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, 29 October 2015

The Tides

It was a bit of a surprise this morning to find building contractor Mark Rutherford Thompson consulting a set of tide tables. I assumed this related to his taking a boat out this coming weekend but....

....the real reason is that the tides are vitally affecting progress on the sea wall below the castle. For the last week the high spring tides have left much of the face clear during the working day, so the team has been able to get on with the huge job of pouring the concrete, but next week the tides will be up during the day, making life much more difficult.

Pouring the concrete has been a massive undertaking. Since no ready-mix truck could possibly get down onto the beach, some 28 cubic metres, weighing around 50 tonnes, of a special seawater-resistant mix has been hand made in the working area in front of the castle in a big pan mixer, loaded into a container and brought down on a front loader, to be shovelled behind the shuttering. On Tuesday, at the height of their efforts, the sea came in on an unusually high 5.1 metre tide, and almost wrecked a day's work. To make matters worse, we've had some high winds this week which brought the tide over the top of the concrete face, but the fact that the concrete is quick-setting meant that no damage occurred.

There's a great deal still to be done, as the new wall will slopes upwards and inwards to cover the rest of the dolerite face. At the moment the wall is 2 metres high at its western end, and only a few centimetres at the eastern as the rock platform slopes upwards at that end. The the whole thing has to be hidden behind a layer of local rock.

While the joiners have been busy helping with the shuttering, they've also been hard at work in the north range. This section of panelling for the area over the inside of the dining room door arrived too small, leaving a missing strip on the right, but Martin Chandler managed to fit a length of oak which, once it's oiled, will blend in perfectly.

Adrian Eyles and Chris Manger of Dickinsons Antiques of Gargrave, Yorkshire have been working on the banisters, putting in the spindles, so one section of the main stairway is now compete - and very good it looks.

Not everything is going so well. This picture shows the door in the breakfast breakfast room which  leads through to one of the two western garderobes....

....where there is an ingress of water through the ceiling. On the whole, the work done on the outside of the castle seems to have made it reasonably watertight, but there are bound to be places where the persistent, at time horizontal Ardnamurchan rain will find its way in, and they will be dealt with.

More of the furniture has been arriving, and it has gone into temporary store on the Estate, but the crockery is being stored where it belongs in the kitchen. Its arrival makes one realise how close the castle now is to opening - which is still scheduled for Christmas.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

First Storm of the Winter

The weeks of fine autumn weather had to end, which they did in style last night with a westerly gale which roared through in the hours around midnight, giving us gusts to force nine in exposed parts of the peninsula.  It also gave the workmen in their caravans a sleepless night, but it had largely cleared by morning, though winds continued to gust to near gale force, making conditions for those working outside treacherous.

The main outside work at present is on the southwest-facing rock face below the castle, the face which takes the brunt of the sea's pounding during winter gales. The first set of rock pins is in, and....

....the shuttering is almost up, ready for a first pour of concrete next week. Picture shows Chris Taylor working on it, but others who have been getting wet include Chris Dickinson, Damon, and.... of the partners in building company Ashley Thompson, Mark Thompson.

The main strengthening will be up to a level of about 2.5m from the limestone surface of wave cut platform, then the structure will slope in to the fissure which can be seen at the top of the picture.  This is the join between the dolerite and the granophyre - so almost all the dolerite will be covered.

Conditions are, as I said, treacherous, with sudden gusts catching people at unexpected moments. Chris was just walking up to the steel viewing platform when a strong gust got under his safety helmet and sent it spinning into the sea.

More sections of the main staircase in the north range have arrived, with Adrian Eyles, right, a partner in Dickinsons Antiques of Gargrave, Yorkshire. He's here with Chris Manger, left, to assemble them. Dickinson's Antiques have also been responsible for all five of the four-poster beds which have been installed so far, the two in the attic rooms having been entirely made by the company, the other three being antiques which they have refurbished.

This is the latest of these four-posters, which has recently been assembled in the bedroom in the west wing - that's J-J Dagnall polishing the carved headboard.

This will be the builders' third winter on site, and I personally take my hat off to them for their endurance.  Spirits are high on site, and the aim is now to get the job done and dusted before Christmas.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Crewel Work

The fine weather seems to go on and on, much to the delight of the builders. It isn't only that it makes their work much easier, it lifts the spirits, so there was a very cheerful atmosphere on site when I arrived this morning.

Having two skilled joiners around is resulting in some beautiful woodwork. These rugged steps, built and fitted by Martin Chandler, are perfect for linking the steep stone steps that lead up to the battlements to the flagged courtyard.

Martin has other skills as well. His brother Mark made all the lead gutters and downpipes, so Martin took on the job of fixing the gutter along the front of the breakfast room after the windows had been fitted. Lead guttering is heavy stuff, so.... had to be supported by an oak block mould.

Several of the rooms are nearing completion, of which the breakfast room is one. All the woodwork, including the skirting and round the doors, is now very neat. This picture looks towards the south side of the room, with the door leading down to the utility room on the right and the door to what was the garderobe at the left.

Looking the opposite way, the stone door which was cut into the north range is now complete, with wood framing the stone.

The bannisters have been fitted by a subcontractor but await several parts from the manufacturer. While the woodwork is going to be one of the features of the building, another....

