try to recreate Iain Thornber's picture which was featured on Sunday's blog entry.  There's a rock platform which got me fairly far out, but nothing like far enough to achieve the angle of the old photo, which has the hill called Glas Bheinn in the background.  Either it was taken from a boat, or at low tide during spring tides.  I'll try again.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Mingary Castle in the 1890s

This photograph of Mingary Castle has been sent me by Iain Thornber, a local archaeologist and historian who lives on Morvern.  Iain writes a weekly column in the Oban Times, our local paper.

Iain dates the picture to some time in the 1890s.

The nearest equivalent picture I have in my library is this one, taken from a little further away and not so far out on the rocks - and before the scaffolding went up.  The main differences one notices are that two of the chimneys have gone.  Otherwise, the castle has survived the 120 years remarkably well.

Next time we have a very low tide, I'll try to get out on the wave-cut platform and take the identical view.

Many thanks to Iain for letting us publish his photograph.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Rapid Progress on Site

The scaffolding is now complete on the outside of the castle, and easy access is now available to all levels - from the bottom of the moat and the beach to the highest battlements.  The roof on the main building is also finished, so John Forsyth of JRandM Scaffolding is now concentrating on the two smaller ranges in the courtyard.

This picture shows the west range with the scaffold rising around it.  John has to organise the structure so that the builders can easily reach every part of the walls, including the three fireplaces with their chimneys, some of which are in a dangerous state.

This picture shows the east range, which is smaller and easier for the builders to access.  The plan at present is to raise the scaffolding as far as the level of the battlements, after which it will be capped by a temporary roof which will enable the building to be dried out before work begins on it.  At the same time, this roof will be high enough to allow John-Paul Ashley's men to rebuild the range's slate roof.

Meanwhile, stonemason 'H' has been continuing the long and dangerous task of stabilising the many lintels in the main range.  Most had oak lintels, some of which had completely disappeared.  They're being replaced by these reinforced concrete ones.

These new lintels are above one of the windows in the front aspect of the main range.  These have required the insertion of nine concrete lintels into each, while....

....this interior wall has needed six.  This example is the top of a doorway where it is nothing short of a miracle that the wall above hasn't collapsed.

The lintel of this doorway has now been replaced, the stones reinserted above it, and pointed ready for drying out and plastering.

Work has also restarted in the eastern end of the moat, where a digger is lowering the basement ready for the building of the biomass boiler which will heat the castle.  All the wood for this biomass will come from the Estate's pine forests.  Similar boilers are already in use in the Estate's other castle at Glenborrodale and in many of the Estate's letting houses.

The digger driver today is Estate worker Angus-John Cameron from Portuairk.  Now there's a happy man: a nice warm cab beats chasing cows and sheep around Ardnamurchan's hills on a wet day.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Temporary Roof is Completed

Two things stood out as I approached the castle this morning.  First, a new stairway now rises from the area just in front of the main entrance right the way up to the sixth and highest 'lift' of the scaffolding.  This makes getting to each of the scaffolding lifts so much easier and safer, both for visitors and workmen.

The second change is that, peeping above the battlements, a new roof-line has appeared.

This picture looks in the opposite direction, from the south battlements across to the front elevation of the north range....

....while this is the view looking along the new roof towards the east, with Ben Hiant in the distance.  It's a very neat job indeed, typical of the work of chief scaffolder John Forsyth of JRandM Scaffolding.

The last time there was a roof on this building was nearly 200 years ago.
Here we're looking vertically upwards from the ground floor into the apex of the roof.  As can be seen, the whole roof structure is built on a scaffolding frame across which have been fixed scaffold boards which hold 8' x 4' plywood sheets.  On top of these is a layer of breathable felt, fixed on with wooden battens.

Up in the roof space, where one imagines that the servants once lived, it can be seen that the new roof runs clear of the gables.  This means that they can be worked on under cover, in readiness for the new roof to go on when this temporary one is removed.

The men working up here today were in their shirtsleeves.  With a warm, if damp day outside, the warmth collects under the roof.  Builder John-Paul Ashley of Ashley Thompson will be firing up some large heaters shortly so that he can start to dry out the walls.  But what's most important is that his men will be able to work on the building right through the winter, in some.... luxury.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Archaeological Work Continues

The archaeologists may have disappeared from the site for the time being, but they're still busy with Mingary work, as Ross Cameron, one of Addyman Archaeology's archaeologists, explains:

"We have taken all the Mingary finds to our dedicated finds storage area where each bag is being washed and laid out in finds trays to dry. This is a long process, but can often reveal....

"....nice artefacts from the mud and other deposits previously not identified during the initial excavation.

"We will then collate all artefacts by artefact type (by putting all bags of bone together, all bags of glass together, etc.). The better and interesting finds will then be photographed before each artefact type....

