We've recently provided dry stone walling demonstrations at Gardening Scotland and the Haddington Agricultural Show in East Lothian. We used the same stone, mostly field stone, for both demos (many thanks to Bruce for the loan).
At Gardening Scotland we built a corner, leaving the open ends half built to show the internals of the wall.
There was quite a lot of interest in our courses and dry stone walling in general.
We had a smaller space at the Haddington Show, so we just built a short section of wall - again left open at the end to show the structure.
Our demo wall was featured in the article on the show published in this weeks East Lothian Courier - seems this is me showing the skill of building a dry stone wall (the caption reads) ... don't know why Dave is apparently laughing at my efforts, it was mainly him (and Richard) that built it ...
Today we were back at Harlaw in the Penlands to fix a couple of collapsed sections of dyke along the west side of the reservoir. A lot of this wall is close to collapse, and we've had to take the decision to just deal with the sections that are actually coming down, and leave the sections that look like they're going to fall down at any moment until they actually do.
We had to negotiate our way over a ditch, a barbed wire fence and the wall itself, but fortunately there was a style over the wall with the barbed wire covered at that point as well, and the water levels had subsided somewhat from last week, when (according to Dave, who'd passed that way on Wednesday) we'd've needed a canoe to get across.
The first section in need of attention wasn't really big enough for four people to work on, so Steve and I stayed there while Dave and Alan went on to the next bit. We managed to lever the barbed wire a foot or two from the wall, but it was awkward working around it. By mid-morning we'd got the collapsed stone out and the re-done the foundations
and by about midday we'd got the wall up about half way.
Unfortunately,by this point it was becoming very clear that we didn't have enough building stone to finish the job.The problem was that the wall had originally been built with traced stone (i.e. the stone laid along the wall lengthways, like brickwork) and then just infilled with rubble - so we ended up with lots of hearting (i.e. small stones to fill between the two sides of the double dyke), but not enough good stone to build the sides with.
Chris showed up just before one, so I left him and Steve to do as much as they could with the stone they had and headed along with Dave, who'd popped back to pick up his lunch, to the other collapsed section.
This was a bigger collapse, and Dave and Alan had cleared the wall down to ground level for about four metres.
Sadly, this section of wall suffered from the same malaise as the first, and indeed the entire thing appears to have been built in the same way, leaving the whole wall in a precarious state - in fact, we had to widen the gap here by another metre or so as the next section along was in danger of imminent collapse as well. Someone has attempted to strengthen it by mortaring the cope at some point, which has probably just hastened it's demise.
There was a largish boulder of a different type of stone which had been added to the wall at some point: it wasn't great to build with, being somewhat wedge shaped and too wide for the wall really, and normally we'd'be been a bit reticent about using it, but in this case with us being short of stone we decided to build it in.
Chris came along and joined us after an hour or so, he and Steve having done as much as they could at the first site, and with his help we got the wall up to through-stone level by mid-afternoon.
By this time we were getting up close to barbed wire level, making it very tricky to work on that side of the wall - the fence posts were in more firmly here than at the first site, so we hadn't been able to lever the fence so far from the wall.
I had to head off at four, so I left the others to it and headed back to the car park.
Steve and Chris had managed to complete more of the first gap than I'd expected - pretty impressive, considering the material they had to work with.
We'll need to ask the rangers to deliver some more stone so we can get these sections completed, but really this whole wall needs rebuilt properly.
Well today was the hottest Easter ever in Scotland, and the hottest place was Edinburgh, so I've managed to sunburn my balding head, despite resorting to a hat an hour before the sun reached its zenith.
Today we were at Clubbiedean Reservoir in the Pentland Hills Regional Park, repairing a section of collapsed wall beside the trout fishery car park. I had intended to walk from the car park at Bonaly but I was running late so I just drove all the way up - I passed Dave by Torduff and gave him a lift for the last kilometer or so.
There was a fair amount of traced stone in the wall, which may have contributed to its collapse - either that or there's a less than careful fisherman somewhere with a dent on the back of his car ...
