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

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Bitter Winter Weather

This was the view this morning looking across the bay from Mingary Pier towards the castle, with Beinn na h-Urchrach, in a moment's unexpected sunshine, rising behind it.  The snow which blanketed most of the area by late yesterday afternoon, bringing some difficult driving conditions, has melted at lower levels, but an icy wind continues to blow from the southeast straight into the face of the castle, making working conditions on the exterior....

....very hard for people like stonemason Damien, who has taken over the rebuilding of one of the chimneys in the west range from 'H' who is away for a break.  The west range should be ready within a week for the roof to go on, while....

....the east range is ready and waiting for its roof.

Delays and difficulties are fully to be expected in a project as complex as this one, but the remoteness of the area magnifies them.  Chris is seen here with a hydraulic drill struggling to break down into the granophyre rock under the storage room below the west range.  The granophyre is the igneous rock of the sill upon which the castle sits, and is extremely hard - to the extent that they've wrecked four pneumatic jack hammers trying to get down 18".  Interestingly, there are more massive, harder areas and more shaley, friable areas - the white chunk Chris is working on is one of the harder.

Every time I visit the castle I'm amazed at how much shifting of materials has to be done by hand.  The rubble that's going into the floor of the chapel now that the plumbing's in has all come from where they're drilling in the west range, and has been carried in a bucket down a ladder and up two floors by Billy.

The electrical and plumbing contractors are still on site, with some of the workmen from main contractor Ashley-Thompson helping them.  At least the north range where they're working is warm, with the heating full on to speed the drying of the stone walls.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Mingary Castle in Snow

Snow isn't common on West Ardnamurchan - the peninsula is too much influenced by the warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift - so when it does come, particularly with some accompanying sunshine, the scenery can be spectacular.

This is Mingary Castle from the east, with the Isle of Mull half covered in cloud in the distance, while....

....this picture was taken from the shingle beach immediately to the west of the castle, with the highest mountain on West Ardnamurchan, Ben Hiant, behind.

Our morning's visit to the castle was made by a juvenile sea eagle, which soared over the castle ramparts before setting off westwards towards Mull.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Atrocious Weather - but Work Goes On

By nine yesterday morning the weather had let up after a spell of some of the worst conditions we've seen on Ardnamurchan in some years.  In the last few days, as well as gales with winds gusting to over 100mph, hurricane force, we've had lightning, hail, sleet, snow, and one of the lowest barometric readings I have recorded here, 952mbar.

Not that this has deterred the builders: all they've done is to move from exterior jobs - some of which would have been dangerous in these conditions - to work which offers at least some shelter.  Picture shows stonemason Damien and Richard working in the courtyard, standing in front of the very smart door surround which will connect the main building to the glass-roofed dining room.

The two are now working on a toilet which, very appropriately, uses the original east garderobe.  The long drop below it will have a glass cover so users can admire the vertical view.

In this picture the two are preparing the roof so they can get insert more supports before they start work on its walls.  The picture is dark because a very black cloud had just arrived.

In another milestone for this project, the plumbers, from Proficient Plumbing of Whitby, Yorkshire, have arrived to start the first fix.  They were here briefly just before Christmas, when they installed the pipework for the ground floor underfloor heating.

Picture shows Ashley Rose, left, and Andy Stephens in what was the mediaeval chapel, where two bathrooms are being installed.

One of the more difficult aspects of their job is fitting some of the pipes between the metal tracking and the stone walls.  Ashley is seen here in one of the places where builder and plumbers are having to work together to get the pipework in.  The white pipes are for the temporary radiators, the black pipe is the soil pipe.

Meanwhile, joiner Martin is cutting grooves in the joists for the pipework for the central heating, which will be by radiators set under the windows.

By the time I'd walked over the north range and talked to the men working there, the weather was winding itself up for another storm.  The wind had moved round into the south and, while the rain was now pouring into the courtyard, one could hear the gale roaring across the battlements above.

Five of builders Ashley-Thompson's men are working on the east range.  They've managed to do only a little in the last week on the front face of the building, so....

....most of their efforts have been concentrated on the interior.  'H' is seen here rebuilding the stone chimney in what will be the sitting room for the housekeeper/cook if the castle becomes a letting property, while....

....Callum works to lower the floor in the basement room of the east range, which will become a store room.

By the time I left the castle the wind was gusting to a force 8, and the rain had given up trying to reach the ground and was travelling horizontally until it hit something.  Despite the appalling conditions, the spirit amongst the men working here is quite remarkable: they're getting on with the job, working hard as a team in the best of spirits.

Mark Thompson of Ashley Thompson arrived back on site as I was about to leave. He'd been off down the peninsula looking for two trucks carrying sbuilding upplies for the castle, both of which had 'got lost'.  One driver had spent a night trapped on Rannoch Moor in a snowstorm.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Back to Work

It was good to be walking down at nine this morning for the first visit in three weeks, even though the weather wasn't too special, with some sharp hail showers blowing in on a chilly westerly wind.

All seems to have gone well during the break, the only slight problem being that the biomass heating system struggled with the damp wood chippings, with the result that the north range hadn't dried out as much as builder Mark Rutherford Thompson had hoped.

Although they've been on site before, I had the first real chance to talk to Brett Ward (left) and Tony Tigger Peacock, electricians from R&B Electrical & Renewables, the company contracted to instal all the electrics in the castle.  They explained the difficulties of the job.  For a start, there's miles of wire to go in, but it's....

