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 🙂


  1. Look forward to seeing the wall when I’m over at the end of the month! Very impressed with your new generator. Looks like you got a real bargain.
    Cheers, Carolyn.

    Comment by Carolyn — September 2, 2011 @ 12:21 am

    • Morning Carolyn,

      we’re very pleased, satisfied, elated and proud of our wall 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:28 am

  2. That looked like a hard but pleasant way to spend a day. A skill sadly being lost.


    Comment by Iain -Down under — September 2, 2011 @ 12:26 am

    • Morning Oz,

      been a while since we heard from you Iain, good to have you back and hope all is well ‘down under’, you seem to have bee having a right time of it these last couple of years.

      Good luck, Paul

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:30 am

  3. thank you very much for recording this, and for publishing a pic of your amazing teacher. he looks like ben whatsis over there.


    By Robert Frost

    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
    That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
    And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
    And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
    The work of hunters is another thing:
    I have come after them and made repair
    Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
    But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
    To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
    No one has seen them made or heard them made,
    But at spring mending-time we find them there.
    I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
    And on a day we meet to walk the line
    And set the wall between us once again.
    We keep the wall between us as we go.
    To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
    And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
    We have to use a spell to make them balance:
    ‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
    We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
    Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
    One on a side. It comes to little more:
    There where it is we do not need the wall:
    He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
    My apple trees will never get across
    And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
    He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
    Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
    If I could put a notion in his head:
    ‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
    Where there are cows?
    But here there are no cows.
    Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
    What I was walling in or walling out,
    And to whom I was like to give offence.
    Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
    That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
    But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
    He said it for himself. I see him there
    Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
    In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
    He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
    Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
    He will not go behind his father’s saying,
    And he likes having thought of it so well
    He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

    Comment by jeannette — September 2, 2011 @ 12:43 am

    • That is a great poem Jeannette, thanks for sharing

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:30 am

  4. What a fantastic skill to learn, It must not be allowed to become an extinct knowledge.. good for you and your guys …c

    Comment by ceciliag — September 2, 2011 @ 12:57 am

    • Morning Cecilia,
      yes a fantastic skill and very therapeutic, well apart from the aching back 🙂 Actually now I come to think about it, it’s not actually sore, perhaps this will cure it 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:34 am

  5. A tracked machine on the public highway – you’ll get into trouble for that!!

    I recognise one or two faces in your pics, Mr Nicolson in particular. What a grand way to spend the day.

    Comment by Alan — September 2, 2011 @ 6:46 am

    • Good morning Alan,

      I can see me happily spending my retirement doing this kind of thing at the north end 🙂 Still no word of the Sconser improvements, well apart from several more suggestions 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:44 am

  6. Great post !
    I love the grumpy digger salute and the photo of the roofer. I wish everyone would slow down and take that kind of pride in there work. Quality should always be before quanity.

    Comment by Tony — September 2, 2011 @ 7:37 am

    • Morning Tony,

      hopefully you’ll be seeing much more of his salute when he comes to level the house and barn site and build me a road. Though if I keep calling him GDD he might put me at the bottom of his ‘waiting list’ 😦

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:46 am

      • Hi Paul, if grumpy digger driver is going to level the house and barn site, does that mean the planning permission has been agreed?

        Comment by carina — September 5, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

  7. That’s a fine wall – are you all going to use your skills to repair Raasay walls? The new house has come on some since June. Hope to see it finished and the wall still intact next June. Enjoy the rest of the week.

    Comment by Sue — September 2, 2011 @ 8:08 am

    • Hi Sue,

      hopefully you’ll see more walls repaired and the house finished when you visit 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:48 am

  8. Autumn has arrived here, too, in Andalucia/Alpujarras. Fairly hefty downpour overnight; terraces and cushions etc well soaked! Grey skies today and a light breeze. A welcome change for sure! That Grumpy Digger Driver salute could well catch on, you know!

    Comment by Iain — September 2, 2011 @ 8:19 am

    • Morning Iain,
      it’s now too well enough, pouring rain and wind through the night 😦 A good day for the workshop I think 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:50 am

  9. well done Paul and the gang, the wall is looking great … fascinating to see how it all goes together

    Comment by carina — September 2, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

    • Morning Carina,

      didn’t we do well 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — September 3, 2011 @ 5:51 am

  10. What a consistent chap Raasay’s leading plant hirer is 🙂 Great stonework, well done to all involved.

    Comment by Andy — September 3, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

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