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.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sea Wall Drawings

When the site closed for the Christmas and New Year holidays work was progressing as well as could be expected on the sea wall which is being built to stabilise the lower part of the cliff face on which the castle stands. The first part of this process was to erect shuttering in stages along with appropriate reinforcing, and then to pour concrete to form the core of the wall.

Brian Smith, Technical Director at Arc Engineers, who is the structural engineer for Mingary Castle, has kindly made available his latest sketch details for the wall.

The first one shows the point at which the work currently stands, with the upper blocks of granophyre having been pinned some two years ago, and most of the concrete now poured to form the core of the sea wall.

Once the concrete has set, the next stage is to face the wall with local stone so that it blends in to the surrounding rock. Sourcing appropriate rock and moving it into place will be one of the challenges facing the builders and, once again, progress will be heavily dependent on the tides and on the weather, which isn't at its kindest in January and February.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Work Winds Down for the Year

Ardnamurchan enjoyed a fine day last Sunday, which took us into the hills at the back of Mingary Castle. This picture looks down from the summit of Glas Bheinn, the grey hill, and shows the land blanketed by a frost - not a common occurrence in an area washed by the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift. In the background are the hills of Morvern.

While we were enjoying ourselves, the builders, who are working a seven-day week, were using the opportunity to pour the next batch of concrete into the shuttering around the bottom of the cliff below the castle. This picture was taken this morning, and shows one of the problems with which they are contending - the sea comes right up to the bottom of the cliff.

They managed to get a fair amount of the job done on Sunday, but continuing problems with the tyres of the front loader that carries the concrete down the ramp to the beach brought work to a halt, and it doesn't look as if any more can be done before January.

Work elsewhere continues at a brisk pace. Damien, who is usually building stone walls all over the site, has been diverted to building steps down the path from the car park to the beach. At present the path is intimidatingly slippery but Damien, as always, is doing a superb job using Caithness flagstones. The picture also shows two of the very smart iron gates installed by TSB Ironcraft last week.

The electricians from R&B Electrical and Renewables, Brett on the left and Tigger on the right, are back again. They're installing security lights along the battlements behind the attic level but also doing some alterations to the lighting set into the battlement walkways.

Dominic Taylor (left) from decorators Mark Galley Decorators along with Mark (foreground) and Stacy (right) are seen giving the west range a final coat of paint. Work in this range is almost complete, and very good it looks. They, along with the electricians, will be here for a couple more days but....

....the lads from Ashley Thompson, the main contractors for Mingary Castle, will be finishing tomorrow and returning on Monday January 4th, so they wanted their annual photograph taken. From left to right, the lads are Richard, company director John-Paul, Damien, Sophie the dog, Martin and the other director, Mark. It's been a tough few weeks for these men, with the very trying weather and delays in deliveries, so they richly deserve a very relaxing and enjoyable break.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Storms Batter the Castle

The weather has further deteriorated since last week's post, with a succession of gales coming in accompanied by heavy rain, lightning and hail. Last night's gusts blew one of the caravans in which the builders were trying to sleep off its blocks and did other damage. To make matters even more miserable, their sense of isolation has been deepened by the loss of their internet connection, they've lost their mobile phone signal because the mast on Mull is down, and their TV aerial has been blown away.

We've been recording winds of over 80mph at ground level on the peninsula, and as high as 116mph yesterday on the hilltops, so conditions at the moment really are extreme.

This hasn't stopped the men from TSB Ironcraft coming up to fit the six gates in the stone walls and the electric gate at the entrance to the car park. Seen working on the electric gate are Justin Hargreaves (left) and Keith Berry, for whom this is a first visit to Ardnamurchan, and....

....Tim Birbeck, who has been here before when he fitted the railings along the battlements and down the battlement access stairs.

With all the shuttering in place by the end of last week, Ashley-Thompson's men started the big concrete pour below the cliff on Saturday morning as soon as it was light. The tide was rising but, being neaps, shouldn't have caused them a problem.  But the weather had other ideas, with a southwesterly gale developing and hammering their exposed position, bringing with it some 34mm of rain and pushing the tide so far up that, when they finally gave up, they were paddling around on the slippery wave-cut platform with their legs entangled in seaweed.

