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

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.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Tides Make their Mark

This morning's low, grey overcast did nothing to hide how well the area in front of the castle is coming on. The soil between the paths in the formal garden has now been weeded and sown to grass seed and, out of shot to the right, the stone wall that will run down the west side of the area is well advanced. This picture also shows piles of cement bags on pallets which tell another story, of delay.

The cement should have arrived on Saturday, enabling the men working on the wall at the bottom of the cliff to make progress with the job over the weekend before the tides moved so that they are high during the day - but they didn't arrive until Tuesday.

All along, one of the most intractable problems with this job has been the site's remoteness. This cement, being a special salt-resistant formula, had to come up from the southeast of England to Glasgow, from there to Oban, and thence to Fort William before being delivered, but time was lost along the way.  As a result, the four men working on the wall - Damien, the two Chrises, and Richard - have been sent off for a short holiday, to return to work as the tide becomes favourable. Unfortunately, this seems to coincide with a deterioration in the weather.

Similar distance-related problems are evident in the north range, where the fitting of the panelling continues. When a section, such as this door, doesn't fit, in other circumstances it would have gone back to the manufacturer to be altered, but at this distance this would cause further delays, so the alterations are being done on site. Fortunately, there are two joiners here, the two Martins, who are well able to do the work - picture shows joiner Martin Chandler, right, and builder Mark Rutherford Thompson working on the door.

Despite these problems, the panelling does look superb, and will be one of the great features of the finished castle.

With the job moving towards completion, some of the contractors are reaching the end of their work. Proficient Plumbing of Whitby's Paul Beamer (right) and Ashley Rose are here to make one or two further alterations before the hot water is turned on later today, and don't expect to have to come back except for one final visit to pick up any minor problems.

This is one part of the job which Paul particularly likes, the bathroom set into the original mediaeval chapel of the castle, located within the north curtain wall. It's certainly must be one of the most unusual settings for a bathroom.

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.