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.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Stone Walls

I love this view of the castle. It's a brute of a building, solid, uncompromising and simply beautiful - and the view is being enhanced by stonemason Damien, who is a stone wall building machine. He's just visible at bottom right....

....where he's completing the wall between the ornamental garden area, which includes the car park, and the moat. An idea of the scale of his wall-building.... provided in this picture, and he has some way to go as the tops of all the walls have to be brought level with the top of the car park wall. Just visible over the top of the high wall at the far end of the moat is the biomass boiler building, the roof of which will be covered with either gravel or grass so that it will disappear from view.

Damien works at such speed that it's difficult to keep him provided with materials - to the extant that Mark Rutherford Thompson, one of the partners in the building company, has to get his hands dirty collecting lumps of rock.

Billy is Damien's assistant. Readers with long memories will recall that the local midges love Billy - hence the strange head attire, which is a midge net ready in position should these fearsome beasts attack him. Billy is 59 today - happy birthday!

By comparison with the exterior, the facade of the 18th century north range - now covered in scaffolding preparatory to harling - seems delicate, almost effeminate. To the casual visitor, it might seem inappropriate, until... steps inside and begins to appreciate to quality of materials and workmanship that have gone into this build.  This is the ground-floor dining room, with the oak floor down but the last of the panelling still to arrive.  It's a lovely room, warm and spacious.

At the heart of this build have been the workmen who have brought their many and varied skills - and have put up with all the privations of living in such a wild and remote location. 'H' has been here almost since the start but has landed himself a job back in his native Yorkshire, so is leaving this week.  He's seen in this picture putting the finishing touches to the wet room off one of the second floor bedrooms. The walls are tiled with Carrara marble delivered so, if you look closely, the patterns in adjacent sheets match across the join.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Hive of Activity

The week was ending on a sunny note when visited the castle, so I scrambled out onto one of the rocky promontories to the east of the site to take some pictures of the newly-revealed walls. As can be seen, not all the scaffolding is down, though....

....workmen were in the moat removing the last of it from the north curtain wall.  At the same time, stonemason Damien was working on the north side of the moat, where there will be a car park and formal garden.  He's building a stone wall along the top edge of the moat. It'll be shoulder height, and will run right across so it also separates the garden from the flat roof area of the biomass boiler.

The place is a hive of activity, with John-Paul (left), one of the partners in the main contractor Ashley-Thompson, moving between jobs and helping where he's needed. Here he's seen with Martin Chandler marking off lengths of oak panelling ready to be cut to size to cover the beams in the ground-floor dining room.

On the floor above, Martin Theaker (right) is working with Martin Chandler's son Sam in the sitting room. At the moment they're laying the oak flooring, the job of panelling the beams being complete.

The panelling is stunning, beautifully made and fitted, with every section of oak matching perfectly so no joins can be seen. It has been a long job but the quality should ensure that the finished work lasts for centuries.

'H' is still working in the attic bathroom, but in the last week he's finished laying the stone floor, fitted the marble surround to the bath, built the marble shelves, and tiled all the walls in marble. The marble is Italian Carrara marble. When I was there he was just finishing off, ready for the plumber to come in next week, after which 'H' will fit the marble panel in front of the bath.

On my way out I checked out one of the other bathrooms in the north range, the one in the chapel, where J-P has just finished fitting the Caithness stone skirting. Again, this now awaits the plumber's second fix.

Next week should see another big leap forward, with a variety of trades appearing on site.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Managers Appointed

It was great this morning to walk down to the castle in the company of these wonderful young people, Holly and Chris Bull, who have been appointed to manage Mingary Castle once it's open. They come from the sort of varied commercial background which makes them perfect for the job of marketing this venture, and for giving a warm welcome to the many guests who will be coming to enjoy both the castle's superb facilities and this lovely area.

As always, the site was buzzing with activity. The cheerful face on the left is John Forsyth, the scaffolder who built the amazing steel structure which has enveloped this place for almost two years -  he's seen here with Ashley Thompson's Chris Dickinson.  John is here to take the bulk of the remaining scaffolding down...., for example, the west and south walls are being revealed in their full glory for the first time.  But, as always seems to happen.... something comes down in one place it seems to pop up elsewhere.  Next week the harling of the interior walls in the courtyard begins, so John has erected scaffolding to provide access for the plasterers.