They got the job done beneath the west wall but, as can be seen, didn't start on the longer section below the southern wall.

With the weather forecast grim for this week, it was decided to send most of the men home for a break, to return next week when the winds are due to drop. They'll then be trying to get as much done as possible before they leave for their Christmas break next Friday.

With more panelling arriving all the time, Martin Theaker has been working on the short passageways which connect the western rooms to the stair well. He's seen here fitting one of the architraves on the end of the panelling.

Sandra Jeffrey is back for ten days working on the soft furnishings. This morning she was hand-sewing crewel work to the canopy of the big four-poster bed in the main bedroom, but she also has the curtains around all five four-posters to do, as well as the curtains on the windows.

The weather here changes by the moment. Blown along by a gusting southwester, the clouds suddenly cleared, the sun made a brief appearance, and the scene was magical.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Grey Days

If the sky is cloudy - and that, now that we're plunging towards mid winter, is how it seems to spend a lot of its time - then it hardly gets light all day. When I arrived at the castle at nine yesterday morning, in this half-light, three men - the two Chrises and Richard - were working on the sea wall at the bottom of the cliff below the castle.

They've completed the shuttering ready for the next pour of concrete, which is due this weekend, and are now rebuilding the scaffolding to give access. While the mix is made in the car area in front of the castle, it's brought down in buckets by a tractor and then transferred, by hand, into place.  It should be fun: we're forecast for a 'strong gale' all tonight and the rain continues in to Saturday morning, along with some heavy rain.

This is the view as one enters the castle through the front gate. The grey door leads into the mezzanine level of the west range, and the steps to the right go up to the battlements.

The open entrance in this picture leads into a passageway round to the left which terminates in one of the castle's three garderobes. However, at the moment there is a....

....hole in the entrance to the passage, below which is the castle dungeon. Although it remains damp, it has now been pointed and prepared for its new role as the castle cellar. Next week, specialists are arriving to fit the lift which, when raised, will form a floor to give access to the garderobe, but can be lowered to give access to the cellar.

Walking round the site, one has the impression that there is relatively little left to be done. The main task remains the oak panelling. Martin is seen here working on the bookcase in the castle study, where he is fitting the shelving. The builders are waiting for more of the room panels to arrive, and for the rest of the fittings for the stairs.

There are some very neat features in the panelling. Behind where Martin is standing in the previous picture is one of the lancet windows, but this deep recess can be closed off on a wet and windy winter's night by a door.

Most of the plumbing and electrics are now finished, with only one or two things remaining to be sorted out - like there's a glass screen to separate off this bathroom on the top, attic floor. Much of what's left will be finished before the workmen leave for a very well-deserved Christmas holiday on the 18th, but they'll be back for the last big push on 4th January.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Longest Wall

When I arrived at the castle Damien the wall-building machine was hard at work on the stone wall which runs down the west side of the gardens in front of the castle. He says it's the longest straight stone wall he's ever built. Chris measured it at something over 50 metres.

Indoors, builder John-Paul Ashley, who is a plasterer by trade, was working his way round the buildings touching up those places on walls and ceilings which have been damaged, for example where the electricians have had to move a light.

This sort of work, and the presence of the plumbers who are sorting out one or two problems, is a sign that the job is moving steadily towards completion, but there are some things which are less easily fixed.... the persistent leaks around the lancet windows. J-P says there is very little they can do about these as the great stone curtain walls are at their thinnest here and, although all the rocks of which they're made have been carefully re-pointed, the wily Ardnamurchan rain will continue to find its way through.

The lovely oak panelling continues to arrive steadily and, as fast as it comes, it's fixed into place. Last week these panels which line the stairs had just arrived. They're in place now, and this section of stair will be finished once the skirtings appear.

Fitting each section of panelling in the north range is a laborious job. This picture looks from the stairs into the entrance to the sitting room, which is a passage as it passes through one of the original, thick stone walls. Getting the ceiling panel to fit has involved constant trial and error, followed by....

