Last Sunday was our last practical outing of 2019, to build a dry stone seat in the 'ruined croft' in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. The 'croft' is basically a small folly, on the banks of a pond at the back of the rock garden. It's mostly there as a backdrop to the surrounding planting, but inside is an under-used space, so those in charge thought that it might be nice to add somewhere where people could sit down.
The idea was to build a seat, or rather a bench, in the corner with the walls acting as a back rest. The Gardens had ordered in a couple of tons of stone - a bit much for the size of seat we could build, but one ton wouldn't've been enough. The stone was Olston, which is quite square, and there was quite a lot of good flat stuff for the seat top. They'd also sorted it out a bit for us, with the flat stuff and the small bits in separate piles, which meant we could crack on straight away, and in a couple of hours we'd got the first couple of courses done and made a start on the third.
After a break for lunch we got the final course finished ready for the flat slabs on the top.
Normally we'd mortar them in, but we reckoned that this spot would be vandal-free so they'd be fine as they were.
And after it had been tested by our official seat-tester, it was all done.
Update 16/10/2019: Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership have posted a video about this build - check it out at m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1853928054753078&id=871207806358446&sfnsn=mo&d=n&vh=e
Last weekend our esteemed colleagues in the South West Scotland branch (SWS DSWA) organised an inter-branch project for all the Scottish branches - the first for many years. This was a great opportunity to meet and work with other dykers, and to get some experience of different dyking styles.
The project was a wall repair at Threave Gardens, a National Trust for Scotland property near Castle Douglas in Dumfriesshire. The site was on the edge of a wood near the top of the hill behind the Gardens, with fabulous views over the surrounding countryside.
The existing wall had collapsed at this point, and the plan was to build a new curved wall providing shelter for a viewpoint with benches looking out across the valley. The area had already been cleared and stone brought up.
Different sections of the wall were going to be in different styles: some standard (double) dyking; some single boulder dyke; and some Galloway dyke - the local style, double until half way up and then single on top.
Single dyking is an art unto itself, and the granite boulders were massive, but the speed at which it went up was impressive - long before us double dykers were even half way up the first section of boulder wall was done.
Saturday was a glorious day, and it would've been almost too hot if it weren't for the breeze and the shade from the trees.
As well as the benches inside the circle, a couple of large flat stones were to be built into the wall to act as seats. These were too big to lift by hand, and were lifted in by tractor.
As the day wore on our double dyke gradually caught up with the single one next door.
SWS DSWA had set up a field kitchen nearby, and provided us with a fantastic lunch (including quite possibly the best rice pudding I've ever eaten).
Very foolishly, I didn't take any photos at the end of the day, thinking that the wall would still be the same the next morning and I could just take some then. The next morning the wall was the same - but the weather wasn't. It started to rain just as I went to breakfast at 7:30 am, and continued steadily for the rest of the morning.
Not that we let this put us off, of course.
The section next to the 'top' stone seat was Galloway dyke, and as for the boulder dykes the single section went up very quickly.
We knocked off late on Sunday afternoon with nearly all of the wall completed - just one section of standard wall joining on to the existing wall was left to do.
Thanks to Nic Coombey and all at SWS DSWA and to Dave at Threave Gardens for organising this, to Karl for the photos (his ones are the better ones, especially on Sunday when my phone got very damp and blurry), to Linda for the superlative catering, and of course to the many dykers from around the country who made this possible.
Over the two days of last weekend we built a curved dry stone seat at Colinton in the south of Edinburgh, on the section of the Water of Leith walkway that runs along the old railway line. This is part of a larger project to enhance this area, which also includes some pretty spectacular murals in the tunnel that's there.
The project's being run by the Colinton Amenity Association (CAA), and they'd prepared the site before we arrived on Saturday morning, cutting a flat area out of the banking near the tunnel.
The stone was from the Swinton quarry, just north of the Tweed (the specification being that it had to be Scottish), onto a large piece of which one of our former members, Pete Smith, had carved an inscription for us notifying who'd built the seat and when.