Susan and Alan showed up while we were taking the wall down. It might have been a bit awkward working at the back of a car park, but fortunately there was a gap between the cars by the collapsed bit of wall, which we claimed by putting the copes there.
Once we'd got the loose stone out (the foundations and some of the lower parts of the wall were still fine), Dave produced a 'thyme capsule' - a herb jar, into which we inserted one of our business cards with the date written on before building it into the bottom of the wall.
Around lunchtime some of the fisherman headed off, which gave us a bit more room to work in. The wall at this point is quite low, and by early afternoon we were up above through height.
And not long after we were just leveling the top ready for the copes.
As we were getting the copes on Chris showed up - just in time for the heavy work, though fortunately we didn't have to lift them very high. By about 2 pm we had the wall fully back up.
Alan and Susan had come up the same way as Dave and I and accepted the offer of a lift back down, and we left Chris finishing his coffee and biscuits before heading back to his car at the other end of the reservoir.
Today a few of us started the season with a return to Wooplaw Community Woodland, in the Borders (see numerous past blog posts). It was a pretty cold and damp day, though the rain had pretty much stopped by the time we arrived.
The field where we were working before now has bulls rather than horses in it, so we decided to do some work at the other end of the site, near the where the new cabin is being constructed to replace the old one which was burnt down by vandals last year. They're getting on pretty well with it, and have even made the walls of dry stone (sort of).
We bumped into Stephen in the car park, a branch member who is also involved in Wooplaw, and he informed us that during the work the cheekend near the cabin (which we had rebuilt before) had got knocked down. It's a bit of a tight turn, even for the wee tractor they have, so we decided to take down the end of the wall and rebuild it a bit further back.
This did mean that we had quite a bit of work to do taking down the end four feet or so of wall, but at least it meant we had no shortage of stone to build with.
When we started rebuilding we found that we had no poles to attach the lines to, so we improvised with a couple of sticks. Not the straightest of guides, but perhaps in keeping with the existing, somewhat sinuous, wall.
There wasn't really room for three people to work on building the cheekend, so Alan headed off a bit further down to where there was some remedial work required on another wall we'd previously repaired (the damage most likely caused by children using the rope swing, though, rather than tractors). Dave and I got the cheeked up to about through height before deciding it was time to break for lunch.
Meanwhile, Alan had finished repairing the other wall.
Fortunately the barbecue shelter hadn't been destroyed by the fire, so we were able to get out of the drizzle and drips from the trees to eat our lunch. It was still pretty chilly though, and I think we were all pretty happy to get back to work. By about 2:30 we'd got the cheekend back up and had cleared away the unused stone from the path.
If it had been a warmer, dryer day we might have decided to tackle a few more wee repairs, but as it was we just decided to call it a day.
Over this last week three of our members have constructed a Nepalese gate in the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens - Richard provided the following report.
Dave, Alan and I agreed to spend Tuesday and Wednesday last week leading the construction of a Nepalese gate at the front of an area in the Botanics showing plants and flowers indigenous to Nepal. Nepalese gates are found in Western Nepal and consist of two roughly built pillars capped with a large lintel stone. Locals and travellers ring a bell attached to the lintel as they go through, presumably as part of a Buddhist ritual.
The original idea was for us to involve staff, volunteers and students, who work and/or study in the Botanics, in the construction. As you can see from the complexity of the gate’s design, this was no easy task for us, let alone complete novices, so we engaged several students and staff on the first day in emptying about 20 bags of Denfind stone, which they spread out in front of the construction site for us. It soon became obvious that the stone was mostly of middle sized pieces: nothing too big or small. It would have been useful to have had some larger flat pieces to spread the load on a solid foundation, as there was no hard core available.
The base of each pillar was about 1.25 x 0.8 metre square. The internal shape of each pillar was concave and was built using two formers, while the outside had to be battered sufficiently to bring the base length in from 3.3 m to a final 2.4 m, which was the length of the 800 kg cap stone. Because this cap stone was not of uniform width the final width of one pillar had to be somewhat less that the width of the other pillar, as we needed all stones to be secured to prevent idle hands from loosening anything after we had departed.
