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

Friday, 27 March 2015

Life's Never Easy

Just as we thought winter might finally be behind us, everything changed again, with a north wind bringing snow for the hills and a cold, sleety rain down to sea level.  To add to the builder's problems, the single-track B8007, the only road in and out of the community, is closed for several hours each day while a landslip is repaired, so builders merchants are refusing to deliver, meaning that Mark or J-P have to drive down the road, when it's open, to collect supplies.

Despite this, work continues as a good pace.  With the scaffolding coming down just inside the entrance to the castle, one gets a better idea of what it will be like to walk in to the renovated Mingary Castle when it's finished.  The wooden 'awning' described last week....

....has now been covered with lead, and the Chandlers, Mark, Martin and Graham, who have made such a neat job of the roofs and their associated leadwork, their work done, left the site on Wednesday.

Billy (pictured) and stonemason Damien have nearly finished laying the slabs all round the attic room of the north range.  What's left to do is on the north side, where the lead gutter to carry away the rainwater, installed by the Chandlers, has to be covered with slabs.  They've also been working at head level, finishing off the battlement walkway along this side.  This won't be accessible, so has been capped with uneven slabs of local stone.

Most of the men are working in more comfort indoors.  In the ground floor kitchen of the north range, Martin and James are fitting the 18mm plywood lining to the walls, while....

....Dean is doing the same work on the first floor.  This is one of the rooms which will be fitted with the oak panelling - it's due to start to arriving later in April.

Meanwhile, plumber Andy Stevens is fitting the bathroom furniture in the attic.  The fittings are top-of-the-range and are being installed with great care, so builder Mark Rutherford Thompson (right) is on-hand to help and advise.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Fine Weather

After last Thursday's storm, the weather cleared and we've had a glorious west Highland spring week, with temperatures soaring to 15C, light winds, and the northern lights playing in the clear night skies.  This picture was taken on Sunday from the summit of Beinn na h-Urchrach to the northeast of the castle.

The builders have long ago learnt to make good use of fine weather, so there's been plenty of progress on the exterior.  The two chimneys on the west range have had to be raised a couple of feet, so Chris and Richard have been working on them.  The pointing round the paving stones of the battlement walkway has been completed, and the builders now await the arrival of the company which will be installing the safety balustrade.

In the right-hand bottom corner of the picture can be seen the start of the work in the courtyard, where a curved retaining wall....

....separates an upper, paved walkway from a lower area, where the two paths giving access to the front of the east and west ranges will be separated by a cobbles.

The Chandlers, who worked on the slate roofs of the east and west ranges, have returned, with Martin installing a wooden 'awning' just inside the land gate.  He's built it using timber from oak grown on the Estate, with a plywood roof which will be covered in lead.

Martin's brother Mark, left, and Mark's son Graham, the leadwork specialists, are here both to cover the awning but also to build the lead gutter on the walkway around the roof of the north range.

The lead is like a work of art, with neat welds and sections of rubber between the sheets to take up any expansion.  Once the Chandlers are finished, the walkway will be paved with York stone slabs to match those around the battlements.

Each drain point is individually built.  The drain here drops into the wall at the front of the north range, makes a couple of sharp turns, and then emerges into a down pipe which carries it into the drains which will run under the courtyard.

Where gutters drain water to the exterior of the castle, 'cannons' have been installed to carry the outflow clear of the curtain walls.  Builder John-Paul Ashley is seen here checking that one of the five cannons is firm: because they're so long, he's had to dream up a unique way of securely fixing them in place.

Not everyone is working outdoors. James McGinley (pictured) and Dean Cunningham have been working on the joinery in the upstairs of the west wing, which will probably be accommodation for the caretaker/cook when the castle is let.

I have been asked to take some pictures of the dungeon.  It's inaccessible at the moment - you can just about see into it through the hole to the left of the centre bucket - but I'll risk climbing down into it as soon as possible - 'risk', because I might get locked in.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

A Change in Emphasis

Many thanks to Iain Thornber who took these aerial pictures of the castle on Sunday while passing in a helicopter.  They give a good idea of the huge progress that has been made on the exterior work.

Iain was fortunate that day with the weather.  When I walked down to the castle today for my weekly visit....

....we were in the middle of the third storm this week, this one a southeasterly gale blowing straight into the sea-side of the castle.  The picture gives no idea of the banshee howling of the wind as it passed through the scaffolding, nor of the piercing cold of 40mph raindrops.

It's unsurprising, then, that there's been a significant change in emphasis in the building work: most of the work is now going on inside the castle buildings. However, they have managed to complete more of the flagstones on the walkway round the curtain walls.  In this picture, taken from above the main gate, we're looking straight down the steps which lead to the west range, and can see the neat little steps which lead up from the 'landing' to the main walkway round the top of the battlements.  These didn't seem to exist before, and have been added at Jean-Paul Ashley's suggestion.

Immediately below those steps, and out of sight in the previous picture, is an entrance into the west curtain wall, where Damien is currently working, inserting concrete joists to hold up its roof.  Immediately below his feet is a vertical drop down to the castle's small dungeon, the only entrance to what must have been a dark, dank place.

To Damien's left is a short, narrow passage leading to the eastern garderobe, where....

....someone kindly obliged with a demonstration of how it would have been used.  With the wind in the east, this, the western garderobe, would have been in use today.

Work has started on fitting the windows into the east range but....

