The Mingary Castle blog is written by Jon Haylett, who lives in the local village of Kilchoan.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Radiators in the Chapel

Mingary Castle is silhouetted against the early morning sun in this shot looking across the Sound of Mull from the main road through Kilchoan village.  This was the start of what promises to be another glorious day, in a November which, since the end of its first week when it stopped raining, has given us what must be record warm temperatures and some beautifully sunny days.

This has enabled some aspects of the work at the castle to crack on at an impressive pace.  The long job of cleaning the old mortar out of the lowest parts of the curtain walls, where they stand on the granophyre platform, has finally been finished, and the even longer job....

....of pointing the base of the walls has just begun - picture shows Chris Taylor at work, sadly on the shadowed side of the castle otherwise he might have been working up a suntan.

Chris pointed out these holes, which I hadn't noticed before.  There are several around the castle, just above the base of the walls, and they angle up into the walls.  They look as if they run right through the walls, so they may have been drains which helped remove rainwater from the courtyard.

Mark Rutherford Thompson has been working on one of the fireplaces in the west range, where the joists are in ready for the floor.  Mark may be one of the partners in lead contracting company Ashley Thompson, but the partners aren't shy of getting their hands dirty.  Perhaps Mark needs something to distract him - there have been endless problems recently with building supplies, not the least being damage that has been done to deliveries during transport along the peninsula's winding single-track roads.

A new contractor on site is GJW Plumbing & Heating from Keighley in Yorkshire.  Picture shows owner Graham Whitaker installing one of twelve temporary radiators which will shortly be joining the underfloor heating in drying out the north range.  This one is on the first floor, but....

....radiators are being installed within the walls, this one in the intramural passage where it runs down from the chapel to the small turret on the east side of the castle.  The biofuel boiler is already making a tremendous difference to the building, and once these are hooked up and working the effect should be dramatic.

Two radiators are going in to the chapel.  Imagine what the MacIain laird and his lady would have thought back at the beginning of the fourteenth century if they had had the warmth of these radiators when they were at worship in this room.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mingary Sunset

Many thanks to Mark Rutherford Thompson of builders Ashley Thompson for this picture taken at Mingary late yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting across the Sound of Mull at the end of another fine day.

After some days of heavy rain, November has settled down to warm days and nights and has remained dry.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Keeping the Rain Out

It rains here, a lot.  Today's fine morning will become this afternoon's near gale and semi-horizontal rain.  Keeping all this water out of the castle is one of builders Ashley-Thompson's current headaches.

While most of the tops of the battlements are now capped, water is still getting in along the walkways.  This should be stopped shortly when the Rosendale flags which are on order arrive.  These flagstones are similar to the York stone used for the battlements' capping, but darker and more difficult to source as supplies are reclaimed stone from the floors of old mill buildings in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

In some places, such as along the courtyard wall of the north range, a more modern method of sealing the top of the wall has been used, though this, again, will be covered with Rosendale flagstones.

But the main problem is that water is driven into the faces of the walls through the gaps between the stones.  Although these are filled with extremely hard lime mortar, it's permeable, so the water is almost sucked in.  This problem is general in older, stone-built houses in this area of Scotland, with most houses solving it by having an outer 'harling', slaked lime and coarse aggregate mortar - follow link here for more information.  We know the castle used to have a harling skin - bits of it remain on some of the exterior stone.

At some point this harling was removed or left to fall away.  Long-term readers of this blog will know that, early on, re-harling the castle was actively considered.

But the builders now have a big ally on their side: the biomass wood chip boiler which was fired up on Saturday.  It's housed in a building set into the east end of the moat, so it will be out of sight.  The machinery consists of a boiler, the yellow and green machine, which is fed by....

....an electrically driven screw which transfers wood chippings from Ardnamurchan Estate's forestry from the hopper behind the breeze-blocks to the left.

 The red cylinder is a pump which forces the hot water from the grey storage cylinder....

....into the ground-floor room at the east end of the main range, where it's piped to....

....a control board.  The north range building has been sealed as much as possible, and is already nice and warm.  Although the heating is still on a low setting it's being slowly turned up.  The difference in the walls is already noticeable: they're drying out nicely.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

North Range Progress

Thursday mornings, when I usually visit the castle, have become one of the pleasures of the week, but Mark Thompson rang early on Thursday to advise me not to come: a near gale, a southeasterly blowing straight in to the castle from the Sound of Mull, was making the site dangerous.  But what followed was almost worse, torrential rainfall which fell all afternoon and evening, leaving us swimming in over 83mm, over three inches, of water in a 24-hour period.

Despite these problems, work has continued at a brisk pace.  On Thursday they had to work indoors, but most of the coping stones are now in place along the battlements, including those that cap the two bartizans, the small turrets at the angles of the curtain walls.

One of the big changes is that a temporary staircase has now been installed in the stairwell in the north range.  While the wooden flights are temporary and will be replaced by magnificent oak structures, the floor levels will remain.  The landings are by no means straightforward, as is shown by....

....this one, where the landing isn't at floor level, so an additional three steps have to be inserted, the angle between the supporting beams being held by a metal plate called a crank - the black thing at right.