" boxed - but kept in their separate bags by context - for assessment by the specialists. The specialists come in and spend a short time looking at the volume of material, and decide whether there appears to be anything rare or interesting before providing a quote for their services as well as a proposed timeframe to complete the work."

Many thanks to Ross for story and pictures.

Friday, 18 October 2013

A Wobbly Wall

Of all the walls in this grand old castle - and there are, if you think about it, very little in a ruin like this except walls - the one that has been causing the greatest concern is just about visible to the right of the scaffolding in this picture.  It stands at the eastern end of the moat (on the map in the right-hand column of this blog it's marked as a 'retaining wall'), and its original purpose, and that of its counterpart at the other end of the moat, is still a matter of some discussion.

It's definitely not original, as can be seen from this picture where the wall, at right, is butting up against the north curtain wall of the castle.  It may have been added at the time the main range became a lairdly mansion, in the years either side of 1700, when the moat was largely filled in with rubble taken from the renovations.

Whatever the story, the wall was built so it was perched above a gully - until recently the home of a mink and her family - into which, on stormy days, the waves are funnelled, resulting in the wall becoming undermined.

There came a point where John-Paul Ashley of Ashley Thompson builders, who is responsible for the works at the castle, decided he had to do something to stabilise the wall before it collapsed.  A careful re-pointing job has therefore been done, but in such a way that I, as an innocent bystander, can hardly see where the repairs have been made.

At the same time pipes have been inserted under the wall to drain the moat, as the area at this end of the moat will house the biomass central heating plant for the castle.

I'm impressed with the workmanship, particularly as the mortar J-P has used looks just like the original mortar.  As I said to him, I bet the castle is pleased, after nearly 200 years of neglect, to feel the start of such a sympathetic make-over.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Chain Gang

No-one has contradicted my statement that this is currently the biggest and most complicated scaffolding job in Scotland, maybe even the UK, and logistically the most challenging since it has been erected in such a remote place.  Running out of one vital component out here could be a disaster, as the nearest supplier is probably in Glasgow, some four hours drive away - if the A82 is open.

Another thought is how all the thousands of pieces that make up this three-dimensional jigsaw have got themselves into their allocated places.

Getting materials down is much easier than getting them up, as gravity does the hard work.  This fancy shute has been installed recently to direct all the earth, vegetation material, loose mortar and half a tonne of bird droppings from the battlements into a trailer.

Getting materials up is a different matter.  Although there's an electric winch which takes up some of the small, heavy pieces, all the hundreds of long things, like scaffolding poles and boards, have been lifted by the so-called 'chain gang' method - or vertical manpower.  These lengths of wood, called tile battens, are on their way up to the temporary roof that's going on the north range, so they have to be lifted to the highest level, which takes five men and a lot of cheerful shouting.

At least the weather on site today was lovely, wall-to-wall sunshine, hardly a breath of wind, and 15C in the shade.  Tomorrow is one good reason for the men to be hurrying to get the temporary roof fixed - it's forecast to rain, and the wind's getting up.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Starting a Roof

The scaffolding on the courtyard side of the north range is now up, so the builders have been able to start work on the part of the wall which they expected to be in the worst condition.  In fact, it's not as bad as anticipated.

As well as the scaffolding 'lift' along the outside, they now have boarding along the walkway which runs along the top of that wall.  It allowed access to the outside of the roof, formed a route from one side of the battlements to the other, and also acted as a gutter, so it has drains which direct the rainwater out into the courtyard.

According to the original schedule, the roof should have been on the north range by about this time, enabling the builders to work on the interior of the building through the winter.  This hasn't been possible because of various over-runs, so the scaffolders are constructing a temporary roof.  This will be finished with sheets of 1" ply covered with felt.  As soon as it's on, stoves will be used to dry out the building.

With such a desirable, centrally-heated residence becoming available, a family of blue tits has been inspecting the property with a view to moving in.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Mingary Cannon

I have been asked what happened to the cannon which lay in front of Mingary Castle until restoration work started on the site.  It's safe and well, stored for the time being in the Mingary Steading.

I'm told that it used to lie on the beach below the castle but was later moved up to a more secure place in front of it.  This was probably a wise move as, about a third of the way back from its muzzle, just above the right-hand log, someone....

....seems to have tried to cut through the barrel.  The hole that's left provides a fine home for a hibernating snail.  The muzzle end of the cannon is already missing, which suggests that, in its original form, it was rather longer.

The cannon may have come from the wreck which lies off Mingary Castle.  The section about the wreck on "Scotland’s Designated Wreck Sites (Protection of Wrecks Act 1973)", on Historic Scotland's website, here, suggests that the wreck is 17th century, dating from the 1644 siege.

