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, 15 December 2014

Fighting the Storms

If builder Mark Rutherford Thompson doesn't look too happy, he has good cause.  Last week was a dreadful week, with severe gales, heavy rain, hail, sleet and snow and, to add to the fun, frequent lightning strikes which have brought eleven power outages, some of them as long as nine hours.

Trying to keep a project like this one going in such conditions takes patience and determination from both Mark and his partner in the business, John-Paul Ashley.  The high winds have rocked the Estate caravans in which they and their men are living, making sleep nigh-on impossible.  The power outages mean that there's no hot water for showers at the end of a cold and wet day, no hot food, and no heat to keep them warm.

Despite this, the team has kept working, and it's easy to see some of the results.  In the west range the first floor joists are now in place as well as, to the left of the picture, the huge oak beams which hold up the fireplace and an alcove.  This room has more than one fireplace - it was, at various times, a kitchen and a forge.

The gap in the centre of the photo is where an early flight of stairs rose from the courtyard to the battlements, but these were largely removed when this range was originally built.

The other room on the ground floor in the west range is much smaller.  A new floor has been installed, as well as the joists for the first floor. Billy, one of the workmen, is seen here standing next to what will be a feature fireplace.

Even though the gales were mainly from the west, conditions on the exposed castle site were extreme - yet only one area was damaged.  The picture shows what's left of the temporary roof on the biomass boiler.  This was ripped off by the wind, allowing water to get into the hopper - at the near end in this picture.  As a result, some 30 tonnes of wood chip was soaked, and the boiler went out.

Despite this, the main range remains warm, but a priority now is getting a roof back over the boiler house, digging out the soggy chipping, and getting the boiler fired up before everyone leaves on Wednesday for their well-deserved Christmas break.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Christmas Wishes

Here's wishing all the team at Mingary Castle a very happy, enjoyable and relaxing Christmas break.  The site is closing down on the 18th, but some of them will be away earlier.
Back row, left to right: Billy, Nick, Mark, Grimmy, Chris, Damien, 'H'.
Front row, left to right: J-P, Martin, Callum, Richard.

Stabilising the Curtain Walls

The last time we saw Alasdair Smith (right) and Liam Martin of UKdima Engineering Ltd at the castle, they were drilling two large holes through the basement rock from the moat into the castle to carry the services, including the heating from the biofuel boiler.  They've been down again over the last few weeks, this time drilling much smaller holes through the bases of the curtain walls as part of a process of stabilising the walls.

The method is very similar to that used to pin the huge granophyre blocks in place when work first started on the castle, with forty-two steel reinforcing pins being inserted through the bottoms of the walls, from the outside into the courtyard, epoxied into place, and then plates placed on either end and screwed tight to pull the two sides together.

This plan shows a vertical view through one of the curtain walls. Blocks had to be removed from the exterior (left)....

....and the hole drilled through the base of the wall.

The steel rods were then inserted, and steel plates screwed tight on either end.

Later, the rocks that had been removed were replaced and mortared into position so the plate is hidden.  The mortar here has yet to be brushed, so it will quickly blend in with the rest.

When I went down to the castle today, a small team, including Richard (pictured), was working on the base of the walls, the one place where the pointing hasn't been completed.  Until recently, the scaffolding wasn't in place to make it accessible.

The lowest section of the west wall is now almost complete, but they have to work their way round all the other walls.  Here's hoping that the weather holds so that this, one of the last jobs that have to be done on the exterior walls, can be completed as soon as possible.  Then, some time after New Year, the scaffolding will come down and the refurbished and strengthened walls will be revealed.

Picture of steel plate courtesy Mark Thompson.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

North Range Revealed

I was late going down to the castle this week so missed what should have been a champagne event - the dropping of the scaffolding on the courtyard side of the north range.  To make matters worse, after a week of fine weather it was overcast today, so this picture hardly does justice to the facade of a building which has reappeared in its early 18th century magnificence.

There's still some way to go however.  The windows have a couple of layers of paint to go on them, which will be a slightly lighter shade of grey, there is some leadwork to be completed, and....

....the York stone cappings on the gable ends, seen finished at this end, are still being worked on....

....a job which Damien, Callum and Bonsai were at as I made my way round the scaffolding.

Watching them made me appreciate again how much physical labour has gone in to this build.  The slab they're placing in position was lifted from the forecourt to the scaffolding stage using a manually-worked pulley, then manoeuvred around the scaffolding, over the battlements, and up the roof by hand - and all of this with the usual cheerful good humour that is typical of this site.

