Monday, December 31, 2012

Both Sides

Both Sides is a compilation of photos of a year's worth of dry stone travelling and building. It's been inspirational and very much a learning time for me working with some really talented people. 

I hope this video (using words and Music by Joni Mitchell) does not seem too introspective. I think we as wallers do well to keep things in all kinds of perspective. 

Anyway Thinking With My Hands is now three years old.

It's been a bit of a challenge at times to keep going, but  the crazy (mostly stone-related ) things that keep unfolding around me makes the 'job' of sharing what my hands 'think' a very pleasing daily exercise.

Stay tuned for more fun.

Happy new beginnings to you all. 

John S-R

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Acid Wall Shirt

It never seems to fail. When you work every day building dry stone walls, your shirts invariably end up looking like this. It's like the stones have some residue acid on them. 
Batter Acid? 
But really, it's just the little nibbles they try to take out of your belly every time you lift one of these critters to waist height on the wall. Holey shirt Batman, check out tomorrow's post.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The stability of stone.

We all know that rocks and stones have been around millions and millions of years. They last for ever almost. That's why we build walls with them, right?  

But we wallers also are well aware that some kinds of stone material are just pretending to be stable. Stone may look perfectly good to use, but sometimes it isn't.  

Even if the stuff looks well aged, and doesn't appear to have changed its composition or physical appearance in decades, some of it will let you down the first chance it gets. Even if its been lying around on the ground docile, seemingly untouched by the elements for years and years - actually it has an agenda. 

The stuff is just waiting for you to put it in a wall. Then, almost immediately it starts to fall apart, separate into pieces, break up, fragment, decay, deteriorate, degenerate, decompose, rot, molder, perish, crumble, spall, chip, peel off, flake, blister, exfoliate, shed and disintegrate.

( btw. that's not my wall, above)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Moss Wall

Why does a wall with moss growing on it always look so attractive.

I wonder, is there any situation where having moss on a wall would be a detrimental thing?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

To wall a good night.

Just remembering a good night of 'walling' back during Nuit Blanch on October 2 - 3  
Many Canadian wallers and lots of enthusiastic helpers demonstrated their passion for walling during the all-night art celebration held annually in Toronto.
Not just walling, there was lots of dancing that night too.
Thanks to Evan and Akira for organizing that event, and to everyone who got involved.

Hope there are more celebrations of walling here in Canada in the coming years. 

And yes, I hope you all had a good Christmas too.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Wall

My Wall - A collection of walls both old and new. 
Something special for the holiday season
Words and Music by Tom Ramage.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wall of Kintyre

After visiting the standing stones in Argyll, Norman and I drove past Inverary to look at a new wall he had recently built for a ship builder and his wife who lived on the peninsula of Kintyre.

The material he had to work with was a nasty gnarly stuff  but somehow, just as this part of the country inspired Paul McCartney, Norman was able to make the stones sing.

Here is photo I took of another wall of Kintyre.
Far had I travelled and much had I seen. 
But the look of this old dry stone wall against the sky seemed to capture the magic of this area of Scotland the best.
The light - I could see rolling in from the midst of it . 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Climbing Stones - not such a new idea.

Norman and I came across this interesting pair of climbing rocks that were recently installed in a park in Crieff Scotland near where Norman lives.

We noticed that the rocks were not even real boulders but were made of concrete. 

They probably won't last as long as the real standing/climbing stone circles that the ancient  Picts erected all over the country thousands of years ago, when the sport of bouldering was originally introduced. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Scores of Standing Stones. Stone Games

Historic plaques at many of Scotland's standing stone sites dismiss mysterious megalithic structures, like this one in the photo at Templewoodas either ancient astrological calendars, or merely sacred places of worship. I think it's possible that the tall standing stones in this field were erected thousands of years ago for some other purpose.

Surely the Picts must have done more than look at the stars every night and hold endless year-round prayer meetings . It's not too difficult to imagine other perfectly good reasons why these ancient, presumably intelligent people went to all the trouble of dragging massive stones long distances and assembling them in strange configurations. 

Perhaps the disjointed megalithic sites scattered around the country are the remains of far more interesting structures like huge 'big rocks stores', boulder allies, neolithic amusement parks, early sports complexes and primitive 'rock climbing' centres. I'm guessing that the two standing stones Norman and I saw in Kilmartin Glen are the original goalposts erected thousands of years ago for some of the very first football matches between celtic teams and various opposing stone rangers.

