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, 25 March 2014

Exterior Pointing Starts

We've seen - at last - some improvement in the weather, though we had a frost the other night which doesn't help progress.  With the pointing in the courtyard largely finished, John-Paul Ashley has been able to move his men to the next stage, the pointing of the exterior of the castle's great curtain walls.  Where they work is a bit of a moveable feast.  This morning they were on the north wall as we had a brisk southerly wind which was bringing in some showers.

Picture shows, from right to left, Matthew, Adam, Liam, John and Nick.

The condition of the mortar around each stone varies hugely.  For some, no attention is needed at all because the original mortar is fine, but in other places the mortar has all but disappeared.

This rough diagram shows, from top to bottom, the stages in filling a deep recess.  In 1 and 2, the crack is filled and the mortar allowed to go off at each stage.  The depth left at stage 2 is about 40mm, and in stage 3 this is overfilled to give a rounded profile.  When this has almost gone off - that it, hardened - it is then struck, quite briskly, with a stiff brush called a churn brush to form an angular profile.  The final, flat profile, comes when a soft, dry brush is used, and this gives the mortar a polish which brings out the texture of the mix.

J-P is seen here at the northeast corner of the castle, where he completed some sample pointing for inspection by Historic Scotland.

I think this is a good example of the very great care that's going in to the restoration of Mingary Castle.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Mark Thompson

I met Mark Thompson at the site today.  Mark is John-Paul Ashley's partner in the building firm which is doing the work at the castle, and he has every reason to be looking a little serious in this picture - he's just come up from another of Ashley-Thopmson's sites in the south of England where the sun was shining and the temperature 18C.  Here, if anything, conditions have worsened, with a gale through last night and some 20mm rain in the last twenty-four hours.  When Mark stepped outside for this picture, it was during one of the few breaks in the driving rain.

Mark's here to work with J-P on gearing up for a big push as soon as the weather breaks.  J-P's been away in Aberdeen organising accommodation, in the form of caravans, for the necessary increase in the workforce, but managing a job as big as this one means that we'll be seeing a lot more of Mark over the next few months.

Ashley-Thompson's website is here.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Rain clouds were massing over Mingary Castle this morning when I arrived to see how the builders were getting on.  The west coast of Scotland is renowned for its dreach weather, but this winter has been miserable enough to try the patience of any builder.  Yet I found John-Paul and his men as cheerful as ever, if frustrated that the almost continuous rain prevents them from getting on more quickly.

There are plenty of signs of progress.  A start has been made on the pointing work on the main building, the 'north range'.  The west wall of this building is relatively sheltered, so Richard has begun the job here - though he had to give up as the expected rain arrived and water began to run down the stonework.

The scale of the task is illustrated by this section of the wall at the east end, where the tape measure shows a gap which is just on 60cm deep.  The stone immediately above where the tape goes in is completely loose and can be lifted out.

Despite this, whole sections of the wall are in very good shape, with some very old but perfectly stable harl - exterior plaster - still there to protect it.

Humphrey, one of Ardnamurchan Estate's two deer hounds, was very much in evidence this morning.  He usually hangs around the Estate office and I had assumed he was here to escape the meeting which was happening between the Trust, its architect Francis Shaw, and representatives of Historic Scotland.  The latter are here as part of the ongoing discussions about various aspects of the building work, and these are taking time.  Since work can't proceed until Historic Scotland are happy, it's another area where John-Paul is having to be patient.

Humphrey's presence had nothing to do with the meeting.  He was waiting patiently in the hope of seeing one of the builder's dogs which was on heat.

As I was leaving I noticed this tiny flower growing between the stones near the entrance to the car park.  It's scurvy grass, growing in the most difficult of places - it's probably been run over by several builders' trucks - but it seemed to illustrate that, with patience, one can succeed in even the most trying circumstances.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Winter's End?

In a community like this one, where much of its daily business is outdoors, the weather is always a topic of conversation, and the same's true on a building site.  Readers will be aware that we've had a truly dreadful winter, with unprecedented quantities of rainfall, and more gales than anyone can remember.  John-Paul Ashley, the partner in Ashley Thompson who has been on site almost continuously throughout this deluge, always planned a huge speeding up of the work once March came in, and now, with winter behind us, we're on the edge of that acceleration.

Not that progress hasn't been considerable despite the weather.  The pointing of the interior of the curtain walls is now up to battlement level.  The next stage here is to rebuild the walkway and replace the flags so that the pointing can be completed, after which the whole courtyard interior is to be plastered.  While at one time there was talk of also plastering the outside of the curtain walls - they were once 'harled' , as it's called here, so they were almost white, something which would have made the castle stick out like a modern lighthouse - this won't now happen.

At the same time, the gable ends will be rebuilt on the main building, the 'north range', after which the new roof will go on - what can be seen here is the temporary roof which has kept the interior of the castle dry through the Ardnamurchan winter.  To do this, the chimneys and their flues will have to be installed.  With the roof on, work can continue apace in the interior.

Those of you with sharp eyes will have noticed that the last tufts of grass remaining on Mingary Castle are to be seen in this picture, on top of the west chimney.

We've had a couple of sunny days to cheer us and remind us that winter is almost over, but the two workmen building the structure which will house the biomass boiler - Paul and Richard - seemed to think that the blockwork went up better in today's misty conditions.  Looking at the building now one can see its main features.  The passage on the left will house a staircase coming down through a hatch at the level of the car park.  The area at top right will contain the hopper which holds the wood chip - all from Ardnamurchan Estate forests - while the area at right is for the boiler.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

It's Wet, but it's Progress

It's a week since I was last at the castle and, during that time, the weather has continued to be about as wet as it could be.  Today, after almost 24 hours of rain yesterday, started grey and dry, but it's forecast to be raining by lunchtime, and there are gales promised for both tomorrow and Saturday.

In the circumstances, one can only take one's hat off to builder John-Paul and his men, who have worked through the wettest winter that anyone can remember, and continue to make steady progress despite the sopping walls.  In the courtyard, the pointing of the stonework has continued - under the shelter of black polythene sheeting.

The work in the courtyard is drawing to an end, though the pointing needs to be brushed off once it's dry - which may take some time.

Meanwhile, the biomass boiler house grows apace.  The mortar here, too, is going off miserably slowly, so there's a limit to how quickly the courses of blockwork can go on.

The steel girders for the flat roof have arrived, but it'll be some time before they can go on as the masonry partitions within the building have still to be built.