It was quite tricky working in the fairly enclosed space within the curve, and the bank above was quite muddy and slippery too, which didn't make it any easier. The stone, however, was pretty easy to work with, and there were several large flat slabs which would do well for the seat area.
By lunch time we were up to seat level - the slabs having to be mortared on to ensure that they stay put.
The CAA even provided us with cake to keep us going.
And fortified by this we soon got the seating slabs finished off.
The back of the seat would need to be built on top of the slabs and we therefore had to let the mortar set before we could build it, so all we could do for the rest of that day was build up the lower parts of the back wall to seat height.
We reckoned Sam was light enough not to cause the seat to shift, so he tested the seat for us before we headed off at about 3 pm.
On Sunday, the mortar having dried, the back could go up - a tricky curved build with a sloping top.
And finally the completed seat, with the inscribed stone in the middle of the back.
And proof, if any were needed, that it works.
I now have some photos from the second day of the build, and some from before I arrived on the first day - many thanks to Karl and Chris for these (see previous post for the bit in between!).
This is the site at the start of the build - we'd been provided with a curved base of whin (I think) rubble to build on, but it took quite a bit of measuring to get the poles and lines in place.
And it seems they got on pretty rapidly without me on the Sunday, with the throughs going on by mid-morning.
And even some of the copes on before lunch.
By early afternoon just the remaining copes needed finished off.
And by mid afternoon the wall was complete.
This weekend we're building a curved stone wall at Woodside near Acrum in the Scottish Borders, to provide a sheltered and meditative spot in one corner of the community garden - and a very nice spot it is, too, not far from the pond and shelter beyond..
I wasn't able to get there until lunchtime, by which the site had been prepared and the cheek-ends started. It's a bit hard to get a good shot of the site as it's enclosed by trees and bushes..
We had seven wallers in total - eight if you include my son, Sam, who helped out as a "hearting monkey", filling the gaps between the two side of the walls with smaller stones.The was pretty much the ideal number- if we'd had any more it would've been hard to fit us all into the site.
By close of play today, we'd got the first three courses or so up, and I very much expect that tomorrow they (sadly I can't make it along myself) will get it completed.
Hopefully someone else will take some further photos tomorrow - if I can get some I'll post them here as well.
Today half a dozen brave (or foolhardy) dykers went back to Harlaw, to finish off the repairs we started last month, the park rangers having provided us with more stone to complete the job. Sadly, it wasn't nearly as nice a day as last time, with low cloud threatening to turn into a full-blown downpour at any moment.
It looked like the low bit in the wall at the first site had tempted some people to climb over, as the built up level seemed lower than when we'd left it.
It didn't look, to begin with, like more stone had been provided at this bit, so we went along to the other gap. Here there was some stone, but as there wasn't really enough space for all six of us to work here Dave and I headed back to the first gap to see if we could patch it up where it had been knocked down, leaving Stevie, Karl, Richard and Alan to work on the bigger gap.
When we had a closer look at the first gap we realised that the rangers actually had left more stone there - it was just hidden in the grass, and between that and a big lump we discovered on our way along from the stile to the gap we found we had just enough to complete the wall, albeit not quite up to the full level height of the rest of it.
We even had a couple of copes left over so we decided to take these along to the second site to see if they could be used there. Dave was sure I could throw one over the waterlogged ditch between the wall and the path - and he was right, though unfortunately I couldn't throw it far enough that it didn't just roll back down into the water. Dave gallantly fished it out while I lugged the other one along the path, and then we both headed along to see if A) they would like any help finishing the wall and B) any of them felt it was lunchtime yet.
The answers to both of these questions being yes, we adjourned to the wood on the other side of the path, where there was some slight shelter from the rain and a fallen tree to sit on.
After lunch we fairly quickly used up the small amount of remaining stone, and then coped the length of completed wall. However, we were about one barrow-load short of being able to get the whole gap closed, so we had to head off, leaving the final bit for another day.
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.
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).