MULCHAICH, FERINTOSH PROJECT 2012
The 2008-11 project has been completed and the report is on the past projects page of this website.
Tues 1st and Thurs 10th Oct
- Plan drawings and wall sections finished. 50 levels over the whole of the site taken.
- The aim then was to consolidate the site by doing a minimum of replacing and rebuilding, whilst at the same time ensuring that it was protected and that visitors would be able to see the various features.
- The bowl – the sloping internal faces and upper edging stones were left exposed, also the cobbling in the base although some soil was inserted between the stones
- The flue and its entrance - the fragile parts of the flue walls were protected by laying strips of turf on top of one another against them; the strips covered the whole of the reddened degraded part of the wall and were anchored by inserting wooden barbeque skewers through into the wall. In the outer part of the flue west wall (from where some of the original stones had been robbed) a couple of large stones were inserted so that the slope above was safer and less steep. It was anticipated that the structure to the east of the flue entrance would be the route by which people would descend to have a closer look at the features, so it was reinforced by packing stones and earth around it. The angular trench edge at the flue entrance was smoothed off and the level of the entrance raised using excavated earth; but this entrance area is still much lower than the existing surface of the barn and will potentially have a drainage problem so will need monitoring and possible further measures to alleviate the problem.
- The outer east wall and the east part of the front wall were left exposed but the excavated trench at the base of them was filled in and levelled off and the whole sown with grass seed
- The kiln bowl had been constructed on a small mound of glacial till which had been levelled off to form a platform. The platform was built up on the east side and reinforced with boulders and the kiln bowl itself was sunk into the natural morainic till by 200mm; likewise the flue and the area in front of the entrance which was sunk by 500mm.
- The kiln bowl was just like any other at the many corn drying kilns seen at Highland townships, however the flue was quite different to the usual type of small to moderate sized bore vent seen in corn drying kilns. It was large by comparison and had walls that were substantially built. An unusual feature was a sloping setting of three stones with distinct edges at the exit of the flue; it “tipped” away from the bowl so that it would have directed the warm air coming from the flue upwards through the kiln.
- At the south end of the flue - there was substantial evidence of a hearth within the flue. A paved area of degraded, reddened and fire-cracked stones extended for 1m to the level of the rebate in the west wall. The walls too at this point were grossly affected by heat with substantial reddening and with the wall cheeks hollowed out by some 75mm to 100mm due to fire cracking and crumbling of the stone work. work both on the paving and on the walls. In front of the hearth there was clear evidence of rake out material from the hearth with a compacted charcoal rich ash surface.
- The pit in front of the flue entrance had been dug a further 600mm into the natural glacial till. Resting at the bottom, under a dark brown organic rich soil, was an iron object, buckled and corroded it was apparently a suspension device of some kind, 500mm long with 3 links, the middle one of which is a swivel. No evidence of burning was found in they pit
Many ideas and theories have been put forward as to the position of the heat source and the nature of the drying process. Two are outlined here and both have drawbacks.
- One theory is that the site of the fire, called a furnace in this case, was originally intended to be in the flue as this would give the greatest heat to dry what must have been a significant amount of grain/malt but it is difficult to imagine that this would be done in the knowledge that the walls of the flue/furnace would succumb to the heat, also that there was a danger that of the whole thing to go up in flames because it was so close to the kiln.
- Another theory is that the fire within the flue was part of the final phase of the kiln; it had not been the original intention for the fire to be in the flue. When the kiln was constructed originally the firepit had been positioned further back outside the entrance to the flue, where the pit 60cms deep had been dug into the natural. But this position had proved to produce an ineffective heat source for drying the required amount of malt/grain and the fire had been moved closer to the kiln bowl. The problem with this theory is that apart from a few pieces of charcoal no substantial evidence of burning was found in the pit.
It is well documented that corn drying kilns were used for malting when distilling was a cottage industry and before the development of the malt kilns that we know today (as at Dallas Dhu distillery). “Our” kiln seems to be somewhere in between - a transitionary stage of malt kiln? a fore-runner of the malt kilns?
The excavation and consolidation of the kiln was completed in early October and the Mulchaich site was informally opened for visitors at the Highland Archaeology Festival Conference with the production and distribution of the Mulchaich distillery leaflet. The leaflet has a brief description of the site and invites people to find out more by visiting it and scanning a QR code which is linked to our website page
A full report on the excavation will appear in due course. Investigation of the site however is not finished yet and will be ongoing for some time!
We are very grateful to Morris Dalgetty and his family for their co-operation and interest, also the neighbours and the Ferintosh Free Church for use of their car park. Also many thanks to the Adopt a Monument team for their help.
Thurs 26th September
- Nine attended on a brilliant sunny day.
- Bob made a start on consolidating and returfing the upper edge of the kiln bowl in a manner such that any rain water would be shed to the outside and away from the bowl itself. Anne and Rosemary were introduced to drawing sections of the walls. In the flue exit a flagged stone surface was reached after removing only 3 or 4 cms of material. The stone surface was reddened and degraded and extended for only 1m before finishing in a lip at the level of the rebate; quite clearly this was the site of a fire.