Unfortunately the two days we had set aside proved to be insufficient, even with the help of other volunteers sorting stone into piles of equal thickness. Much hammer work was required to trim the very square and sometimes cut stone available. Accuracy in laying each course proved challenging for all and the final few courses had to be absolutely level and secure to allow the cap stone to sit snugly on the top.
By the time Alan and I had completed the second pillar on the second Wednesday, finished off with a sprinkle of sand, the heavy lifting squad brought in a JCB and chains to carry out the delicate task of raising the lintel in the correct orientation and as horizontally as possible so that it sat neatly on the top. All went remarkably well, except that, as Alan had predicted, it’s very difficult to get something to sit perfectly on all points of contact. Once the lintel was in place we created a few thin slivers or shims under it so that every face stone was as tight as we could make it.
The bell will be fitted in due course, a plaque is being devised to attach to the gate and Dave hopes to attend a ‘soft opening’ on Tuesday next week. I will join Will Hinchliffe, the Botanics staff member leading the project, in March to give a talk to the Friends of the Botanics about the project. It was lot of hard effort and great fun because of the camaraderie which built up during the week or so we were on site. We did get three free lunches in the staff canteen, but, as you can see, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Today was our last practical outing planned for 2018. We had been intending to go to Queensferry to do some work in the community garden there, but they don't have the funding for the stone just now, which was a shame but also gave us a good opportunity to go back and finish the wall repair we started at Harlaw last month (see previous post).
The park rangers had provided us with more stone, and the weather provided us with a bright but slightly chilly day - so, near-perfect dyking conditions.
When I arrived at the site I found Dave already there, having taken down the roughly-piled copes we'd put up to fill the gap.
John and Alan showed up shortly afterwards, and between us we soon had the wall up to height.
And coped (ably overseen by Coolie the dog).
Dave had to head off, but the rest of us remained to tackle the near-hole that was forming a few yards further down the wall. Once again, I forgot to take a 'before' picture, but this is how it looked after I gave it a shove.
When we'd stripped out the loose stones, we found that there was a through stone just below the gap, much subsided at one end but still pretty much in place. Stripping the wall right down and rebuilding it (which is what it really needs) would have been more work than we could have completed today, and seeing as the wall is required to keep the cattle in the field, this wasn't an option. However, with some careful manhandling, we managed to prop the through up in a near-level position, in which we could rebuild the more-collapsed side of the wall around it.
So this we did, rebuilding the wall from as far down as we could go without stripping much more of the top levels back. This meant leaving the 'field' side still largely traced, but by rebuilding the 'path' side more solidly, hopefully making the wall strong enough to stand.
John also had to leave at this point, and Alan and I (after a brief break for some lunch) finished off the wall.
And put the copes back on.
There wasn't really time for us to tackle any of the many other sections of this wall in a state of near-collapse, but while looking for a place to climb back over I spotted another hole nearby which looked to me like it might not last the winter.
So Alan very patiently waited while I put the stones back in. It's far from perfect, but hopefully it'll be one less place for the livestock to escape through.
Firstly, apologies for my tardiness in posting this, almost two weeks after the event. This is what happens if I don't post stuff straight away ...
So, on the second of this month we went to Harlaw in the Pentllands to repair a section of wall which had come down, and had resulted in the cattle in the field escaping. And for once, I have 'before' pictures - not because I remembered on the day, but because I'd been to the site a couple of days before hand to check out how much work there was, and to deliver some extra stone. It was a glorious day (I'd've happily stayed up there and climbed a few hills, if I'd had the time) but the wall had almost totally collapsed, and the park rangers had had to pile up the stones as a temporary repair to fill the gap below the barbed wire to keep the cattle in.
Sadly, it wasn't nearly such a nice day when we came to do the work, but at least it was dry and there was a breeze which kept the insects at bay.
The first thing we needed to do was move the barbed wire - fortunately an easy enough job as the fence posts weren't in very deep - and then strip the wall back to the foundations. This wasn't too difficult as the wall, unsurprising, came down very easily: in fact, a bit too easily, and what had started as a three metre gap soon became more like five or six metres as the defects in the initial build and subsequent repairs made their inadequacies felt.