One interesting feature of the cannon is that it lacks the bulbous protrusion - called a knob - which seems to appear on the friendly end of most British cannons of the 17th century.  The Wessex Archaeology report on the site, here, quotes research for the 'Wreck Detectives' programme which seems to indicate that the ship was Dutch.  A Dutch cannon of much the same vintage is shown on a website, here, but frustratingly it's not possible to see whether or not it has a knob.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Who Built Mingary? An Alternative Perspective

Mingary from the east
At an early point, the Trustees of the Mingary Castle Preservation & Restoration Trust commissioned Professor Richard Oram of Stirling University to carry out research into the history of Mingary Castle.  In one section of this work, Professor Oram looked at the question of who built the castle and, on balance, came down in favour of the MacDougals of Lorn.

Professor Oram's article has now been republished, with additional photographs and illustrations, under the 'History' tab at the top of this page, his work entitled 'Analytical and Historical Assessment'.

The Trustees are now also able to publish an alternative view of the castle's origins in a paper written by Dr James Petre, FCIS.  You'll find it under the same 'History' tab, under the title 'Who Built Mingary Castle? – An Alternative Perspective'.  Many thanks indeed to Dr Petre for allowing us to publish his paper.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Mingary Lime Kiln

Huge amounts of mortar were used both in the original building of the castle and in its subsequent repairs and renovations, such as that which occurred around 1700.  The builders were fortunate that, while the castle itself stands on an igneous rock, there are extensive outcrops of limestone to the immediate east of the castle.  It's logical that this must have been the source of the lime for the mortar.

One of the advantages of living in the local village is that I could ask around to see if anyone knew of a kiln near the castle.  There are others scattered around the peninsula, all exploiting the same outcrops of Jurassic limestone - for example, there is a well-preserved one in the roadside at the top of the hill at Swordle.

I'm grateful to Sue Cameron for describing where it was.  It's only 100 metres to the east of the castle, just above the high-tide mark, and the reason I hadn't found it is that it was built into a bank, with the path we follow along that section of coastline running just above it.  It can be seen to the right of the wind-blown oak tree.

A semi-circular front wall encloses a rounded space.  The wall has partly collapsed, but a stoke hole can be seen at its base.  Presumably the 'ingredients' - limestone and a fuel such as wood or charcoal - were poured in from the top of the bank at the back, and the quicklime removed from the front.

It would be good if someone who knows about these kilns could have a look at it.  The idea that it might be the original kiln, dating back to before 1300, is exciting.

For a brief overview of pre-industrial lime kilns, see the English Heritage site here.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Castle Development Goes to Planning

The plans for the purposes of planning consent for the development of Mingary Castle have now gone to Highland Council Planning, and are available on their site here.

The proposal is for a "Reinstatement to residential property including change of use from ruin to residential", and includes turning the north and east ranges into a single, large house while the west range becomes a separate accommodation.  While many may wish that it could become a visitors' centre open to the public, its remote location and the relatively few visitors who come on to the Ardnamurchan peninsula mean that this is not a viable option.  The most probable use of the castle will be as a high-end letting property, though this does not preclude some public access.

From the start, the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust was determined that the only way to safeguard the long-term future of this historic building was to ensure that it would earn its keep.  However, while the Trust was prepared to fund the initial work to save the building from imminent collapse, despite its best efforts no substantial external funding, either from private or public sources, has yet been forthcoming.  The plans could therefore end up as academic as, if the trust can’t afford to complete the project then, notwithstanding all the work to date, the castle will remain closed to everyone and will eventually fall down.

The consultation period, during which the public can comment on the proposals, runs until 24th October.  Comments can be submitted on line.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A Special Mortar Mix

I can't believe that the men who created the mortar mix that was used to build Mingary Castle had any idea what a superb job they made of it.  That the castle still stands so proud some 700 years later is a testament to their skills.

The problem builder John-Paul Ashley of Ashley Thompson has is that he needs to do as well as they did, if not better, and that's no easy job as the Mingary mix is unique.  After sending samples of the original away for analysis, J-P has spent the last few weeks, like a master chef, brewing up recipes and trying them out.   Finally, he's come up with one in which he has sufficiently confidence that he's sent it off to Historic Scotland for them to okay.

As can be seen in the top picture, J-P has tried it out on one corner of the castle, and it's looking good.  Much of the work for which it will be used is in re-pointing the walls and, as can be seen from this close-up, it's fairly coarse for that - but it works.  It'll also be used as a mortar in the sections of the walls that will have to be rebuilt.

J-P was kind enough to take me round to the dry store this morning to show me his 'kitchen'.  It's furnished with huge cupboards in which are kept the magic ingredients.  It took a bit of persuasion, but J-P finally agreed to let me have the recipe, so here it is:

Take two parts natural hydraulic lime (in the bags at left in the picture), one part slaked lime putty (in the plastic containers)....

....two parts whinstone (crushed dolerite, left), and seven parts Durham beach sand, which is a fairly coarse sand with shell material included.  Place ingredients in a very large bowl, mix thoroughly while adding water, and when the right consistency has been reached, tip out into a wheelbarrow.