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, 31 December 2013

The Year in Review

A year ago, the 700-year old walls of Mingary Castle were on the verge of collapse.  The joints in the igneous sill on which the castle stands were opening up and the huge blocks of rock falling outwards, threatening to take the whole castle with them.  Rocks from the upper parts of the curtain walls were falling into the courtyard, many of the lintels over the doors and windows of the north range were about to fail, access was so dangerous that the area was fenced off, and the occupants of the castle were pigeons, starlings, mice, and the occasional passing mink.

Today, the huge blocks of sill have been pinned so they won't fall and the curtain walls stabilised, extensive archaeological investigations have been carried out, the structure has been photographed and mapped to provide a detailed record for future research, the building has been sheathed in a network of scaffold so that every part of the walls can be easily reached, a start has been made on removing loose mortar and on the massive task of re-pointing, and a temporary roof has been constructed over the north range.

If all goes well, by the end of 2014 the castle will once again stand proudly in its position dominating the northern entrance to the Sound of Mull.  Construction work will re-start on 6th January and, if there are no delays, by the end of this year the project should be completed and the castle ready for its new role as a top specification letting property.  This will enable the castle to pay for its maintenance into the foreseeable future.

Progress so far has been possible because the Trustees have managed to raise enough money to finance it, but funds are now critically low.  With the coming of the New Year, the Trustees are appealing once again for financial support so that the project can be completed on time.  Please, if you can, donate something, however small, through mydonate - there's a permanent link at top right of this page.

The Trustees wish all the friends and supporters of Mingary Castle a happy,
healthy and prosperous 2014.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

Work on the castle has shut down for Christmas which, in one way, is just as well - we're having one of the worst runs of storms that I can remember in the years I have been here.  We woke to yet another gale this morning, a southerly which is bringing the seas straight in onto the beach below the castle, but everyone is very confident that the scaffolding will withstand anything the weather can throw at it.

The Trustees wish all our readers and supporters a very Happy Christmas.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

From Sleeping Accommodation to Bathroom

When work started on the north range, a small tree - it was very small, someone referred to it as a 'bonsai' - was growing out of the wall on the second floor of the stairwell.  Recently, this was removed by the workmen to expose a small entrance which led into what looks like one of the passageways that runs within the north curtain wall.

This picture shows the entrance.  The change in colour of the stonework is where the wooden floor of the second floor used to run, so it was quite a low entrance.

Peering into it, and up to the right, one can see that the space goes back about a metre, and that there are distinct horizontal marks along the back wall.  It's also rapidly evident that, while it was originally part of a passageway, it was blocked off to right and left to form a small and very cramped room.

This picture looks down into the space to the stone floor.  There's hardly room to swing a cat but the suggestion is that it was used as a sleeping area with bunk beds, perhaps for some of the servants.

The plans, as submitted to Historic Scotland and Highland Council, show that the passageway of which this forms a part is going to be opened up again, and this section is being converted into a bathroom.  The red arrow shows the location of the entrance.  I hasten to add that the bathroom will be bigger than appears in the photographs because the back of the existing space has been walled up to strengthen the outer wall - something which also blocked the lancet windows which, as can be seen from the plan, will be reinstated.

The Mingary Castle plans are available to see at the Highland Council website, here.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Castle Battered by Four Storms

In the last week, four gales have battered the Ardnamurchan peninsula, the strongest, last night, being described by locals as the worst the area has experienced in ten years, with winds peaking at force 9.  The storm was at its height between one and three this morning, so by the time I went down to the castle the weather was clearing - which didn't prevent a heavy hail shower from turning the ground white.

Despite the appalling weather, building work has continued apace, and not a pole nor a board has moved in the huge network of scaffolding that envelopes the castle - though sharp observers may have noticed that the bright red plastic rubbish chute has disappeared from the front of the building, not because of the gales but....

....because it's been moved into the eastern end of the north range, as rubble coming down from the cleaning of the walls will shortly be able to be taken out through the courtyard.

Despite continuing fierce gusts of wind, I was able to climb the scaffolding to get some views of the surrounding coast.  This view looks eastwards towards the mouth of Loch Sunart, with the point called Maclean's Nose in the left distance.

Work is winding down for the Christmas break - which will be greatly appreciated as most of the men are housed in caravans, and trying to get some sleep in a caravan in a force 9 isn't much fun.  Builder John-Paul Ashley (centre) is seen with the last of his workers, who finish tomorrow: John O'Neil, left, and Iain MacPhail, right. Here's wishing the lads a very happy, enjoyable, and well-deserved holiday - and we look forward to seeing them back here on 6th January.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


This graphic has recently been added to the home page of the Mingary Castle website to give everyone an idea of how we are faring in raising money for the work at the castle.  As can be seen, we've raised just over 10% of the total estimated cost.  While this leaves us with a very long way to go, in the present squeeze on charitable donations in the UK, it isn't too bad a start.

The left hand bar shows the estimated expenditure under each heading.  Professional fees are a significant cost, and are high because, as well as having to pay for survey, design and engineering, we have incurred huge costs for the archaeological work.  This was something which we were required to do by Historic Scotland, yet it attracts no funding from the lottery or other big national funds!

Consolidation, which continues but included the spectacular pinning of the granophyre base of the castle, was also a massive cost; and, as might be expected, the building works will cost upward of a million pounds.

