Thursday, January 29, 2015

Walk the Walls Tour - The Old Stones

Tour dates  -  May 27-June 08, 2015          

This year our Walk the Walls Tour will take us to Northern Scotland, the Orkney Islands and on to the western Islands of Mull and Iona.  This will be our fourth tour. We will visit stone age ruins and contemporary sites of stone walls, bridges, buildings, gardens and follies. We will learn about the lost arts of dry stone structures, the history  and legends of the castles and glens. Come absorb yourself in the landscape, the music, the food and the traditions of the region.

The first half of the trip will take us to the Orkney Islands, just a short step from the Scottish mainland.  These  islands are mainly “low lying, gently sloping, fertile valleys, where spring days are long and skies enormous”.  However, our interests are the well preserved treasury of Stone Age settlements and the recent discovery of Ness of Brodgar.  As National Geographic describes  this site in their August 2014 article, “Before long day ago around 3200 B.C., the farmers and herdsmen on Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands decided to build something big...”.  Picture of the Stones of Stenness, Britain 


From Orkney we will take the ferry to the mainland to meet our friend and DSWA Master Dry Stone waller George Gunn, (winner of and International Award for the Built Environment and Architectural Heritage). George also used to guide motorcycle tours in the Highlands, so he knows the backroads of this remote area and beautiful country, a land of legendary stones.

We will also meet singer, songwriter, poet and mountaineer Dave Goulder and  his wife Mary, our hosts  Lairg/Rosehall/Summerland.  Dave totes his Master Craftsmen/instructor walling certificate around with him,  as well as his guitar and members of his Rosehall Ceilidh band.

There is a wide variation of building styles and stones in the Lairg/Dornoch vicinity, -- double and single walls (dykes), sheep fanks, cairns and castles.  Our tentative plans are to stay in a Scottish Castle (Dornoch Castle Hotel), on the edge of the Dornoch Firth, a designated National Scenic Area in the Highlands of Scotland.

The second half of the tour we will travel south to the Inner Hebrides Islands of Mull and Iona. Here we will be joined by our very good friend and past host from the Balmoral portion of our 2011 tour, our waller at Balmoral, Norman Haddow (DSWA Master’s Certificate). 

Historically the island was known for crofting, whiskey distilling and fishing, yet now is known for castles and stone structures as well as one of the best seabird viewing areas in Great Britain. 

Most of our time will be spent on Iona, a pilgrimage site for several centuries and a place of Christian worship for more than 1400 years.  The extensive pink granite ruins of the Augustinian nunnery, and the Abbey that dates from the arrival of the Benedictines around 1200, as well as the sacred burial ground  which is said to contain the graves of kings of Norway, France, Iceland, and Scotland, including Duncan and Macbeth, are all within a walking tour of the island.

We will leave the islands behind and spend our last night in Glasgow. 

The Walk the Walls portion of the tour  and the flight portion are priced separately so  those wishing to make their own travel plans to and from  our destination  may do so.  Our tentative itinerary is to depart from Toronto-Glasgow the evening of May 27, and Glasgow-Toronto, June 08. We are designing this tour for the hikers, walkers or  wanderers. Our itinerary will be as casual as possible.

Our goal is to introduce the culture, the history, the ecology and for many, to connect with the stones of our past!

The dates have been set for our tour of walls but we are still working on finding the best prices  . So stayed tuned.

For general tour information contact:

Margot Miller    < >  613 659 3415
Jackie Moir, branch manager with Merit Travel will be our travel agent.  <>   (613.342.1412 x7230 | 1.800.938.2677 |

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Work continues on the tower

Patrick is in a race with Royce in the background. They are shaping arches out of very hard black granite. Royce barely keeps up, but then his arch is four times bigger !

The tower entranceway, with its lower stone posts is starting to take shape. The mica quartzite slabs are now being dry fit before we set them permanently in lime mortar. 

The first lift of builder stones is now in place, ready to be taken back down and mortared. We were waiting for lime to be delivered by train and truck from many miles away
The ramp is to roll the heavy spiral stair treads up.

Here is a blind arch - a niche, for sitting in and looking out over the ocean.

Here is Patrick's smaller arched window which will allow daylight to illuminate the lower section of the spiral stairs.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A gathering of stone enthusiasts.

About 300 people came to see what was happening here on Fish Rock road yesterday
Some of the finished structures (and the ongoing projects) that were open for public view were ...