....the careful shaving of thin slivers of wood by Richard, left, and Martin, and then trying again. It's not that the panels weren't correctly measured to start with, more that they are being fitted in an old stone building where few lines run true.

As I left it had begun to rain again - we had over an inch of rain on Monday - but the men working with Damien on the wall were still hard at it. This is one of them, Chris, who has been at the castle now for almost a year and a half. Like so many of the permanent workmen, he's from Yorkshire, and has had to get used to being far from home and working in difficult conditions. I admire their grit.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Damp and Breezy Week

When Holly visited the castle last week Storm Abigail was imminent. While Abigail wasn't as wicked as forecast, she's been followed by three further gales, the last one yesterday, and the week has seen copious amounts of rain.  Another squall was moving up the Sound of Mull offshore of the castle when I arrived this morning, and a full-grown sea eagle, flying into the wind, was just passing overhead.

Work on the sea defences is at a temporary standstill, partly because the builders are waiting for the last pour of concrete to go off, but also....

....because they're having a bit of trouble with the machinery. In the normal way, a specialist contractor would be out within 24 hours to fix this tyre, but in this remote location J-P will have to wait three times as long.

So the men have been deployed to other work. Young JJ Dagnall has been banished to the dungeon where he's polishing the lime mortar pointing in somewhat unpleasant conditions. Like all good dungeons, this one is dark, damp, and has a persistent leak through the roof. When the job is finished, this will become the castle's wine cellar.

JJ has been over here for a few months following the completion of his apprenticeship in France, to gain some work experience. This has been pretty extreme experience by any standards, but he's done well and deserves the break he now plans to take, travelling in Europe.

Joiner Martin Theaker is about to start work fitting the panels which run up the lowest flight of stairs. These include the panels he's pointing to, which are being fitted instead of spindles below the banister. He showed me a drawing of what the staircase will look like once he's fixed all the panels in place, and it promises to be impressive.

Electricians Brett (left) and Tigger from R&B Electrical & Renewables are back, working in the bedrooms where soft furnishings specialist Sandra Jeffrey's crewel work panels have now been completed. All Sandra's curtains and bed hangings have arrived, so she'll be back shortly to hang them.

As well as light switches and wall sockets, Tigger and Brett are installing the light fittings. The bulbs they're putting into both chandeliers and wall lights are 50,000 hour LEDs but just in case the power goes off....

....they're also fitting emergency 7w LED downlights powered by batteries in what they call 'sausage packs', modelled here by Brett. The shape of the 'sausages' enables the pack to be pushed up into the ceiling, just above the light, and its batteries should keep the light burning for up to 24 hours.

I always report to the works office when I'm leaving the site, where I found Damien, Chris and John-Paul in their daily ten o'clock business meeting. When I asked Chris how they had fared in the recent miserable weather, he was up-beat: they had seen worse.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The not so calm, before the storm.....

With Jon away Chris and I (Holly) had the opportunity to go and see the progress made on site this week. Having been messaged by friends and family warning us of nasty Abigail, who is apparently going to huff and puff and blow our house down, we headed to site to snap some pictures early before she got too bad.

Even by then Abigail was starting to show her presence and the team working on the sea defences were starting to pack down for the day so that they were safe and away from the worst of it.

Though up in the garden there was no rest for Damien who was busy finishing the final wall to complete the garden on the west side. He is about a 3rd of the way across now so by next week we will hopefully see the completed wall.

It was a relief to get inside away from the wind, the warmth that welcomed us now all the radiators and underfloor heating are working was a treat. Mark and Martin have been working on this final wall of the dining room and we think the cupboards look great and can't wait to properly unpack the crockery into its new home.

The green breakfast service and white dinner service have all been hand made; continuing the great craftsmanship of this whole project.

Up stairs in the sitting room another rooms panelling is finished and we are just waiting for the mantle piece until this whole room is complete.

Sadly there is no sign of Sandra this week, just her sewing machine, she has finished the fabric panelling in the second bedroom but has gone home until they are ready for her to hang the curtains.

When we got to the top floor the crashing sea below kept drawing the eye. We couldn't help imagining sitting in one of the windows, with a cup of tea watching the Raasay ferry bounce back and forth to Tobermory.