Thursday, July 31, 2014

Foot Flats Farm

Our next stop was to see a newer wall on Amherst Island at Foot Flats Farm, the home of Mark Ritchie and Cherry Allen. 

As you can see Mark used much more glacial fieldstone in his farm wall. The main part of the wall is made predominately of granite which he found locally and used the limestone mostly for the vertical coping. 

Mark and I talked about the fact that the majority of historic walls on the island were almost entirely limestone. Presumably the Irish settlers who built the older walls would have avoided the rounded granite as they were used to building walls entirely of limestone, preferring to build them like the ones back in Ireland .   

Amherst Island sheep farmer Mark Ritchie and Andrea Cross our host. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Touring the island.

Our next stop was just down Front Road along the North shore to see more old dry stone walls. We met with Joyce Haines who showed us around the Pentland Cemetery.

Some years ago Bill Hedges was asked by Joyce to teach some dry stone training courses at the cemetery. With his guidance volunteers with the Women's Institute on Amherst Island repaired large sections of the cemetery walls.

This wall was the first repair of many.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A view from Amherst Island.

Amherst Island is a kind a sanctuary. For migratory birds, for period architecture, for various aspects of simple farm life, for events of historic importance and for people. 
Those who live here (and the many who visit by ferry) find something restful and calmingly beautiful about this island of farms, fields, forests and stone walls. Something seems safe and right about the place. I sense that the historic walls everywhere on the island are still doing their job - enclosing that which is meaningful and timeless, and providing protection from all that isn't.  

Unfortunately they can not completely hide the ugliness of industrialization. If you look north from Amherst Island, over the Bay of Quinte's 'North Channel' the view is spoiled by the Lafarge Cement Plant. 

The very chunks of material that the walls on the island (like this one in the foreground) are all made of - limestone - is the very stuff that when extracted in great bulk on the mainland and heated to within a quarter of the temperature of the surface of the sun, and then crushed up with other chemicals, produces 'cement'. 

Newer factories, wider highways, bigger shopping malls and more ugly industrial buildings can then be constructed from concrete which is made from that cement.  This represents a type progress.

So far, the threat of this kind of progress has been kept off the island. The Ontario government however has big plans to build dozens of tall wind turbines to clutter the landscape, and generate great mega watts of power. This will be a great change to the island and a concern to every person who holds Amherst dear to their hearts.

I think the challenge now for the Amherst Island is to look to another kind of progress  -  Preservation, which is a process that isn't focused just on extracting and using up new resources. It's a building with and upon the things we have at hand.

Any other progress is ultimately destructive.  I think - as do many others on the island including Andrea Cross who showed us around last week -  that the preserving of the island's stone heritage is an important part of that preservation process.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ken Curran's article on the walls of Amherst Island, Ontario

MAKING CONNECTIONS THROUGH REFLECTIONS: Clare stood straight faced, cap to one side and looked at Amherst. It was like looking in the mirror.

I often find myself making connections between seemingly unconnected events and seeing fate in co-incidence.This is not a peculiarity unique to myself I know and it is something which many of us as human beings often look for when making sense of the universe and how we fit into it during the course of our daily lives. What follows is an example of one such connection.
While visiting West Clare recently to do some dry stone walling with other members of the DSWAI I received an email which at the time appeared to have no connection to what we were doing. The email was on a different walling subject and I replied thinking nothing of it. A warm and polite reply was promptly received thanking me for my communication and including images and some history on the 'Amherst Dry stone walls and fences'.
Upon seeing the images I suddenly felt there was a connection between the style of wall that we were building and another style of wall thousands of miles away across the Atlantic ocean on Amherst Island in Lake Ontario, Canada.
A number of things struck me about the images of the walls and the history behind them.
Firstly, how similar they were to what we were building in Miltown Malbay (which is an imitation of a local style).
A section of the recent DSWAI wall at David O'Connor's Liscannor quarry
Fine example of a Dry Stone Fence from Amherst Island

Fine example of a Miltown Malbay Dry Stone Wall
Secondly, I noted how the builders of the old walls would have worked to similar criteria. As mentioned in the "Tweedsmuir" an historical record of Amherst Island, one Irish waller would build a "rod" a day for a dollar or two. This reminded me vividly of a conversation I had with one of the wall builders of Inis Oirr Island  who recalled  building a "tape" or sixteen feet a day for two punts. A "rod" is too the equivalent of 16 feet. Both wallers were separated by nearly 3000 miles of ocean and well in excess of a century in time, with the Inis Oirr resident alive and still walling today. 
Finally, I noted how they were all built by Irish people. 
The Amherst Island walls date to the 1840's and 50’s. Irish immigrants (many of whom came from Ayrds Peninsula) are accredited with having brought with them the skills, knowledge and heritage to build the walls. The bedrock is close to the surface on Amherst and farmers were constantly removing rocks as they ploughed the soil (nothing new there for the west of Ireland farmer).
Consequently, the Irishman's heritage and experience lent well to the circumstances, which it appears gave rise to the plethora of stone fences and walls in this area of Canada. 
A feature of the style of many of the walls both in Amherst and Clare is the lack of a batter.
Most of the walls in and around Miltown Malbay and on Amherst were built almost vertical, which could tend to shorten the life span of a dry stone wall. This lack of batter was noted by dry stone experts John Shaw Rimmington and Matthew Ring on a visit to Amherst -"However, the island has a unique aspect to it lending to this being less of an issue; the bedrock is very close to the surface suggesting less impact from frost. Besides this, the stone itself is unique in that it has an almost sand paper texture giving an extremely abrasive surface. These two items have definitely led to a longer life span for the walls regardless of the vertical batter"

