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.