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.
Thursday, 14 November 2013
The Castle in its Landscape
These pictures, taken last weekend from Beinn na h-Urchrach to the east of Mingary Castle, give an impression of the landscape in which it stands. Much of the western end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula is wild, open moorland covered in coarse grass and heather, which supports sheep and red deer. The few areas of better land tend to lie in pockets along the coasts. The valley in the foreground here, that of the Allt Choire Mhuilinn, is an exception, and we have plenty of evidence that it has been occupied since at least Neolithic times.
The stripes that run down the hillsides are evidence of relatively recent workings, the rig and furrow system used by the local people for years until the Riddell family set about 'improving' the Estate in the early 19th century. The clachans' stone walls, like the one that weaves across the land at lower right in the picture, were replaced by the higher, more substantial walls of the sheep farmers, one of which can be seen just to the right of the castle.
This relatively fertile valley runs some four kilometres inland and is at least two at its widest - this picture is a continuation to the right of the one above. For a castle such as Mingary to exist, it needed a reliable source of food to support both the MacIain laird who held it as his seat from the early 14th century, and the many retainers who depended on him. While the other West Ardnamurchan clachans - the small, communally-run settlements occupied by MacIain clan members - would have contributed to this, one can see that the the castle might have been heavily dependent on this rich valley, which was occupied by three clachans, Mingary, Choire Mhuilinn and Skinid.
This map, held by Ardnamurchan Estate, shows the area covered by the photographs. It was drawn by mapmaker William Bald in 1806, shortly before the improvements began. The fields of the three clachans are coloured - red for Mingary, yellow for Skinid, and blue for Choire Mhuilinn. Bald was a meticulous mapmaker, and the size, in acres, of every field was marked, as were the houses occupied by the clanspeople. His map is, therefore, a record of a way of life that had almost ceased to exist fifty years later, by which time most of the people had either left Ardnamurchan, many to go overseas to places like Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, or had been moved to the new crofting townships.