Indeed these factors would play a part in adding longevity to the unbattered walls on Amherst. The Liscannor stone (whilst not sandpaper-like) does have the textured surface (for which it is famous) to add to its abrasiveness. The landscape in Miltown Malbay is somewhat more varied ranging from very shallow topsoil over bedrock (similar to Amherst) to areas of raised bog. The raised bog often surrounds the outcropping rocky areas that became the Liscannor quarry sites.
Many of the dry stone walls in and around Miltown Malbay span areas with a peaty subsoil which would not be immune to frost heave. However, Miltown Malbay is a coastal village and the climate in West Clare is quite mild all year round and not likely to have prolonged periods of sub zero temperatures, if at all. Instead of frost heave being an issue subsidence would be more likely.
Therefore, the lack of a batter could probably have a less detrimental impact on the lifespan of the Clare walls for similar reasons to those found in Amherst. Not having researched in much detail the ages of the walls I inspected whilst in this part of Clare a more accurate comparison of the longevity of the walls is not really possible. I would guess that many of the walls I saw in Clare could date from anything between 80 to 200 yrs ago, some much older. Having had a long history of dry stone walling in Ireland and also many wall building schemes initiated during the 19th and 20th centuries local knowledge is often the best source for dating.
I would guess though that the builders of these walls were working to a style and at a daily rate that necessitated expedience. In other words, the more they built and the faster they built it the more they were paid. A battered wall is no problem on the straight but add a turn or a curve and it is slower to build than a vertical one. It is possible the builders went straight up both because it was the fastest way and it was the way they knew. A battered face on a boundary wall in Ireland is not often present. The batter is seen in many structural dry stone walls (like retaining walls and stone faced earthen banks) and dry stone buildings (like Cashels) in Ireland. From my own experience of looking at historic dry stone walls in Ireland the introduction of a batter to the free-standing boundary wall seems not to have occurred until the 19th Century when many of the estate walls were being built in the areas of Ireland with a deeper topsoil and a wealthier farming community. Most of these walls were build by the professional travelling mason/waller as opposed to the farmer. The West of Ireland in particular was always poor in land and farming and the walls there were nearly all built by the local farmers. Therefore, the dry stone heritage differs between the battered wall and the vertical one in this instance. The vertical style may well be the indigenous and more common of the two in Ireland.
According to Matthew Ring, author and stonemason, the Dry Stone Wall Association of Canada, Amherst Island has one of the most significant concentrations of historic dry stone walls anywhere in Canada (source:  "
For anyone living here in Ireland there are plenty examples of areas such as Amherst Island. Sadly, I feel, many of the walls here have not received the same care and attention as those in Canada.
Of course, our respective histories and consequently perspectives differ.
Yet perhaps we could take a leaf out of the Amherst Islanders' book when it comes to maintenance and repair? I'm not suggesting thousands of miles of pristine perfectly stacked walls to be created around the country, far from it! A wall is a wall after all and as long as it stands and serves its purpose (whilst also being safe) then the multitude of styles, categories, levels of skill and variations on a theme are what makes this country so wonderful to travel around. It would however be nice to see some more maintenance and repair of collapsed walls in and around community spaces where we can all enjoy them and not have them replaced with a mortared wall,  a block wall or even with by no wall at all. 
The next time the DSWAI meet in Liscannor I will have an added perspective to what it is we are doing and a desire to see if its possible to build a "rod" or "tape" in a day. I feel we may have a wager of a euro or two on it as well just to spice things up a bit.
(Thank you to Andrea Cross of Amherst Island, Canada for the images, historical background and for contacting the association which then formed the connection in my head that I duly reflected upon here)
I have added some more images from Amherst and Miltown Malbay below.......
Another Amherst Island Wall
A Miltown Malbay field wall

Friday, July 25, 2014

Two thumbs up.

A rock face I saw with very unusual markings on the Kern River Canyon Road last February 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sundial Rock in the Park

This October I will be instructing students at the Sutherland Campus of Sir Sanford Fleming College in Peterborough Ontario. This will be a five day creative walling workshop where we will be building a large dry stone sundial. This will be a permanent public installation.

Sir Sanford Fleming (January 7, 1827 – July 22, 1915) was a Scottish-born Canadian inventor and engineer who among many other accomplishments introduced the concept of 'time zones' in order to establish worldwide standard time, which he called 'cosmic time'.