The last three weeks' fine weather has helped, so there have been great steps forward in many areas in the last ten days.  The beautiful paving formed of overlapping black so schist which ran along between the back of the north range and the north curtain wall has now been covered with a screed and sealed so, although it could have been a real feature, it is, at least, carefully preserved.

There's a chill wind blowing today so I popped into the north range to warm up, which took all of two minutes as the place is like an oven, so the walls are now drying out nicely.  Even the chapel, which was very damp when I last saw it, is making progress.

Meanwhile, in the courtyard, 'H' is working on the west range.  This part of the project has been delayed by a problem with the supply of York stone, and some of the blocks that have now arrived have been damaged in transit - another example of how the location of this build have made the logistics so much more difficult.

One of the things that's so impressive about the site is that, while progress continues to be rapid, relatively few men are working here.  Obviously, it needs several men to shift these blocks of stone into position, but once they're there 'H' is left to get on with mortaring them into position.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Radiators in the Chapel

Mingary Castle is silhouetted against the early morning sun in this shot looking across the Sound of Mull from the main road through Kilchoan village.  This was the start of what promises to be another glorious day, in a November which, since the end of its first week when it stopped raining, has given us what must be record warm temperatures and some beautifully sunny days.

This has enabled some aspects of the work at the castle to crack on at an impressive pace.  The long job of cleaning the old mortar out of the lowest parts of the curtain walls, where they stand on the granophyre platform, has finally been finished, and the even longer job....

....of pointing the base of the walls has just begun - picture shows Chris Taylor at work, sadly on the shadowed side of the castle otherwise he might have been working up a suntan.

Chris pointed out these holes, which I hadn't noticed before.  There are several around the castle, just above the base of the walls, and they angle up into the walls.  They look as if they run right through the walls, so they may have been drains which helped remove rainwater from the courtyard.

Mark Rutherford Thompson has been working on one of the fireplaces in the west range, where the joists are in ready for the floor.  Mark may be one of the partners in lead contracting company Ashley Thompson, but the partners aren't shy of getting their hands dirty.  Perhaps Mark needs something to distract him - there have been endless problems recently with building supplies, not the least being damage that has been done to deliveries during transport along the peninsula's winding single-track roads.

A new contractor on site is GJW Plumbing & Heating from Keighley in Yorkshire.  Picture shows owner Graham Whitaker installing one of twelve temporary radiators which will shortly be joining the underfloor heating in drying out the north range.  This one is on the first floor, but....

....radiators are being installed within the walls, this one in the intramural passage where it runs down from the chapel to the small turret on the east side of the castle.  The biofuel boiler is already making a tremendous difference to the building, and once these are hooked up and working the effect should be dramatic.

Two radiators are going in to the chapel.  Imagine what the MacIain laird and his lady would have thought back at the beginning of the fourteenth century if they had had the warmth of these radiators when they were at worship in this room.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mingary Sunset

Many thanks to Mark Rutherford Thompson of builders Ashley Thompson for this picture taken at Mingary late yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting across the Sound of Mull at the end of another fine day.

After some days of heavy rain, November has settled down to warm days and nights and has remained dry.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Keeping the Rain Out

It rains here, a lot.  Today's fine morning will become this afternoon's near gale and semi-horizontal rain.  Keeping all this water out of the castle is one of builders Ashley-Thompson's current headaches.

While most of the tops of the battlements are now capped, water is still getting in along the walkways.  This should be stopped shortly when the Rosendale flags which are on order arrive.  These flagstones are similar to the York stone used for the battlements' capping, but darker and more difficult to source as supplies are reclaimed stone from the floors of old mill buildings in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

In some places, such as along the courtyard wall of the north range, a more modern method of sealing the top of the wall has been used, though this, again, will be covered with Rosendale flagstones.

But the main problem is that water is driven into the faces of the walls through the gaps between the stones.  Although these are filled with extremely hard lime mortar, it's permeable, so the water is almost sucked in.  This problem is general in older, stone-built houses in this area of Scotland, with most houses solving it by having an outer 'harling', slaked lime and coarse aggregate mortar - follow link here for more information.  We know the castle used to have a harling skin - bits of it remain on some of the exterior stone.

At some point this harling was removed or left to fall away.  Long-term readers of this blog will know that, early on, re-harling the castle was actively considered.

But the builders now have a big ally on their side: the biomass wood chip boiler which was fired up on Saturday.  It's housed in a building set into the east end of the moat, so it will be out of sight.  The machinery consists of a boiler, the yellow and green machine, which is fed by.... electrically driven screw which transfers wood chippings from Ardnamurchan Estate's forestry from the hopper behind the breeze-blocks to the left.

 The red cylinder is a pump which forces the hot water from the grey storage cylinder....

....into the ground-floor room at the east end of the main range, where it's piped to....