In fact, this was almost a master class in how not to build and maintain a dry stone wall. The stones had been 'traced' (that is, they had been placed with their length running along the wall, rather than in to it), plus the section we were working on had no throughs (stones reaching right through the thickness of the wall, binding the two sides together) - and where there was a through a bit further along, there were running joints up both sides of it, greatly limiting its effectiveness. Add to this the fact that when we got down to the foundation stones we found some of them to be sloping out of the wall and it wasn't surprising that the wall had started to 'spread', i.e. the sides had started to move apart at the bottom. This still might not have caused a collapse if the wall had been left dry (and therefore flexible, with gravity holding everything together despite the movement), but an earlier attempt at repair had seen the copes mortared into place. And while this might have been very effective at the time, a few years down the line the spreading had caused the stones below the cope to move down so that they were no longer held in place, and so had started to fall out: from there, it was just a matter of time before it all came down.
Our section was by no means the only place this problem had evinced itself: just a couple of metres past the running-joint-through a large hole has appeared on one side of the wall, and this section will come down soon as well unless it's fixed - and indeed, there were plenty of other places where the same problems are starting to show.
All the above, obviously, is why we were here, and so we set about putting it back up correctly. This is where we'd got to by lunch time - note the big stones set with their length running in to the wall (so not traced!).
And by mid-afternoon we were up to 'through' level (you can just see a through on the wall just behind Alan - fortunately we had a few long stones which would do the job).
As the afternoon wore on, it became clear that we wouldn't have quite enough stone to finish the job: this was my bad, as the duty ranger had dropped by earlier and asked if we needed more stone, and I'd reckoned we'd be all right (to be fair to myself, we weren't far short). We did as much as we could, and managed to get most of the gap up to cope height.
We then coped the whole wall, including the unfinished bit - this last just temporarily (it doesn't look too bad from this side). Note also the running joint still evident next to the through in the bit of the wall just to the left of where we were working - we would really have liked to fix this as well, but there's a limit to what we can do in one day.
After that it was just a matter of re-instating the barbed wire, and the finished wall looks a lot better than it did.
Though maybe best not to mention the 'unfinished' bit (this is how it looks from the other side).
Hopefully it will stay up until we can get back up there to finish it off properly (and fix that other big hole while we're up there, before that bit comes down too).
Today we (Alan, Richard, Ian and myself) went back to Wooplaw to finish off the wall repair we started earlier in the year. It was good to see that the work we'd done on our last visit was still up, but there was still quite a bit of work to do, including the tricky bit round the tree.
The horses were still there, seemingly a little less shy than last time (perhaps they remembered us, a harmless bunch of humans whose main interest seems to be making long, orderly piles of stones).
And there were some other creatures ... if you look closly, you might be able to spot a monkey in the tree ..
Before lunch I took a stroll over from Gullet Wood (where we were working) to Big Wood (the monkey needed to use the facilities,such as they are). Work seems to have been progressing on rebuilding the log cabin, which was burnt down by vandals last year.
While I was there I popped down to have a look at the bridge we built, and was happy to see it still in situ and looking good.
Meanwhile,back at Gullet Wood work was continuing apace, and by early afternoon the wall below the tree was complete.
Richard had to leave us then, but shortly after his departure Chris showed up, and with his help we tackled the remaining section of wall.
And by about 3 o'clock it was all back up.
Yesterday we staged a small dry stone walling demonstration at the Haddington Agricultural Show.
The show was only on for one day, but we managed to build a couple of metres or so of a small wall, and received quite a lot of interest in what we were doing and the craft in general.
It was bright and sunny all day, but there was a breeze so it didn't feel too hot (I managed to sunburn myself - I really must look out my sun hat).
Last week I had a chance to visit the garden we helped to build at Balgreen on the Water of Leith in Edinburgh.
Both the wall and the seat were still standing - and pleasingly unvandalised.
I sat and had my lunch on the seat, and very pleasant it was, too.
This blog, and the rest of the site, are produced by Donald McInnes, treasurer of the SES DSWA (I'm the baldy one, sometimes in a saltire hat).