- Much of the remainder of the floor surface in the flue was blackened, charcoal rich earth. As this work progressed and after all the tumble had been removed up to the trench edges it became clear that there was a negative feature in the barn floor in the NW corner of the trench. It looked like a pit. Options to investigate this feature were constrained by the trench edges and what ensued was effectively a quarter section of what turned out to be a carefully formed pit sunk into the natural moraine. When extrapolated the pit was c1.2m in diameter. The sides of the pit were steep and sloped evenly inwards towards the bottom. 4 contexts were noted. Firstly the pit cut into the moraine, then three distinct stratigraphic layers of material filling the pit and resting on the bottom of the pit an iron object. Another key feature of the pit was several stones set vertically on the W side of the section; two of these stones were long, heavy and narrow in shape looking distinctively like wedges.
Photos, from the top
1. The flue post excavation with the pit in the foreground
2. The kiln consolidated, returfed and ready for visitors
3. The plan drawing
4. The hearth with the reddened and fire cracked walls of the flue
5. The iron object 500mm in length
Mulchaich Kiln 6th September 2013
Eight members and one guest turned out on a fine day for what we thought would be the last bit of our exploration of the kiln at Mulchaich. It seems it wasn't the last day. But we were not disappointed!
There were several highlights to the day;
- The bowl of the kiln had a lovely cobbled floor, which Jonie made a good job of cleaning down. See photo.
- Marion revealed the west wall of the flue under a pile of tumble – interestingly it had a rebate in it. Again, see photo
- Rosemary and Susan came upon a thin black ?tarry/sooty layer in front of the east part of the front wall which they had cleaned down.
- Joyce identified the extent of the structure to the east of the flue entrance (now thought to have been constructed to direct the draught towards the flue) and finding a piece of flint in the process
- David and Bob pondered over the stones at the foot of the east wall which were thought to be the footings of an earlier building. In the end we decided that it was part of the reinforced platform on which the kiln sat.James and Marion worked hard in the flue but did not get down as far as the bottom of it, nor did they find the firepit.
So we need to go back for a further day, after which there will be the plan drawing to do and the returfing.
Mulchaich Work Part - Friday 16th August
A good day was had on Fri 16th Aug, we were fortunate with the weather and achieved quite a lot but as usual we/I was over ambitious and we didnt get the work completed.
14 members turned up. Two, John and Allan, lopped the overhanging branches from above the fence in order to make the route for visitors easier to follow and in preparation for refurbishment of the fence.
And 12 set to work cleaning down the bowl of the kiln, both inside and outside. The tumbled boulders were replaced in the face of the bowl and the flue of the kiln was located - unusually it was in the centre of the wall dividing the bowl from the barn.
We had a visit from NOSAS member Jim Bone who, later in the afternoon, flew over and tipped his wing at us, encouraging us on! Sadly Jims pictures are a bit fuzzy
There is still quite a bit more to be done at the site - the flue is choked with debris which needs carefully clearing and the firepit is yet to be located. Other tasks include further clearing out of the bowl itself, looking for evidence of a possible platform around the bowl and locating the line of the east part of the dividing wall between the bowl and the barn.
We have left the site open and it is easy enough to go back – next work party is planned for Friday 30th August. After that we will be plan drawing the feature, doing further consolidation work and returfing it
Mulchaich Work Party – Sat 1st December 2012
The project to prepare the distillery and the chambered cairn at Mulchaich for visits from the public and to present it under the Adopt-a-Monument scheme is now in full swing. On Saturday 1st Dec we had a successful work party, although, as usual, we were over ambitious and failed to achieve all our objectives! Thirteen people turned up to help on a cold but bright sunny day. Broadly speaking we had two aims, to investigate the bog which we thought might originally have been a pond used to provide water for the distillation process and to clean out the bowl of the kiln, so we split into 2 groups and set to work.
We thought that the pond, which is supplied by a well, might have had a dam holding the water back so the first task was to remove the coppiced willow stools that had split off and fallen onto what we were speculating was once the dam of now tumbled stones – the result of this action was inconclusive! So next the overgrown rushes were cut down as close to the stones as possible – again inconclusive! but it did display the change in slope to better advantage; the upper part of the bog, which had a “suspicious looking” change of vegetation, seemed to be on a more gentle sloping platform.
Meanwhile the “kiln bowl team” were getting to grips with removal of the fill in the bowl and it wasn’t long before the nice stonework of the internal face began to appear. The bowl itself was much smaller than we had anticipated and working in it was a bit cramped so we took turns. Lunchtime came as a welcome break!
On a previous visit we had probed the bottom of the upper part of the bog (“supposed pond”) and it seemed to “bottom out” on a firm surface - was this natural or manmade? We needed to investigate. In the afternoon a grid was put over the bog/pond and both surface levels and depth levels were taken – not a nice job! the feet soon got cold when standing in wellie boots in freezing cold water. However it produced rewards! we were surprised to discover that the readings for the firm surface under the pond were shallower at the lower end and this coincided with the change in slope of the bog; we interpreted this as a dam of material as yet to be determined.
The kiln team made good progress on the bowl in the afternoon but failed to complete the work and packed up at about 3.30pm as the day got colder and the light began to go. We plan to return in the New Year to get to the bottom of it, to find the flue exit and also to expose the front wall and the flue entrance. There are plans too for more investigation of the pond.
All in all a good day and we were so lucky with the weather
A map of the current plan of action can be viewed here.