Almost all the tracking for the oak panelling in the north range has now been installed, and the underfloor heating on the ground floor is in.  As a result, the biomass boiler will be switched on next week, and the process of drying out the thick stone walls will begin.  To speed the process, some temporary radiators may be installed on the upper floors.

Out in the courtyard, the stonework in the east range has been completed so the building is now waiting for its roof.

It may have been damp at the castle today but the mood on site was excellent, for good reason.  On Tuesday they had a visit from the officers at Historic Scotland who are monitoring everything that is done to this listed monument, and the feedback was very positive.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Coping Stones on the Battlements


A couple of weeks ago pallets of York stone slabs arrived on site to be cut for the coping stones on top of the battlement walls.  They came in several standard sizes, which were then....

....cut and shaped by stonemason Damien Summerscales.  To do this, he had to climb up to the battlements and make a template for each piece, since very few would conform to a standard size.

Once ready, each slab then had to be lifted up the scaffolding, by hand using a pulley, and then carried round to its position....

....where Damien had prepared a bed of mortar for it.

The slab was then lifted carefully into place.

This picture shows what may be one of the longest runs of slabs completed so far, and the way that every embrasure - that's the lower part of the crenellations - has its own, carefully shaped stone....

 ....however small it might be.

All this has been achieved despite the recent almost continuous rain.  The last stages are to point under each slab, as has been done in this picture, and finally to point between them - but this hasn't been possible yet because of the weather.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Crenellation Compromise

The weather over the last week has been.... terrible.  Some 200mm, four inches, of rain has fallen, causing water to pour through the walls of the castle, and when builder Mark Thompson had to rush down to Glasgow last weekend to pick up urgently-needed materials, the main A82 road he was returning along was blocked by landslips and the Corran ferry was off due to high winds, so he slept two nights parked at the roadside.

Despite these dismal conditions, building has continued apace, and one of the main areas of development has been along the battlements.


As with most castles, when Mingary Castle was under siege, the main defence came from the tops of the walls - the battlements - which consisted of a walkway protected by an outer wall.  This wall had crenellations - higher parts, the merlons, separated by lower sections, the embrasures.

The problem with the tops of Mingary's walls at the time rebuilding started was that they were ragged from loss of stone, so the exact location of all the merlons and embrasures wasn't clear - picture shows the battlements of the north and east curtain walls before work started.  One solution would have been to have pointed up the ragged edges and left them.  At the other extreme, with advice from the archaeologists, it would have been possible to recreate the crenellations, which appear, as with most castles, to have been fairly regular.

The compromise that has been adopted has been to level off the tops of the walls with the highest points of the ragged edges.  It's quite difficult to see the end result as, in this picture at least, it's hard to separate the north range's stone chimneys from the north curtain wall.  Anyway, we've ended up with what might best be described as irregular crenellations.

What isn't in doubt is the quality of the workmanship that's gone into rebuilding these walls.  Every piece of rock, and all the mortar, has had to be carried up manually.  One of the builders estimated that there was sixty tonnes of it in all.

Some idea of the result can be seen from this picture, taken in August, which shows the crenellations along the southeastern, southern and western walls, with....

 ....this one taken more recently, when the work had been completed except for the cappings of York stone.  Along these sections the crenellations are fairly regular, but....

....this picture shows one of the bartizans, a small defensive tower at the corner of the wall, and the west wall to its right, where the regularity of the crenellations ends.

The full effect won't be visible until the outer scaffolding comes down.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Weather Turns Nasty

October is often one of the best months in this part of Scotland, and the first half of this one didn't disappoint, with midday temperatures over 20C and days of sunny weather.  But all good things have to end, and the spell of fine weather ended spectacularly, with a force 10 gale on Tuesday followed by three inches of rain in the following days.

In these conditions, all exterior work has come to an end, yet much remains to be done on the outside to make the interior fully weather-tight.

With it continuing to rain on Thursday, when I visited the castle, work was largely concentrated in the interior of the north range. Yorkshireman and specialist joiner Martin Chandler, who did the roof timbers, is back, this time working on the landings in the stairwell.  He's seen here on the left with Ashley Thompson's Mark Thompson.

This picture shows a room on the second floor, one of several where the steel tracking is going in.  On the room side of this framework there'll be a damp proof course and a layer of plywood, to which will be fixed the Georgian-style wooden panelling.

The gap between the tracking and the stone wall will allow ventilation, essential while the wall remains at all damp, and the gap will also take all the services.

None of the angles in the original stone-walled rooms is a right-angle.  The corners have to be ninety degrees for the panelling so, as an example, the tracking here is only a few centimetres from the wall at the nearer end, and about fifteen at the further.

This neat little laser device is used to get the corners true.  While I was there are great deal of care was going in to this exercise as the company which is building the panelling will be here shortly to measure up and, to put it simply, there can't be any mistakes.

Across the courtyard and under the shelter of a temporary roof, Richard continues work on the walls of the west range, rebuilding the stonework of the gable end.  The men are working very hard, but there are plenty of smiles around the place.

A final walk around the battlements during a brief lull in the weather offered this view of a very grey sea and the north range's completed slate roof - and a very neat job it is.