Archaeologists open walled up window for first time in 500 years at Mingary Castle

By Ben Miller | 24 January 2014

A walled window at a Scottish castle gives a view unseen for centuries and leads the way to an exciting archaeological investigation

A photo of an angular window opening in a castle looking out onto the countryside
Archaeologists are describing Mingary, on the coast of north-west Scotland, as one of the most interesting castles in memory© Mingary Castle Trust,
Cracking open a window on a mysterious hexagonal castle on the north-west peninsula of Scotland, archaeologists say they have seen a spectacular sea view for the first time since a clan held the fortification 500 years ago.

Drilling a stone wall at Mingary Castle, which was established during Viking times, the early morning breakthrough restored a window on a landmark last tended to more than a century ago.

“It was with a real sense of excitement that stonemason 'H' started work on the outside,” said Jon Haylett, of the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust, who lives in the nearby village of Kilchoan.

“Considering it's been there so long, the mortar is incredibly hard, so it took a good half-hour and some gentle persuasion with a small pneumatic drill before they finally broke through.

“Even then, it took a lot more time to clear the rest of the material so we could, for the first time in 500 years, look out at a view which was last seen when members of Clan MacIain held Mingary Castle.

“The wall here is only about 60-80cm thick, and this explains why it was so important to infill the room once cannon threatened the fortifications – and it also explains why they went to such lengths to ensure that the fill was solidly mortared in.”

The new vantage point is a reminder of more turbulent times.

“This narrow window had several functions,” explained Haylett.

“During a siege, defenders could fire arrows and crossbow bolts down onto their attackers.

“In more peaceful times, the gap would have allowed light and fresh air into the room. One can quite imagine someone sitting, looking out at, and enjoying the view.”

His words may be music to the ears of Donald Houston, the castle owner who has been given permission to turn Mingary into a residential property. Archaeologist Andrew Morrison, of Addyman Archaeology, examined the rock debris left behind by the opening.

“Sadly, he still hasn't found anything, such as an artefact or a piece of charcoal, which would enable him to date the infill, but what he did find was a groove running round the inside of the window. It's quite likely that this is evidence of there being some way of closing the window, perhaps by placing a wooden board against it.”

A second, double lancet window is expected to be found when the workmen reach it by tunnelling.

“I have stopped thinking of it as a passageway, as this term is only appropriate if it opens out at the far end, and there's no sign at present that it does.

“This view looks along the length of the room, with the newly opened window on the right. They've now reached the cubbyhole which was accessed from the stairwell, and Andrew is fairly certain that, far from being dug into the fill, it was formed at the time the intramural room was filled in.

“While it's purely speculation, it might be that the cubbyhole was some sort of strong room in which valuables were kept.”

The project to restore Mingary, which is thought to be Scotland’s most intact 13th century castle, is inviting support towards its £2.4 million costs. History fans can sponsor a stone, receiving the serial number and exact location for a chunk to which they can assign a personal name.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a man drilling through a window opening at an ancient stone castle
© Mingary Castle Trust,
A photo of a man in a white mortar helmet looking out of an opening within a castle
© Mingary Castle Trust,
A photo of a window opening within the walls of a craggy ancient stone castle
© Mingary Castle Trust,
A photo of a window opening within an ancient stone castle
© Mingary Castle Trust,
A photo of three angular window openings within the walls of an ancient stone castle
© Mingary Castle Trust,
A photo of an ancient stone castle with mottled yellow walls on grass coastal hills
© Mingary Castle Trust,
A dramatic photo of a coastal castle looking out to sea under a blue and pink dawn sky
© Mingary Castle Trust,
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