 ...will undoubtedly be the crewel work panels which line the walls of the two bedrooms on the second floor. Today their manufacturer, Sandra Jeffrey, was on site to see their fitting.

The material is made in Bangladesh but has been delayed due to severe flooding at the end of last year.

The relief is made from chain stitching, then this is tacked onto a backcloth which has the pattern printed onto it. This detailed work is done by women, and Sandra says that each has her own style, so that on some of the work she can tell them apart.

The crewel work arrives at the castle and is fitted on to large panels cut to size, the top and bottom of which joiner Martin Theaker slots in behind the panelling. The panels then have to be invisibly fixed to the wall so the joins aren't visible, but they've yet to work out exactly how they're going to do this. Then the wooden frames for light switches, each individually made by Martin, have to be fitted round the switch plates.

Sandra is a specialist in a number of different skills as well as the crewel work. She can be contacted at and Martin at

My last stop of the day was the battlements, from which the evolving ornamental gardens can be seen. The arch and paved walkways are now complete, and the plinth at the centre how has its occupant.... Ardnamurchan eagle.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Skills Traditional and Modern

October is often the best month of the year in the west Scottish Highlands, and this one is working hard to make up for a rather dismal summer. This morning's low sun was ideal for showing off the repointed and repaired eastern wall of the castle - and it does look good! Other than the 18th century chimney and the crenellated battlements, this is much as the castle would have looked when it was first built some 700 years ago.

Materials for Mingary's latest metamorphosis are arriving all the time. This morning saw the delivery of the the bannisters on the main staircase in the north range, every piece made of solid oak and, despite the smiles from builder Mark Rutherford Thompson and Chris Taylor, very heavy to carry.

All this is more work for joiner Martin Chandler, who has almost finished the stairs in the west range - all that's left to do is fix the tops on the main posts - and was pleased to show off the little seat he'd built into the area at the top of the stairs. The skills of the joiners in fitting the oak panelling and such things as the door architraves and skirtings, and in thinking of small features which will make visitors' stay even more of a pleasure, are becoming a feature of this project. As can be seen here, the skirtings are now completed in the west range while....

....more and more of the heavy, solid oak doors are being hung. This picture is of the master bedroom in the north range, with its four-poster bed and en suite bathroom.

These traditional skills are being blended with the very latest technology. This picture was taken in one of the bedrooms on the second floor of the north range, where specialists are about to instal a cabinet under a mediaeval lancet window to house all the switches for the internet, TV, telephone, data and other cabling.

In ten rooms there are these little Heatmiser control boxes which are connected to the wi-fi, enabling the biomass central heating to be controlled remotely through a smart phone.

Below the watergate, Chris and J-J Dagnall were back at drilling holes into the dolerite sill which will enable the protective stone wall to be pinned to solid rock. Long-term readers of this blog will recall that engineer Brian Smith of Arc Engineers visited the site in April before drawing up plans to prevent further undercutting by the sea of the rock on which the castle is built - see post here.

This wall is a major project. So far Chris and J-J have taken three days to drill 15 holes out of a total of 70, varying in depth between two and four metres, into which will be fixed steel rods.

The arch leading through to the garden at the front of the castle is finished, and work continues on laying the Caithness flagstone pathways around the garden. To the left can be seen the stone posts of the gateways, one for vehicle the other for pedestrian access.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Autumn Mists

Thick mist blanketed the site this morning yet people commuting in to work from outside Kilchoan were reporting bright sunshine a few miles up the road. This must have been the sunniest week of the summer, even though we're now well into autumn, and it has enabled the builders to press on with outside work such as the formal gardens at the front of the castle.

This is a view of the area in front of the castle taken from the top of the north curtain wall, with the moat just visible at bottom left. The strange structure with the green roof....

....was built a week or so ago when the forecast was - incorrectly - for rain, and was designed so the stonemason could work on the arch in the dry. In the event it's acted as an awning, and the stonemason hasn't been able to work up a suntan.

Several of the blocks from the original arch were missing, so Damien has been fashioning them from the bottoms of the stone pillars which are being erected at the entrance to the castle. The four stones seen here forming the lower part of the arch are originals, while the four down the sides were made on site.

Each week seems to see the arrival of a new specialist contractor, but this week there was a welcome return by Dave Morris, managing director of Design Glass and its sister company Touchstone, with his team, Alex Bottomley and Andy Mitchell, to fit the three 'windows' between the breakfast room and the courtyard. Like the little windows they installed here previously - see earlier entry here - these ones are beautifully crafted and were being installed with great attention to detail.

Builder John-Paul Ashley showed me round the west range, which is now close to completion. The internal stairs are now in, as is the fire alarm system, and upstairs....

....where the skirting are now in, one begins to get an impression of what the rooms will be like once the job is done. This is the bedroom, with the steps at the far end leading up to the bathroom.

While the west range was originally planned to be the managers' quarters, it will now be part of the letting space of the castle, so it can be booked separately from the main range for longer or shorter stays.

Many of the rooms in the north range are still awaiting the arrival of their oak panelling, so little work was happening there this morning, the exception being the electricians Tigger and Brett, who estimate that perhaps 80% or more of the second fix is now done.

Another area which is approaching completion is the attic, where the three doors have gone in. This is a pleasantly bright area of the main range, with its two bedrooms and a bathroom between, and easy access out onto the battlements.