By Dearbhail Keating
August meant a journey north for the Scholars and Fellows, and four weeks in Scotland. We began in Oban and spent time travelling around the Western Isles looking at castles. Our hosts for the week were materials analysis, Bill Revie, architect Martin Hadlington, historic building consultant Craig Frew and contractor Duncan Strachan.
A short boat ride from Oban took us to Kerrera and the beautifully situated Gylen Castle perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. Now a ruin, the castle was built in the Scots baronial style and completed in 1582. Conservation works to the castle have recently been completed and included repointing and carrying out structural repairs door, window surrounds and to the stair turret which had moved away from the main body of the building.
Soft topping was used for the wall heads. The existing soft topping was removed from the walls and stored. Botanical surveys were carried out and the wall tops consolidated with lime and puddle clay (this is a clay/sand mix similar to what is used for lining ponds). Two layers of turf and the stored soft toppings are then secured to the wall heads with coya rope that disintegrates after 18 months, by which time the turf has established itself.
The evening involved a quick dip in the sea and the coldest water of the Scholarship to date!
The following day we again journeyed from Oban but this time to Mull. We visited Moy Castle which is in the process of being conserved by Duncan Strachen. The castle is situated on the shores of Loch Buie adjacent to Loch Buie House. Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund are funding works to this castle. Completed c.1450 the castle is unusual in the fact it has stone vaulted ceilings/floors to every level. Another unusual discovery was that the joints in the random rubble walls had historically been pointed with sheeps wool and we spent time debating possible reasons for this. A hot mix was used for repointing – throughout the Scholarship we have found the popularity of hot mixes is increasing.
In the afternoon we visited Duart Castle. Here we met with the owner and discussed the challenges faced when looking after such a place and the financial implications of ongoing maintenance.
We then travelled back to the mainland and the Ardnamurcan peninsula spending time at Mingary Castle and Castle Tioram. Both ruins are privately owned, Historic Scotland have taken very different views on the development of the two sites. Around 10 years ago there was a huge public enquiry into whether or not Tioram could be converted into a house. The enquiry was lost and since then nothing has happened. Mingary is at the opposite end of the spectrum and is being converted into bed and breakfast accommodation. The complex arguments around ruins and how they should be treated were debated. Although buildings like Mingary and Tioram need money to survive, careful consideration needs to be given to whether their conversion will result in more loss than gain and whether a conversion risks damaging their integrity.