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.
In previous years we've assisted with the West of Scotland Dry Stone Walling Association's show garden at Gardening Scotland. However, this year they decided not to enter, so rather than allow the public to be completely deprived of any dry stone walling* we put on a walling demonstration (being too small a branch to tackle a show garden ourselves). This meant that there was no "build weekend" - instead, on Thursday Richard and I went along and set up our new event shelter and banners, while Bruce brought along a couple of trailer loads of stone, borrowed for the weekend from a job he's working on.
Bruce, Richard and Ian then went along on Friday and built a few metres of wall with a cheek end, a corner, a bend and a little alcove (Richard borrowed a plant to put in it - it is a gardening show, after all). They got quite a lot built, despite stopping to talk to interested show goers. On Saturday Dave was there on his own and as a result was largely occupied with talking to the gardening public but did manage a bit more building, and then today Richard returned and I joined him, so that one of us could deal with questions while the other built (or bunked off to take photos).
It was quite good having a partly built wall, as it gave us an opportunity to show how a dry stone wall is put together in such a way that what's basically a pile of stones can stay up for centuries.
There was a lot of positive feedback (even some from farmers - stern critics of dry stone work).
And by lunch time we'd got the corner pretty much completed and about half of the straight bit coped.
In the afternoon the rain which had been threatening all day arrived, so we retreated to the shelter for a while. We got a bit more built after it went off, but by this time we'd used up almost all of the stone, and it was getting close to closing time anyway.
By four o'clock the crowds were thinning out, and those that were left were heading for the gardening exhibits to grab some ex-show bargains, so we started to take it down again, and by six our "lasts for centuries" wall was back on the trailers.
* This wouldn't actually have been the case, as one of the show gardens also had some dry stone work - quite nice work, too, though as you can see it was badly obscured by plants.
On Sunday we went back to Wooplaw community woodland in the Scottish Borders to do some more work on the walls there. There was no-one there when I arrived, but that was just because Alan had already been and had headed off to pick up Dave and Ian from the station. He'd left a clue that he'd been, however:
I noticed that a section of the low wall around the car park had been knocked down, so while I was waiting for the others I started to put it back up.
I hadn't even cleared away the fallen stones before they'd arrived, but with everyone working on it, it wasn't long before it was back up.
The actual section of wall we were scheduled to repair was further into the wood, on the other side of the burn. A tree had grown up a foot or two from the wall, and a century or two later had become big enough to knock it down.
There was no shortage of stone, there being a stone dump just behind where we were working, but a lot of earth and tree roots had found their way into the wall, and there was a thick covering of leaves and beach nut shells. A few low branches needed pruned as well.
There were a couple of curious but easily startled ponies in the field next to us, but eventually they got over their nervousness and came over to have a look.
It took the best part of an hour to clear away the fallen stones and other debris, but by lunch time we were ready to start putting it back up again.
Once we'd got started the wall went up pretty quickly, and by the time we knocked off we'd got the majority of the gap rebuilt.
We're heading back here later in the summer, so hopefully we'll get the last little bit finished then.
Today we were in the Pentland Hills Regional Park again, rebuilding a collapsed wall near Cubbiedean reservoir. I got there a bit early, and while waiting for the others to turn up realised I was parked across the valley from where we'd repaired a corner of a field wall a couple of years ago (see posts from August and October 2015 - actually that's closer to three years ago ... how time flies ... ) so I walked over to see how it was holding up. A few stones had come loose or fallen out, particularly under the cope on the sloping section of the wall, but this was easy enough to fix. You get a nice view from this point, but the day was a bit grey so it doesn't look so good in the picture.
The site for today's work was further up the valley, so after I'd returned to my car, met Dave walking up the hill, and somehow missed Alan, I scrounged a lift from Richard who was driving all the way up to the Cubbiedean reservoir as he had some big tools to take up. We passed Dave and Alan on the way, and gave Alan a lift, too (there wasn't room for Dave - though in the event, after tool unloading and discussion about which was the shortest walk from the road, he got to the site before the rest of us). When we got to the site we found Ian was there already, having walked in from Currie on the other side of the hill.
We were rebuilding a section of wall at a corner where a burn runs under the wall. The wall beside the burn had completely collapsed, largely into the burn.
And there was another small collapsed section a few yards down the wall.
As you can see from the photos, there is a fence right by the wall here, which meant that we could only really work from the burn side - and at the top next to the corner, this basically meant standing in the burn. We reckoned we wouldn't be needing the cope stones until the end, and as they were pretty big and pretty regularly shaped, we dropped a few of them into the water to stand on while we worked.
Once we'd cleared away the collapsed stone and dug out the earth which had either seeped or been washed down into the wall, we could see that some of the lower stones sloped out of the wall, meaning that anything built on them would tend to just fall back into the water. So we dug them out, and replaced them with more level ones.
You could really only get a couple of people in to work her, so while Richard and I tackled this, Ian and Alan fixed the gap further down the wall. Dave, meanwhile, dammed the burn on the other side of the wall, creating a small lake and greatly reducing the amount of water available for us to accidentally step into.
