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Helicopter lift starts conservation work at Dumbarton Castle

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A helicopter lift to remove debris and stonework from a stone sentry turret has signalled the start of a £42,000 conservation project at a stronghold which once sheltered Mary Queen of Scots.

The sentry cupola, which would have provided shelter to soldiers standing watch over Dumbarton, was constructed during renovations which took place between 1600 and 1700. These were intended to convert the medieval castle into a modern artillery fortress. In winter 2016, the building was struck by lightning, and since then Historic Environment Scotland has been developing plans to conserve the prominent feature.

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Debris and surviving stonework from the tower was removed, with HES stonemasons hand-carving replacement stones for the ornate domed cupola roof. Work to restore the turret is now beginning on site, however due to the challenges posed by the location of the tower, a helicopter is being used to lift materials to the upper levels of the castle.

Scaffolding will then be erected around the remains of the turret to allow staff access, and to build up wooden propping to support the roof during reconstruction. Once the keystone at the summit of the dome has been fitted, the roof will be self-supporting. HES stonemasons will then undertake repointing work on the turret and the surrounding area, before the scaffolding is removed in Spring 2018.

Video of Dumbarton Castle 

Lightning destruction

Professor David Mitchell, Director of Conservation for HES said: “The damage caused to the sentry cupola by lightning earlier this year caused significant damage to electrical systems and the masonry tower - I visited the site soon after the incident and was taken aback at the destructive power of the lightning strike.

"The geology of the rock was of course a key attribute in its use as a place of fortification - the ease of defending the site and the dramatic vista from the rock were key to its success. Those same attributes present us with challenges in transporting heavy materials safely to the top of the rock. In this scenario it is often quicker and safer to use a helicopter to transport the materials to where they are needed. This work forms part of a wider programme of investment at the Castle, which will be running until next spring. We will provide interpretation to visitors to explain this latest chapter in the castle’s story.”

(image copright Historic Environment Scotland; video courtesy of The Hovering Scotsman)

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