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, 30 April 2015

Stabilising the Dolerite

Architect Francis Shaw of Shaw & Jagger and the project's structural engineer Brian Smith of Arc Engineers were on site yesterday morning to look at the last remaining major engineering problem of this work - what to do about the dolerite layer which lies below the granophyre.  This picture was taken back in 2010, before any work began.

Readers will recall that the granophyre was stabilised in a spectacular way back in May 2013 by inserting steel rods which pinned back the falling blocks of rock, an operation which saved the castle's curtain walls from tumbling into the sea.

Even though it showed signs of erosion by the pounding of seven centuries of storm waves, the dolerite wasn't fixed at the same time because it is exceptionally hard, and was quite strong enough to bear the additional weight of the scaffolding.  But, now that the scaffolding is close to being removed, decisions have to be made about stabilising the dolerite.

Francis, right, and Brian, pointing, spent some time with builders Mark Rutherford Thompson (to Brian's left) and John-Paul Ashley (left) looking at the problem.

Not only does Brian have to come up with a way of stabilising the rock, he is also determined that any 'fix' will last a good few hundred years.

While decisions have yet to be made, the outline of Brian's ideas is shown in this sketch. The bulk of the 'fix' is concrete, held in against the dolerite using two metre 'rock nails'.  Outside this concrete is a further layer of corrosion-resistant concrete to which a facing of local rocks will be held using high-grade stainless steel brackets through which a reinforcing wire mesh will be threaded.

It's little wonder that Mark looks worried in this picture as it will be J-P and he that are doing the work.  But it's the sort of challenge they seem to relish, though there's one other problem the builders to contend with - the tide comes in twice a day and covers this area.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Specialists on Site

This build never did hang around, but the pace on site yesterday was, if anything, more energetic than ever, an impression heightened because the resident building team has been joined on site by three specialist contractors.  That said, the first thing one notices on approaching the castle is stonemason Damien who, having finished raising the retaining walls at the east end of the moat, is now deep in the moat itself building a stone facing wall on the side of the biomass boiler house. This time he's using mortar - it's a big wall!

While work is continuing within the breakfast room and above the west garderobe, the first contractor I met was Alex Millson from Leeds, who is contracted by Aberford Interiors to fit their top-end kitchens.  He was working in the main kitchen at the east end of the North Range, a room in which the plaster is still drying on the walls.

Alex runs his own business, Millson Joinery, and has worked in France and New Zealand as well as all over the UK - amongst other talents, he speaks fluent French and is a trained shipwright.  He's been at Mingary since Monday and said he would be finished by the end of the day - though he'll be back to fit more units in the kitchenette and utility in the East Range.  Like so many of the skilled people working on the castle, he doesn't have the need for his own website, but can be contacted at

In the other main ground floor room, which will be the dining room, plasterers Neil, Jess and Dave were still on site.  They were hard at work on the ceiling, two of them moving round the room on stilts.  The exposed beams will be panelled in due course.

In bedroom 2 on the second floor I renewed the acquaintance of Gary Bibby (left) of Gary Bibby Joinery, whom we last saw up here in January.  Gary's been busy making the oak panelling that will be fitted into several of the rooms - full panelling in the dining room and sitting room, and half height 'dado' panelling in the bedrooms, office and stairwell.  The first panels, for the sitting room, are already built - though after today's visit and a re-measuring of the rooms, a few modifications will have to be done.

He's seen here with 'resident' joiner Martin Theaker who will be fitting the panels as they arrive.  The panels are unstained oak and will come with just a coat of Danish oil. They'll be delivered room by room in sections - because access is so limited - and it'll be Martin's job to assemble them, a task he says he's looking forward to.  The sitting room panels will be here in a week or so.

Up in one of the attic rooms John-Paul was working on the dowelling on the corners, preparatory to plastering this room, but.... the other main attic room Neil and his men have finished the plastering, and one can see.... the doweling works.  All this needs now is a bit of builder's caulk to fill the gap between wood and plaster, some paint, and the job's done.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Plasterers Start Work

It was a lovely morning when I arrived at the castle but it hasn't been so good throughout this last week.  Monday was a complete washout, with an inch of rain in the twenty-four hours, which put a stop to most outside work.  Despite this, progress is impressive, and the finishing date for the project, July/August, looks attainable.

The biomass boiler has been working for some months but it's only now been possible to set about completing the roof covering and the stonework at its eastern end.  The building - the picture is looking straight down on it from the top lift of the scaffolding along the north curtain wall - will effectively be buried in the east end of the moat, but the stone walls need building up.

Stonemason Damien and Richard are doing the work.  Along the upper level they've built a superb drystone wall which will be a feature of the approach.  It drops down to the lower level as it approaches the castle wall.  While I was watching....

....they lifted the first of the capping stones into position; these, as can be seen, are being stabilised with a bit of concrete.

Inside the north range, Tigger (left), from R&B Electrical & Renewables is back.  When I came in he was working with Chris in the kitchen to instal the datalink cabling.  There's some urgency in this as the last section of plasterboard needs to be finished and the place plastered as soon as possible, because the kitchen fitters are arriving on Monday.