Feel free to suggest other possibilities as to what these two standing stones were originally put here for.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Picts and Shovels

Norman and I drove to Argyll last week. He wanted to show me a very special dry stone structure known as a Tumulus. It is an underground burial place - a chambered cairn. The actual place we went was Temple Wood, an ancient, probably Pictish site, located in Kilmartin Glen, Scotland. 

Presumably with the Picts first dug into the ground to create a large hole. Then large stones were manouvered into position around the outside edges of the hole and a crude corbelled roof was then constructed over the top using very large flat stones. 

Along with the chambered cairns there is also one of the earliest stone circles in Britain, dating to 3500 BC. The southern circle, 40 feet in diameter, contains 13 of the 22 original stones.  A burial cist is prominent in its center, and it is surrounded by a circle of stones some 10 feet in diameter. 

It was a fascinating place to explore. As with everything realted to ancient standing stone and megalithic sites there is not very much information as to why these structures were built. The origin of the name Picts is associated with the Roman word for painting. 

More pics tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hot Air Ballooning and Cold Dry Stone Walling

Norman and I watched as a hot air balloon floated over the farm where we were repairing a dyke last week.
It was very cold that day. I guess balloons rise better in cold weather much like smoke rises better up a chimney on a cold day. I could hear the blasts from the propane tank as the flames kept the air inside of the balloon warmer than the outside air. I wonder if it is enough heat to keep the voyagers warm too. I know I would have liked to be warmer that day.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dry Stane Dyke Clan-Scaping

There are many traditional patterns of Scottish dry stone walling. 
Here is one - 'The MacQuarry Wall'
The wall style transitions upwards into tightly coursed rows of round stones and has a tidy belt of brown copes along the top.
The reddish stone all comes from a special quarry. 
Sadly, the stone supply at that quarry has been completely depleated and there are no more walls being kilt like this.

This close-up of the MacQuarry Wall shows how the stone is Tartan to change pattern.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peter Ogwen Jones Photographer

Below are a few photographs of the walls of Snowdonia taken by Peter Ogwen Jones.

Unfortunately he doesn't have a website.

I'm hoping he will get one soon so you can see more of his work.

"It's as if nature built them rather than man. " - Peter Ogwen Jones

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Branching Factor

Branching is life's way of adapting and permeating that which seems impossible, impenetrable and immovable.

Eric Landman's 'Tree' structure which he built for his wife Kerry last winter has touched the lives of many people.
The beauty and simplicity of the tree form keeps resonating with everyone who sees it and continues to branch out to touch many many others across the Internet.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Level Copes

What a difference having all level copes at the top makes to the overall look of a dry stone wall .

A wall with an even top looks tidy even when the bottom line of the copes is uneven.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Willie Cassidy and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Cairn

Yesterday evening at Norman's house in Crieff I had the great pleasure of meeting his friend Willie Cassidy a "wee cheery dyker" as Norman would say who, along with Norman, double handedly (can you say that? ) built the very impressive dry stone Cairn for the Queen at the royal residence at Balmoral in Scotland. 

Willie is indeed very friendly and his excitement about discovering that walling was the thing he loved most doing, after being a game keeper and a trucker for much of his life, was very affirming. 'Cheery' yes, but surely 'wee' doesn't seem to capture the physique and bubbling presence of this man.

We had a wonderful roast chicken last night which Norman prepared and a few drinks afterwards and then before Willie left I asked if I could take a photo of them holding the framed print of the unveiling of the cairn by the Queen, that they were presented with. 

I felt quite honoured to be in the company of these two men who had recently done such a good job turning 40 tons of wall stone into a permanent sixteen foot nine inch high dry stone cairn structure to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. They  talked so humbly about what they had done.

The story  (below) of the cairn is compiled and edited from several entries (all worth reading) on Norman's popular Facebook blog            


"There are a series of Cairns built at Balmoral. The first was The Purchase Cairn in 1852 erected for Queen Victoria to commemorate the buying of the estate. Many of the older ones celebrated the marriage of Queen Victoria's children. 

Our cairn, to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, was to be in dry stone the first since 120 years. We were asked to build it in the style of the Purchase . 

Willie and I started the build in the middle of May. 

We erected a scaffolding to make it easier to manage heavy rocks up to the required height. However this created a problem. The trouble with the scaffolding was that we could not judge the angle of the face accurately with our line. The result was that each rock had to be carried up the ladder!

We had many visitors during the construction including a group of primary school children from Logie Coldstone. Willie and I asked them if they would like to help us. A great response - each of them put a stone in a big yellow bucket and Willie climbed up and tipped these into the centre of the Cairn. The teachers and the ranger Cathy were also eager to participate. We had read that when the Purchase Cairn was built Queen Victoria and her children had all put a stone in the cairn as it was being built. The group were all happy to continue the tradition even in a small way.