I've tried to imagine in this graphic what a primitive megalithic sundial might have looked like. 

Back in stone age times people might have erected these structures in each community in order to know when dinner was (or when The Flintstones would be coming on)

Our sundial will be much more modern looking.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to build an Arch

At Roscrea Castle & Damer House in Ireland there is a small information centre which has a few children's actives. There are materials and instructions on how to draw a castle and cushions specially designed so that 'children' can easily learn how to build a proper arch.

Though not officially a child, Hon.Secretary North Wales Branch of the DSWA of GB, Dry Stone Walling Association Master Craftsman and co- Author of BTCV's "Dry Stone Walling", Sean Adcock, somehow managed to put the parts together differently and still make an arch.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On leash parks

Embedded image permalink
Please keep your rocks on a leash so they do not allow our park benches to wander .

Friday, July 18, 2014


End of the day. End of the Week .
End of the job.
Walls and steps complete.
Time to sit in the river and enjoy the view.
Enjoy the shapes. The fits. The colours.
The sense of rightness.
Knowing that something beautiful needed to be created here. 

And it has been accomplished.

I know you love to pose Farley but please get out of the picture.

That's Better

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mass Stone Grave

We drove by this site yesterday. 
The stones were all buried. 

Having dropped by the week before and specifically asked about the huge piles of lovely stones that had been unearthed by the excavator, the lady who was having her new house built answered we couldn't have any because she was probably going to use them all landscaping the property.  

I guess 'backfilling' is her idea of landscaping.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A new workshop being offered at Kingsmere (near Ottawa) in August


Since 2008 I have been instructing walling workshops at the Mackenzie King Estate near Chelsea Quebec. This August there will be another hands-on two-day seminar for beginners and others who want to keep their walling skills honed.


We will be rebuilding a section of wall that was commissioned to be built on this beautiful property many years ago by former Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King. 

Here is a section participants repaired in 2011

kingsmere 2010 lifting big stone

Here is one being rebuilt in 2010.

finished kingsmere 2010

That same section - fully restored.

kingsmere walls to be repaired

Here is one of the original older Kingsmere walls (near the famous tea house) still in need of much repair and love

Dry Stone Walling Across Canada gourmet lunches delivered both days to these Kingsmere workshops are always fresh and delicious (and all part of the workshop package) 

Some more original walls lining both sides of the road on the NCC property known as the Kingsmere Farm.


Another recent repair adjoining a wide ribbon of stones to the left that still needs restoring.

Anyone wanting to register for this special Aug 17-18 course please contact 

See Our Fourth DSWAC Restoration Workshop for more details.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Another Successful Supporting Event.

Yesterday we completed the Ennismore Irish Arch Workshop near Bridgenorth Ontario.
It was held on two consecutive weekends.
During that same week World Cup Soccer and Wimbledon Tennis finals also took place.

I thought how much like a world class sporting event 'walling' is. The teamwork -The passion -The energy -The striving to do well and score high.

Our goal was to build an unbeatable dry stone arch that would bear permanent record to the cooperation enthusiasm and skill of the 'archers' (and gardeners) who came together to create it. The four day 'supporting event' itself was a huge success, but more importantly the structure will continue to thrill spectators and passers-by for many years.

A big thanks and hearty congratulations go to the members of my team for their super effort. - Cindy, Miklos, Ryan, Barry, Gail, Norm, Wayne, Sarah, Ian, Sandy, Byron, Justin, Helen, John R, Don, Gerry, Mark and our sponsor Jeff Parnell.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Indian River Job.

Last week we were working with mostly native material on the 'Indian River' job. 

WeatheredRock and ManySmoothStones came in very useful at first. The reserve came in later. BrokenFlagstone was particularly helpful.    

As much as we could, we avoided PinchedFingers and having the notorious RunningJoint anywhere on the project. We worked well with HeavyLedgeRock and this was better than having RocksWithNoFace slowing us down. 

The peaceful sound of LappingWater kept everyone in good spirits while we worked. We have TwoStepsFurther here to compete the project up to where OneLargeTree is standing. Hopefully CrumblingLimestone won't be a problem in the future and FastRisingWater and RollingBoulders won't come and wreck what we have done .

Friday, July 11, 2014

River Rockin'

Break times are important..

It's good to have plenty of stones delivered by 'boat-barrow' 

This is where the new stairs will be going 

A 'before shot' is very important.  
I've learned to always take one.

And then take another break.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Gavin and Evan in Australia

Our guys Gavin Rose and Evan Oxland building trails in Australia are seen in a section of a recent BBC documentary approximately 28 min 11 sec through the video

It's definitely worth seeing the whole video. 

Well done Gavin and Evan. That kind of trail work looks amazingly demanding !

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Many Hands and Hand Trucks Make Light Work.

Click On Link Below for Peterborough Examiner Article.

End of day two. 
We will need a few more 'truckloads' of stone too