....a control board.  The north range building has been sealed as much as possible, and is already nice and warm.  Although the heating is still on a low setting it's being slowly turned up.  The difference in the walls is already noticeable: they're drying out nicely.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

North Range Progress

Thursday mornings, when I usually visit the castle, have become one of the pleasures of the week, but Mark Thompson rang early on Thursday to advise me not to come: a near gale, a southeasterly blowing straight in to the castle from the Sound of Mull, was making the site dangerous.  But what followed was almost worse, torrential rainfall which fell all afternoon and evening, leaving us swimming in over 83mm, over three inches, of water in a 24-hour period.

Despite these problems, work has continued at a brisk pace.  On Thursday they had to work indoors, but most of the coping stones are now in place along the battlements, including those that cap the two bartizans, the small turrets at the angles of the curtain walls.

One of the big changes is that a temporary staircase has now been installed in the stairwell in the north range.  While the wooden flights are temporary and will be replaced by magnificent oak structures, the floor levels will remain.  The landings are by no means straightforward, as is shown by....

....this one, where the landing isn't at floor level, so an additional three steps have to be inserted, the angle between the supporting beams being held by a metal plate called a crank - the black thing at right.

Almost all the tracking for the oak panelling in the north range has now been installed, and the underfloor heating on the ground floor is in.  As a result, the biomass boiler will be switched on next week, and the process of drying out the thick stone walls will begin.  To speed the process, some temporary radiators may be installed on the upper floors.

Out in the courtyard, the stonework in the east range has been completed so the building is now waiting for its roof.

It may have been damp at the castle today but the mood on site was excellent, for good reason.  On Tuesday they had a visit from the officers at Historic Scotland who are monitoring everything that is done to this listed monument, and the feedback was very positive.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Coping Stones on the Battlements

A couple of weeks ago pallets of York stone slabs arrived on site to be cut for the coping stones on top of the battlement walls.  They came in several standard sizes, which were then....

....cut and shaped by stonemason Damien Summerscales.  To do this, he had to climb up to the battlements and make a template for each piece, since very few would conform to a standard size.

Once ready, each slab then had to be lifted up the scaffolding, by hand using a pulley, and then carried round to its position....

....where Damien had prepared a bed of mortar for it.

The slab was then lifted carefully into place.

This picture shows what may be one of the longest runs of slabs completed so far, and the way that every embrasure - that's the lower part of the crenellations - has its own, carefully shaped stone....

 ....however small it might be.

All this has been achieved despite the recent almost continuous rain.  The last stages are to point under each slab, as has been done in this picture, and finally to point between them - but this hasn't been possible yet because of the weather.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Crenellation Compromise

The weather over the last week has been.... terrible.  Some 200mm, four inches, of rain has fallen, causing water to pour through the walls of the castle, and when builder Mark Thompson had to rush down to Glasgow last weekend to pick up urgently-needed materials, the main A82 road he was returning along was blocked by landslips and the Corran ferry was off due to high winds, so he slept two nights parked at the roadside.

Despite these dismal conditions, building has continued apace, and one of the main areas of development has been along the battlements.

As with most castles, when Mingary Castle was under siege, the main defence came from the tops of the walls - the battlements - which consisted of a walkway protected by an outer wall.  This wall had crenellations - higher parts, the merlons, separated by lower sections, the embrasures.

The problem with the tops of Mingary's walls at the time rebuilding started was that they were ragged from loss of stone, so the exact location of all the merlons and embrasures wasn't clear - picture shows the battlements of the north and east curtain walls before work started.  One solution would have been to have pointed up the ragged edges and left them.  At the other extreme, with advice from the archaeologists, it would have been possible to recreate the crenellations, which appear, as with most castles, to have been fairly regular.

The compromise that has been adopted has been to level off the tops of the walls with the highest points of the ragged edges.  It's quite difficult to see the end result as, in this picture at least, it's hard to separate the north range's stone chimneys from the north curtain wall.  Anyway, we've ended up with what might best be described as irregular crenellations.

What isn't in doubt is the quality of the workmanship that's gone into rebuilding these walls.  Every piece of rock, and all the mortar, has had to be carried up manually.  One of the builders estimated that there was sixty tonnes of it in all.

Some idea of the result can be seen from this picture, taken in August, which shows the crenellations along the southeastern, southern and western walls, with....

 ....this one taken more recently, when the work had been completed except for the cappings of York stone.  Along these sections the crenellations are fairly regular, but....

....this picture shows one of the bartizans, a small defensive tower at the corner of the wall, and the west wall to its right, where the regularity of the crenellations ends.

The full effect won't be visible until the outer scaffolding comes down.