Ian and Alan made short work of repairing their bit of wall, and if you hadn't been told you wouldn't know it ever had been otherwise.
I generously let Ian have a turn in the water, and he and Richard got the next few courses on much more securely than they had been.
However, in the process of getting the wall rebuilt we had to take down some more of the stone, and discovered that the corner was largely just a pile of loose stones, with a whopping run joint right up the vertex.
At about 12.30 we stopped for lunch, except for Alan, who seemed to want a turn at the soggy end of the wall. Mind you, he has steel toe-capped wellies, so his socks won't have got as wet as mine did. Richard had to leave us at this point, but we'd got the wall over half way up, and gone at least some way to fixing the running joint.
An hour or so's more work had the wall pretty much complete, with only some leveling out to do before the copes could go on.
By three o'clock we'd got it all done, and the sun even came out so that I could get a nice picture of the finished work. And the wall stayed put during the torrent when the dam was removed, so I'm pretty hopeful it'll survive for a bit.
On Sunday we had our first practical day of the year - I couldn't attend myself, but my thanks go to our esteemed secretary, Dave Taylor, for providing some details ...
Last Sunday four dykers actually managed more work than had been targeted, the treasurer being absent.
The frequently breached wall at the south end of Torduff Reservoir being rebuilt yet again, but thanks to the cooperation between the land owning bodies, the gate
alongside the wall has been reopened, and thus walkers will no longer have to climb the wall, and hopefully the repairs will last. Special mention should be made
of Alan and Chris for their stalwart attempts to break the branch record for the height through which they raised their cope stones.
Lukas very kindly shared some picture of the Duddingston seat build on the 9th of July with me, but as I don't check my gmail account very often I didn't pick up on this until just now. So here, belatedly and with my apologies, are a selection of them.
On Sunday we went back to Harlaw/Threepmuir (see two weeks ago's post) to finish off the wall rebuild. When I arrived, Dave and Alan had already made a start on completing the 'through' course.
It seemed to go a lot easier than the last time, probably because we'd already dealt with the worst of what was there before. After a couple of hours' work we only had the copes left to put on, so we stopped for an early lunch and then put up the copes.
Some had gone astray somehow, and we didn't have any other suitably sized stone so we had to improvise a bit, but I think we got away with it. We still had most of the afternoon left to us, and there are plenty of other bits of the wall in need of attention, but in the light of this repair having grown from a couple of meters' gap to about three times that once we'd started on it we didn't think we had time to tackle them, so we just called it a day at that.
Perhaps not really a branch activity, but today two of us (Richard and myself) went to the Midlothian Community Hospital Open Day to provide a small demonstration of dry stone walling.
They didn't manage to source any stone for us to use, so we had to make do with what we could bring in our cars, which meant that it really was a very small demonstration. However, we had a lot of interest, and managed to build a yard or so of two-foot high wall (well, two feet at it's highest point).
We then took it down and built it again, seeing as it was meant to be a demonstration of dry stone walling. It wasn't quite so good the second time, and I was all for taking it down and doing it again, but we realised that the two hours of the open day were almost up. Fortunately they didn't mind us just leaving it there for them to finally dismantle themselves.
Today we went to the Harlaw/Threepmuir reservoir complex in the Pentland Hills Regional Park to continue with repairs to the walls around the reservoir. This time we were on the opposite side to the Harlaw visitor centre, but I parked at (or rather, outside, as it was full) the Harlaw car park and walked round - passing the raised bed we'd worked on back in April, which is now filled with earth and has a few plants.
The section of wall we were going to work on had pretty much collapsed for a couple of meters, with only the bottom couple of courses remaining in place.
And when we started looking more closely, we discovered the reason: the wall had been built with traced* sides, with only loose stones and even some earth in between.
* Traced: in dry stone walling, the stones are meant to be placed with their longest dimension running into the wall - if they are placed running along the wall (like brickwork), they're traced. It's bad, because any movement (and dry stone walls move) can result in the traced stones falling out of the wall - if they're placed correctly, movement should settle the stones within the wall without them falling out.
Closer inspection showed it was actually worse than it had initially seemed: several meters of the wall had been done this way, and the bits which had not come down were only holding up because of large amounts of mortar beneath the copes - in some places, the cope stones weren't actually resting on either side, and were just held in place by being mortared to the rubble infill. We ended up having to take down about five meters of the wall, and even then we only stripped it back to the points where it was a bit less badly done ... in all, I'd say this was just about the worst-built wall I've had to repair (though I've seen photos of worse ... don't mention the Aberdeen by-pass, please ...).
Shoveling out large quantities of rubble-filled earth took a good bit longer than dismantling a properly build wall would've done and it was lunchtime before we got it all cleared out. After lunch we started putting the foundations back in (properly):
and the courses above (also properly):
and the throughs (nearly properly - a couple of them were a bit on the short side, but they'll still do their job).
By this time Dave and I had to leave, but Alan bravely stayed on to stabilise a bit of the existing wall which had started to collapse. We'll be returning in a couple of weeks to (hopefully) finish it off.
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).