....working around the solid walls and through doorways with concrete lintels that are some of the real challenges.

Not only are they installing the power supply, they're also putting in the data services cabling.  In this alcove, the wires can be tacked onto the oak lintels, but coming down the walls they'll be buried behind plasterwork.

Gary and Tigger are going to be around for a couple of weeks completing the first fix, and will return later to finish the job.

I hadn't met Gary Bibby before, though some of his workmen were here last year installing the windows in the north range.  Gary has his own company, Gary Bibby Joinery, which will be making all the joinery for the north and east ranges.  This is a huge job.  For a start, all the rooms will be lined with panels or half panels, and the quality is going to be very high indeed - the woodwork throughout will be English oak.

As well as the panels, Gary's firm is making the staircases, and these are beautifully detailed.  The walls in the stairwell are going to be half panelled, as will be some other rooms, though the main living rooms will be fully panelled.

Gary will be working closely with the electricians, right, as all the wiring for the wall lights and electric sockets will have to be fed through the 18mm plywood which will be hung off the metal tracking, and then through an appropriate place in the panels - for example, not through a join between panels.

Gary's here for a couple of days measuring up, and then the panels will be built in his Yorkshire workshop.  When we see them, it'll be Ashley Thompson's men, including Martin Theaker (to Gary's right) who will be fitting them.

Before I left I climbed up to where work on the courtyard wall of the west range is continuing, with the window mullions of York stone going in.  It's good to see that all but one of the men who were working for builders Ashley Thompson have returned after the holiday - Damien and 'H' were working up here, with builder John-Paul climbing the ladder to join them.

We're all very aware that there's to be a serious deterioration in the weather tonight: an intense Atlantic storm is due to arrive in the early hours of tomorrow morning with gusts of hurricane force forecast to batter Ardnamurchan.  Other than checking the scaffolding and making sure that everything loose is held down, there's nothing more the builders can do in preparation for it.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Fighting the Storms

If builder Mark Rutherford Thompson doesn't look too happy, he has good cause.  Last week was a dreadful week, with severe gales, heavy rain, hail, sleet and snow and, to add to the fun, frequent lightning strikes which have brought eleven power outages, some of them as long as nine hours.

Trying to keep a project like this one going in such conditions takes patience and determination from both Mark and his partner in the business, John-Paul Ashley.  The high winds have rocked the Estate caravans in which they and their men are living, making sleep nigh-on impossible.  The power outages mean that there's no hot water for showers at the end of a cold and wet day, no hot food, and no heat to keep them warm.

Despite this, the team has kept working, and it's easy to see some of the results.  In the west range the first floor joists are now in place as well as, to the left of the picture, the huge oak beams which hold up the fireplace and an alcove.  This room has more than one fireplace - it was, at various times, a kitchen and a forge.

The gap in the centre of the photo is where an early flight of stairs rose from the courtyard to the battlements, but these were largely removed when this range was originally built.

The other room on the ground floor in the west range is much smaller.  A new floor has been installed, as well as the joists for the first floor. Billy, one of the workmen, is seen here standing next to what will be a feature fireplace.

Even though the gales were mainly from the west, conditions on the exposed castle site were extreme - yet only one area was damaged.  The picture shows what's left of the temporary roof on the biomass boiler.  This was ripped off by the wind, allowing water to get into the hopper - at the near end in this picture.  As a result, some 30 tonnes of wood chip was soaked, and the boiler went out.

Despite this, the main range remains warm, but a priority now is getting a roof back over the boiler house, digging out the soggy chipping, and getting the boiler fired up before everyone leaves on Wednesday for their well-deserved Christmas break.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Christmas Wishes

Here's wishing all the team at Mingary Castle a very happy, enjoyable and relaxing Christmas break.  The site is closing down on the 18th, but some of them will be away earlier.
Back row, left to right: Billy, Nick, Mark, Grimmy, Chris, Damien, 'H'.
Front row, left to right: J-P, Martin, Callum, Richard.

Stabilising the Curtain Walls

The last time we saw Alasdair Smith (right) and Liam Martin of UKdima Engineering Ltd at the castle, they were drilling two large holes through the basement rock from the moat into the castle to carry the services, including the heating from the biofuel boiler.  They've been down again over the last few weeks, this time drilling much smaller holes through the bases of the curtain walls as part of a process of stabilising the walls.

The method is very similar to that used to pin the huge granophyre blocks in place when work first started on the castle, with forty-two steel reinforcing pins being inserted through the bottoms of the walls, from the outside into the courtyard, epoxied into place, and then plates placed on either end and screwed tight to pull the two sides together.

This plan shows a vertical view through one of the curtain walls. Blocks had to be removed from the exterior (left)....

....and the hole drilled through the base of the wall.

The steel rods were then inserted, and steel plates screwed tight on either end.

Later, the rocks that had been removed were replaced and mortared into position so the plate is hidden.  The mortar here has yet to be brushed, so it will quickly blend in with the rest.

When I went down to the castle today, a small team, including Richard (pictured), was working on the base of the walls, the one place where the pointing hasn't been completed.  Until recently, the scaffolding wasn't in place to make it accessible.

The lowest section of the west wall is now almost complete, but they have to work their way round all the other walls.  Here's hoping that the weather holds so that this, one of the last jobs that have to be done on the exterior walls, can be completed as soon as possible.  Then, some time after New Year, the scaffolding will come down and the refurbished and strengthened walls will be revealed.

Picture of steel plate courtesy Mark Thompson.