....most of the workmen are now in the north range, where preparations for the arrival of the first panels in a few weeks' time are speeding ahead.  With so much joinery work coming up, a new joiner has been employed, and there will be more shortly.  Dean Cunningham is from Crossroads, near Skipton in Yorkshire.  While Dean has worked in Scotland before, he's never worked on a project like this, which he described as "unique".

The change also sees the arrival of new equipment: this magnificent machine is a chop saw.  Beyond it is one of the lancet windows, and another of the areas that it currently being worked on is the preparations for the panelling around them.  Each will be covered by a shutters, behind which the window will stand in a surround of the original stonework.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Courtyard Scaffolding Dropped

The scaffolding around the curtain walls wasn't due to come down for a couple of weeks, but when I visited the castle on Thursday John Forsyth has begun the long process, though it'll still be several weeks before he returns to drop the rest of it.  However, all the scaffolding in the courtyard....
....has gone, and the facades of the west and east ranges are revealed.  This is the west range, with its slate roof completed and three of the sash windows in.  In the picture, taken from the northeast, one can also see the nearly-complete flagstone walkway around the battlements.

Walking round that walkway, one can also now see the steep steps which lead up to the roof at the back of the north range, which will, in due course, be connected down to the courtyard.

The best view of the revealed east range is from the courtyard, with the one new room at left.  The first fix electrical work is almost complete in the west range and is well on in the east and, with the scaffolding away, work can begin shortly on the flagstones in the courtyard.

All the small windows which were installed with such loving care by Design Glass earlier this week can now be found by climbing around the exterior scaffolding - this one is in the east wall - but by going....

....inside the north range one can now look out through them.  This window is in the bartisan near the southeast corner of the range.

Inside the north range, Martin has started the job of laying the high-quality 18mm plywood sheets which will support the oak plank flooring.

I wasn't the only one inspecting progress.  This eagle appeared high above us, attention being drawn to it by the screams of circling gulls, but they didn't prevent it from....

....performing a low overpass to get a close look.  From the wedge shape of the tail and the white tail feathers, to say nothing of its massive size, this is a sea eagle rather than one of the local golden eagles.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Smallest Windows

This picture of one of the castle's lancet windows, taken in September 2013, gives some idea of their condition before renovation work started.  Today, for these beautiful little windows, the last stage of the process began, with the arrival on site of a small team from Design Glass of Brighouse in Yorkshire.

They had already visited the site to measure up and prepare individual templates for each of the nine small windows which they were going to hand craft for the building.  Today the windows started to go in, starting with the chapel's lancet window shown in the first picture.

This window has been divided into a lower, opening section and an upper, fixed section.  The lower section has a steel frame, and a unique catch, the handle having had to be curled in upon itself because the unit is so small.

The frame is held in place by socket head grub screws, which effectively clamp it against the stonework.  Since access to the exterior of these windows, once the scaffolding is dropped, is going to be extremely difficult, they're made of high quality stainless steel, which will require minimum maintenance.  It also won't rust - many windows become jammed in place by rust - so, if they do have to be removed, they'll come out cleanly.

The hinge of the opening window is then screwed into place.  There are two of these opening windows, the remainder being fixed.  The latter includes some truly tiny ones which will cover the circular holes used to fire muskets through.

The upper, fixed section is then fitted.  The glass, which is hand-blown, was made by English Antique Glass in Birmingham using traditional methods.

Small pieces of lead are jammed in around the upper unit to hold it firmly in place.  The final stage will be to fill around the windows to make them airtight.

Dave Morris, left, is managing director of Design Glass and its sister company Touchstone.  While his team, Alex Bottomley, centre, and Andy Mitchell, right, are here to fit the units, they're also involved in the manufacturing.  Talking to these three was both a pleasure and a privilege, as they are so proud of, and committed to their work.  Please visit Design Glass' website to see the sort of thing they do.

These Yorkshire lads don't hang around.  They started work this afternoon, and all the units will be in by the end of tomorrow.  In between, they'll be sampling another very stormy Ardnamurchan night.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Working On Despite Dismal Weather

For both those working on Mingary Castle (arrowed) and the salvage teams working to salvage the Lysblink Seaways, the cargo ship (at left in picture) which ran aground at Kilchoan over a week ago, this has been a week of pelting rain, hail, snow, thunder and lightning, and frequent gales.  After many difficulties, the ship has now been towed away, but the appalling weather hasn't made the slightest difference to the speed at which work is progressing at the Castle.

When I arrived this morning a new piece of machinery was on site, a tele-handler hired from Inverness to lift materials up onto the scaffolding.  The reason for its arrival quickly became evident....

....when I climbed up to the battlements, where several men were laying flagstones - once again Yorkshire stone - large quantities of which have been lifted up using the new machine.  Picture shows Damien working on the walkway round the battlements, while....

....Richard was working at the other end of the walkway.  The flight of steps leading from the east range up to the battlements on the north side of the north range, seen in the background here, has also been rebuilt in the last week or so.

Mark Chandler and his men have almost finished the slates and leadwork on the two smaller ranges, and a very good job they have done. This picture shows the west range, and....

....this one looks from the end of the west range across to the smaller east range.  They should be finished in the next couple of days, at which point the scaffolding in the courtyard will be dropped so that work can start on the courtyard flagstones.

All the buildings are now weathertight except for fitting the exterior doors.

There's been rapid progress too inside the north range.  The first of the fittings are in - this is the bath on the attic level - the plywood floors are being laid, and all first fix electrics and plumbing are complete.

The attic is insulated ready for fitting the plasterboard, but one can already appreciate what a light area this will be when the job is completed.