The photo here shows the moment when Willie poured a small but significant measure of 10 year old Malt Whisky over the top stone. After that we had to have some ourselves and toasted various people including the Resident Factor, Colin Sutherland and the client. 

Here is detail of the top. Years ago when my son Duncan was at primary school he came to tell me that he had found a lovely stone in the small river that ran close to the school. I didn' really listen at first but eventually I went to see it. Wow it was great , seemed to be an old grinding stone for sharpening knives which had been dumped. Duncan's friend John Lowe told him it could not be moved because it was the plug of the stream and all the water would drain into the bowels of the earth. Despite the warning we took it to our garden. I looked after it for about forty years still in my garden. 

When we built the Cairn I thought it would be perfect to hold the top of the Cairn . Duncan now in Australia was delighted to donate it to the project. We also wanted a striking top stone and luckily Willie spotted a roughly conical piece of white granite which had been washed down from the mountains by the river Dee. It finished off the top beautifully.

Here is the completed job. Beautifully landscaped by a firm in Aberdeen. The plaque stone was etched by local stone mason Gillian Forbes. 

Willie and I did put a little tin box in the centre. In it were some coins, a commemorative crown from the 25th Jubilee and a message to anyone who found the box. "Long life and happiness to the finder of this message, by the way please repair the Cairn."Scottish Warrant Holders along with present and past employees on the estate contributed to the build as a gift for the Diamond Jubilee.

Her Majesty the Queen unveiled the plaque in front of a large gathering on 8th August.

It was a wonderful experience to be part of.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Evaluating the cost of rebuilding a long farm wall

Last week, Jason Hoffman and I walked over this field with the factor looking at a old wall that needed to be fixed. There is about 500m of free-standing wall that needs to be rebuilt in the Scottish Borders. A massive job like this seems like it might be hard to put a price on. How much time will it take? Is there enough stone hidden there under the soil? How much slower will the hilly part be? Jason is looking for helpers next spring. Are you in? Let him know if you are interested.

Jason can be reached by using the contact info on his Stone Inspired website.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Frost Thoughts

Yesterday Norman and I were doing some gapping near Auchterarder. 
It was cold and sunny.

While the early morning frost covering ground can be quite beautiful ...

stones that have been on the ground during a cold night will often cling tenaciously to the grass when you try to pick them up.

The hard clumps of turf they pull up with them, makes them almost impossible to use until they warm up a bit. And even though your building material is all there lying on the ground, and you're ready to get walling, sometimes you still have to wait a while until the sun unfreezes and frees everything up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Callum Gray Firepit

This dry stone 'fire-circle', built by Callum Gray, was inspired in part by the one in Dan Snow's book 'In the Company of Stone'
Callum has injected the original concept with his own creativity and clever expertise to create something truly amazing. There are more photos on his web pages showing various stages of it being built.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Callum Gray

Two days ago Jason Hoffman and I paid a visit on Callum Gray of Keltie Landscapes in Callander Scotland. He is a remarkably good dry stone waller, though he's way too humble to post much of his work on line. 

It was moving day when we arrived, and Callum and his wife Rachel were pleased to have some extra hands to help with the many boxes and furniture items that needed to be packed and moved to their new house. In the truck he and I discussed how a background in warehousing (which he had a bit of ) and furniture removal (of which I had some, way back when) is a great training ground for becoming good at fitting things tightly together in the least amount of space.

Choosing a career in building dry stone walls may not necessarily be the next step for someone who has already developed an strong ability to pack odd shapes together, but it's worth thinking with your hands about, and maybe giving it a try.

Anyhow, even with our combined walling and packing skills, Callum and I still couldn't find any way to fit the awkwardly large couch through their hall door into the living room. 

Here is an example of the kind of beautiful work you can find on the Keltie Landscapes website.

Maybe building walls and arches is easier than moving furniture. Who knows?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wall The Best

I know of several wallers who have announced they wish be known to all as the best.
They know it takes knowledge and practice and a good sense of structure.
It helps to have encouragement too, not just criticism.
However when you're building with odd shaped random material (rather than simple blocky easily shaped ones) it can sometimes seem to others like you have not done your best

Below are details from three different stone walls (where random shaped stones have had to be used) which are built by people who are considered by some to be among the best.

(The colour has been removed from the samples so that the stone is less recognizable) 

Sample A

Sample B

Sample C