Which is why, when I went back in half-an-hour later, John-Paul was in there fitting some dowelling along the cornices preparatory to starting the plastering.  This will give a curved edge, rather than a sharp one, along the cornices, something which was common in older plasterwork.

J-P may be the boss of his own, very successful building firm today, but he's a plasterer by trade, so it was very interesting to go upstairs with him to meet....

....the man to whom J-P was apprenticed when he was learning his trade.  This is Neil Hobson whose firm, Neil Hobson Plastering, is based in Otley, North Yorkshire.  You won't find the company on the internet - Neil's reputation is quite enough to keep him in work - but, if you're looking for a top-rate plasterer, he can be contacted on 01943 468 013.

Working with him now are his son, Jess (right) and Dave Nicholson, seen here fitting plasterboard in the stairwell of the north range.  The three will be back and forth over the next few weeks as the various areas that need plastering become available.  In the north range, there's the whole of the attic - which is where they were working today - the kitchen and the hall, and they have all the east and west ranges to do.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Light in the Courtyard

At the time of last week's post, the weather had just made a change from a long winter into a late spring.  The fine spell has stuck, so when we went down to the castle this morning it was bathed in sunshine.

On this visit, time was spent walking around the castle to obtain a feel for the amount of light that would get in to the living areas, which are all inside the high curtain walls.  It's spring, and the sun will climb much higher as we move into summer, but even shortly after nine in the morning the courtyard is already filled with sunlight.  In this picture, the west range is to the left, and the main, north range to the right.

The attic rooms are the only ones which are high enough to look over the battlements.  As the sun moves round with the day, they'll receive plenty of sunshine and the view, on a less hazy day, across the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, will be spectacular.

The second floor windows too will receive plenty of direct sunlight, but their view is restricted to the courtyard.  If, as is now planned, the walls of the interior of the courtyard are harled - that is, covered with a lime render which is full of small stones and pebbles - it'll be lighter still.  Harling is used on most west highland houses in this area, and has another purpose, to help resist rainwater penetration.

Although deeper into the courtyard, the first floor windows also receive plenty of direct and reflected light.  The latter is pleasantly warm from the colours in the local and York stones.

The big ground floor room will be darkest, but by late morning the sun will be shining straight into it.  The completed courtyard terrace, paths and cobbled areas will provide plenty of interest in its outlook.

With much of the work on the interior fittings of the north range completed ready for the arrival of the plasterers and oak panelling, several of the workmen were sweeping it out, and while we were there the kitchen units arrived.  Both of these gave us a feel that another milestone has been reached in the refurbishment of the building.

The stonework in the dungeon is now complete, so stonemason Damien has moved to the retaining wall at the east end of the moat.  Tucked into the moat here is the biomass boiler which provides heat for the castle.  Once the wall is raised and the roof of the boiler house completed, this building will, effectively, disappear underground.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Dungeon's Future

We've just been through another patch of rough weather, with snow down to sea level and gales earlier in the week, but the weather is changing for Easter, and my weekly Thursday visit to the castle was in hazy sunshine and a warm, light breeze.

High above, a skein of greylag geese crossed the sky, moving northwards with the changing season, movement which was reflected in the castle workforce, several of whom have gone south for a well-deserved Easter break.

Despite this, there were plenty of progress to be seen since my last visit.  The courtyard drains are largely done, and the upper part terrace isn't far from having its Caithness flags laid, but the main progress has been is a small, underground room off the courtyard.

There seems to have been some uncertainty as to what the dungeon was going to be used for.  Its entrance, just in from the main gate and above the level of the courtyard, is shared with the western of the two garderobes - and to reach the garderobe one has to step across the dungeon's vertical access point.  So, in the days when it was in use, there must have been a wooden hatch covering, and sealing in, the miscreants it contained.

Standing in the entrance and looking down into the dungeon, one can see how confined the space is - it measures 9ft by 4.5ft, and is 8ft high. The access to the garderobe goes round to the left, where the ladder is lying.

Now that a decision has been made on the future of the dungeon, stonemason Damien is working on the stone walls which are badly decayed in places.  Access will be by a lift, comprising a platform which, when up, will seal the dungeon and provide a safe crossing to the garderobe, but which will lower to enable the dungeon to be reached.

There certainly isn't much room down there - enough for Damien and one other workman hiding in the corner, so it's hardly a living space.  However, there's plenty of room, and certainly the right temperature, for it to store a few bottles - so it's to be the castle's wine cellar.

Imagine the thoughts of its one-time prisoners had they known that, one day, the room would be filled with fine wines!

The arrival of the first oak panelling is imminent, so work on the walls of the rooms in the north range has been progressing quickly.  Joiner Martin seems happy enough at his work, and that's one of the bosses at right, Mark Rutherford Thompson, who also seems to be smiling.  It must have been the weather, because there have been some frustrating delays recently in the arrival of materials, and Mark hasn't seen his home in three months.