So the Trust can report that it has made a sound start to raising the £2.3 million this restoration needs, but this still leaves us with a huge mountain to climb before we can complete the work.  While some generous donations have come in through the BT mydonate link at top right of the website page, we're considering running a number of activities which will help to boost funds.  However, before we proceed, we'd like to appeal for any ideas which readers may have - the sort of thing which you, as a supporter of the Mingary project, would feel comfortable sponsoring.

We'd also like to make another appeal to you.  We've applied to as many charity support funds as we can, with mixed success, but if you know any fund that might consider supporting the Mingary project, please let us know using the Contact Us link at top right of this page.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Work Progresses

The scaffolding in the castle courtyard is now complete, with the whole area a maze of walkways enabling every centimetre of the walls to be easily accessed.  At present some of John-Paul Ashley's men are working on the loose mortar, while others are continuing with the pointing in the north range.

This is the only section of scaffolding which suffered during the recent storm and, as can be seen, it's back in place.  Wind speeds measured locally suggested that some gusts reached 90mph last Thursday, with the strongest from the northwest, a direction from which the castle is reasonably protected.  This also explains why the only scaffolding to move was at the top of the northwest corner.

Following the storm we've had days of rain and, with temperatures staying firmly above 10C, the humidity has been high.  This hasn't helped the mortar being used in the pointing in the interior of the north range to go off.  Each wall is more or less damp.  This section is on the interior of the north curtain wall, and it's particularly damp, with droplets condensing on the flat surfaces of the stones.  The large stone visible here is running with damp, and the surrounding mortar is taking up to a fortnight to go off.

The recent high temperatures may have caused this gorse growing near the castle to spring into unseasonal flower.  Work will stop over Christmas and won't start again until 6th January of the New Year, when the men will begin pointing the walls outside the north range.  That's some nice, cold work for them to look forward to.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Secret Passageways

The great curtain wall that forms the north side of Mingary Castle has a number of small lancet windows let into it - this picture was taken before the scaffolding was raised.  These windows are an original feature of the castle, and they are evidence of passageways and rooms which were built into the wall.

These passageways, or galleries, are shown in some plans of the castle, and I was fortunate to be able to gain access to the one shown at bottom right in this plan of the second floor of the castle, in the company of builder John-Paul Ashley of builders Ashley Thompson.

The passageway that runs along the length of the north wall is shown as open in the plan but is, in fact, blocked by the neatly built stone wall seen in the shadows in this photo.  It's not clear why, or when, the passages in the northern curtain wall were blocked.

To the right of the picture there's what looks like a stone seat, which can also be seen.... the bottom left in this picture, which looks out of a small window, now covered by a sheet of polycarbonate roofing.

In the plan, the passage that ran towards the courtyard is correctly shown as blocked.  This passage was destroyed when....

....a chimney was put in during the 18th century renovations.  The stonework of this structure is highly unstable and will be removed, enabling this passageway, along with all the others, to be reopened.  The renovation allows for open fires, but the chimneys for these will be built out into the rooms.

The prospect of opening these passageways is very exciting.  I'm very anxious to be there when it happens.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

A Baptism of Wind

The first Atlantic storm of the winter battered Mingary Castle and surrounding area last night and this morning, with gale force winds which destroyed power lines, brought trees down, and left the peninsula without both land line and mobile telephone signal.  Over 24mm (an inch) of a mixture of rain, sleet, hail and snow fell in twenty-four hours.  To make matters worse, high water of a spring tide coincided with the peak of the gale, at about seven this morning.  It was a chance for John Forsyth's scaffolding to show whether it could survive a full Highland storm.

It acquitted itself magnificently.  The only damage was when about ten of the scaffolding boards along the top walkway ripped through the ropes which held them to the poles, but even then they didn't come down.  It will only take John-Paul Ashley's men a few minutes to fix them.

Of more concern than the wind was the fear that a high tide, pushed along by a westerly gale, would bring seaweed and flotsam against the base of the scaffolding on the beach to the west of the castle.  This would have given the waves much more drag against the base of the scaffolding, which might have brought the whole thing down.  The seaweed came in, a length of rope wrapped itself round some of the poles, and a tree trunk narrowly missed the structure, but it has stood up to this first test.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Warm Heart Glows in the Castle

This smoke coming out of the top of a chimney at the top of the north range is a further major step in the process of turning this magnificent castle from a ruin into someone's home, because it's a sign that, for the first time in some 200 years, there's fire warming the heart of the building.

As you would expect, the heating system is very appropriate for a structure of this vintage, consisting of two cast-iron, solid fuel stoves which John-Paul Ashley of Ashley Thompson builders has been able to borrow locally.  The first is in the eastern room, next to the well, and the other.... in the western room.  As can be seen, there's no shortage of fuel for the stoves as the Ardnamurchan Estate has thousands of acres of coniferous forestry which is ready for felling.  A third stove will be joining these two shortly, a much bigger one which will heat the central section of the building.

The next great heating milepost will be when the woodchip boiler has been installed in the moat.  It will have the capacity to heat all three ranges.  And, looking beyond that, a moment will come when a great log fire is burning in one of the many original fireplaces in the building.

While some of the workmen have been enjoying the warmth while they continue with the repointing on the inside of the north range, John Forsyth, the scaffolder, has been outside in the rain, working on the final stages of this huge scaffolding job.  When he's finished the courtyard, every square inch of the castle's walls will be accessible from the hundreds of metres of walkway which now surround it.