Work on the interiors is concentrated in the north range. The floor tiling is going down in the two main bathrooms - picture shows 'H' working on the attic bathroom - while....

....joiner Martin Theaker, left, has started on the long task of boxing in the exposed beams in the sitting room on the first floor, using oak panels to match the wall panelling.  It's an intricate job: each section requires the fixing of no less than six lengths of oak. They are all numbered as they have to match perfectly, and there is no room for mistakes as the oak cannot be repaired or filled.  Helping him is Sam Chandler, whom we've seen before when he worked with his father, Martin Chandler, building the roofs.

On the attic level, the walls are receiving their top coat. They'll lose none of their brightness as the colour being used is white with just a touch of ochre, which adds a bit of warmth to the light. The three lads working here are all from the Leeds area - from left, Dominic Taylor, Ryan Hatch and Andrew Green. They are all from Mark Galley Decorators Ltd, and we'll be seeing quite a lot of them over the next few weeks.

Friday, 10 July 2015


As I walked down the access track to the castle yesterday morning I found Mark Rutherford Thompson, one of the partners in main contractors Ashley Thompson, hard at work demolishing a drystone field wall. He seemed to be concentrating unusually hard on the job - little wonder, since he'd just disturbed two adders.  Sophie the dog was obviously worried about him, so was keeping him company.

A road is being put through here to give access to the shoreline just to the east of the castle....

....partly to speed the removal of the lower levels of scaffolding, the last of which is being dropped next week, and partly to give access to the dolerite sill below the castle, at the corner on the shingle beach, where further engineering work has to be done to prevent future erosion undercutting the castle walls.

The approach to the castle has changed dramatically since last week. As I approached, heavy equipment was moving round in the yard in front of the castle, where....

....all the offices, storage containers, loose building materials and temporary caravans have been removed since last week to allow work to start on landscaping the area.

Keeping this build supplied with materials has been one of the major headaches for the contractors.  It hasn't merely been a matter of ordering things so they turn up when they're needed, nor has it been the fact that they couldn't just pop down the road to get a part from the nearest DIY store - it has been the ravages caused by shifting everything down the local winding, potholed, single-track road that connects us to 'civilisation'.  This package contained the beautiful Carrara marble surface and surround for the bath in the attic - and one of the pieces has broken in transit.

Within the courtyard, the front doors for the east and west ranges have been fitted, as have three of the internal doors....

....while joiner Martin Theaker was fitting the door between the breakfast room and the kitchen, a top-quality oak door supplied by Gary Bibby joinery.

Chris took me up to the dry store, which is a couple of hundred yards from the site, to show off the superbly hand-crafted lead downpipes and hoppers which will be fitted to the courtyard facades of the three interior building once they have been harled.

While Mark has been demolishing a stone wall, stonemason Damien has been building a new one. He's just finished a length of wall that runs round the entrance to the area that was being cleared by DA Boyd's Martin Newton a couple of weeks ago just to the east of the castle.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Moment to Take Stock

For the first time in two years the castle seemed deserted this morning, with several of the men pulled off the job to organise the movement of the static caravans they've been living in.  So it seemed an appropriate moment to walk round and look at what's been achieved, as well as getting a glimpse of what the place is going to be like when it's finished in six to eight weeks' time.

The paving in the courtyard has been completed in the last week after Caithness Stone Industries Ltd made good their promise to get replacement blocks here as quickly as possible.

When one climbs to the battlements and looks across to the 18th century facade of the north range, it's worth remembering....

....what it looked like almost exactly two years ago, before Ashley Thompson started work.  When this picture was taken, there was great concern that, had any of the window lintels collapsed, the whole facade would have come crashing down.

At that time, in climbing to the battlements one took one's life into one's hands, and there was no way I would have hung out from their crumbling edges to take a picture like this.  The view would have shown a mound of rubble, the product of the systematic stripping of the three buildings over many decades.

This picture shows what conditions were like along the battlement walkway in June 2013, and this.... much the same view today.  What a difference!

It's a small but nice point of detail, but this picture and the top picture both show the caps that crown the chimney pots on the north and west ranges, cut from Caithness stone.