Life at the end of the road

September 1, 2011

Well and truly ‘dry stoned’ :-)

Filed under: daily doings, stonework — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:42 pm

That’s it summer is officially over and I’m sick and tired of hearing how bad it’s been, for it’s been no such thing in this part of the world. OK, May and June were a washout, but May’s not summer and anyway April was positively tropical, well at least for here 🙂 July, a traditionally wet month was the best I can ever remember in twenty five years on the west coast. I know, you’ll tell me I’ve a memory like a hen, rose tinted glasses and all that, but it’s all in my diaries to confirm it. It wasn’t exactly hot, in fact it was pretty cool with a good deal of north wind, but it kept the midge away and made for pleasant ‘working weather’ outdoors. August wasn’t bad either by Raasay standards, and we can’t have had that much rain because my hydro turbine has done sweet BA this month 😦

The ‘Raasay dykers’ 🙂

It’s well after 21:00 now and by rights I should be in bed, for I’m knackered, or should I say we’re knackered, but we’ve all had such a great day that I felt I had to get it down on paper so to speak. No, I’ve not been to a festival, fitted anything exciting to my Land Rover or got my son a permanent place in the hostel. We have in fact been on a dry stone walling course in the village 🙂

Now I’ve always been a little obsessed with stone, it’s hard not to be when living here amongst the many sheds, barns, ruins and walls made with little more than the bare rock from eons past. It’s hard not to be impressed by the skills of masons of old when you look closely at the miles of dry stone dykes, hen houses and shelters that abound here. Each area has it’s own style defined by the rock of the district and each craftsman his own ‘fingerprint’ in the way he utilizes it. So when Donnie Oliphant first mooted the idea of bringing an expert over to Raasay to run a short course we jumped at the idea.

Even in my time here there were plenty of men who had the skill, for I’d seen them at work, Neil Mackay building ‘Calum’s cairn’ with DJ Graham, Donald Eyre repairing my neighbours barn, John MacLeod building the wall at Beallach Ruadh and many more. Sadly most have either passed or moved away taking their skill with them and many of Raasay’s walls are in need of attention. Not through any fault in their construction but from years of heavy traffic and deer scrambling over them.

It’s quite a while since the idea was proposed, and ‘tutor’ found  but today, the first day of autumn was the beginning of a two day course run by Hector Nicolson from Sconser. Hector is no stranger to Raasay having done a fantastic job of restoring part of the old Mill in the village for the Raasay Heritage Trust

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Details of which can be found in Rebecca Mackay’s excellent book via the trust’s website.

Anyway, after dragging my son out of his bed at 6:45 and taking him down to the ferry where we had breakfast I went to join the other seven ‘hopefuls’ and Hector just by a section of unstable wall near School Park.

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Where Hector instructed us on how to first demolish the offending section in such a way as to make rebuilding simpler and safer. That’ll be Hector without the gloves, with hands like shovels and skin like leather who needs gloves 🙂 First off the cope stones, (the ones on the top) are removed and placed about a meter back from the wall.

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Then the actual wall stones and ‘through stones’

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the smaller ‘heart stones’ being placed closer to the wall with a gap to allow working. These smaller stones go inside the wall to bind the stones together and are always in short supply.


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Well they are unless you have a man nearby with a digger 🙂

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A man who, as usual gave me his traditional greeting 🙂

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The ‘Grumpy digger driver salute’ 🙂

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By tea time at 11:00 we had the foundations laid

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and by a much needed lunchtime we had a good bit of it rebuilt.

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We were not the only ones taking a well earned break 🙂

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But pretty soon we were back at at it until 15:30

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and I have to say that we were all pretty pleased with the result 🙂

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My day was far from over as I had to collect 800lts of diesel from the pier in my trailer, fill my oil tank, feed the pigs and do the blog. We’re both pretty whacked so I’m off to bed and will hopefully shoe you the finished wall tomorrow 🙂


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