The black granite tower foundation

The Irish dry stone wall

The Wing Wall

The Travertine bridge

The Ellis Island (giving a home to all the left over stones) wall

The Ideal Quarry stone cutting demo

The Roman Arch

The glowing onyx and shell jellyfish

and many many more interesting stone and tile installations.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The uneven walls of the imagination

Poet Danny Sheeny sees an Irish dry stone wall and it "sets the uneven wheel of the imagination turning in (his) mind"

I see these uneven walls as visual metaphors of the imagination.

Friday, January 23, 2015

On the threshold

This giant slab of 6 inch granite from Academy Quarry in Fresno has been feather and wedged by Nick and Karl to become the threshold for the tower.

The threshold piece is sawn in narrow strips and then chiselled down to the right thickness. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Treading Hard.

Julian Carmellino is grinding and tooling what ail end up being the newel post of the spiral staircase when the stair treads are all fit into the tower.

There will be 24 all together

Here's how they will fit.

Julian, Matt Driscol, Karl Kaufmann and Nick Tomlins all worked amazingly hard on these granite treads.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The spiral staircase

The spiral staircase treads are now being made.

Photo and video by Nick Tomlins

Monday, January 19, 2015

Shaping Stone

Matt Driscol is shaping dimensional granite yesterday with a three inch tracer. Several of us will be shaping stones again all day today.  

We are making the curved foundation stones for a small round tower, based on a fairly typical traditional Irish design. There are plenty of stones to shape before they are laid in place using a hot lime mortar. My preference was to make the tower 'dry laid' but I was outvoted by Kyle and Patrick. 

Photo and video by Nick Tomkins 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rocky VII

The rocks are all jumping to get going.

And we are all pumped 
and ready to build a knockout project with them.

Round One begins tomorrow.

Video by Nick Tomkins 

Friday, January 16, 2015


Hello John, I hope you are well. Someone brought one of your blog entries to my attention, and I thought it deserved a comment. 

There is no limestone in this project. What you are calling limestone is a banded granitic gneiss from the Huntsville area. It is a metamorphic stone with mineral content similar to granite, but has had its crystals rearranged so as to allow splitting on fairly parallel “beds” that resemble sedimentary bedding planes. An easy mistake to make, but if you look closely, I think you will see that it is not limestone. 

The material is often marketed as “Muskoka Granite”. You can google it by that name on the interweb and read all about it. It usually shows more colour than here. I will try to find a better picture for you.

The boulders were found on site. Some of them are granite as you point out (e.g. the pinkish one just right of centre), and there are various other kinds of glacial debris. We split them up and worked them in as we went along (“waste not - want not” you know).

Otherwise your piece raises interesting issues that are bound to inspire discussion. I’ll save my own further remarks until we can sit down with a couple of pints -- something to look forward to.

I tried several times to submit a response on your blog, but I’m not that tech-savvy – couldn’t make it work. I hope you will post this as a clarification in order to avoid widespread misunderstanding.

Awfully nice of you to mention a project of mine John; thank you very much and all the best in 2015. Augustus Butterfield.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1 - 0 for the wall.

 professional waller builds this beautiful curved 'showcase' dry scone feature out of a difficult type of randomly shaped Dolomite whinstone from the quarry down the street. 

It is only up for a few years and you'll never guess what happens next.  

A speeding car comes barreling around the corner trying to overtake a quarry truck and smashes head on into the wall ! 

The wall takes a knock but the car is somewhat more damaged .

The score?    1 - 0   for the wall.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I can't say 'I never meta structure I didn't like'

He is asked by the new homeowner if something can be built in the back yard  'nicer' than the crudely stacked fire pit marooned in the middle of the lawn. 

You'll never guess what the boss and his crew create for their client with just some local boulders, some flat granite and a little bit of back-breaking labour....

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Anne Halliday and her Bridge

Anne Halliday grew up in rural Scotland on a farm near Dumfries and Galloway where there are "beautiful dykes of every shape, size and stone". 

Walling (or drystane dyking as the Scots call it) was something she says she remembers always being around. However Anne says it wasn't until her adult life that she realised that it was something she really wanted to do.

"I am attracted to the artisan nature of walling and building with dry stone.  Using something unadulterated and straight from the earth to create something beautiful, creative, practical and eternal is incredibly compelling for me." 

"I think creating and building things is good for the soul. It's good for mine anyway ! "
Anne belongs to the West of Scotland Dry Stone Walling Association

In August 2014 Anne passed her Dry Stone Walling Level 2 Test

This summer she spent two weeks building a boundary wall near Castle Douglas, Threave Castle is a commanding stone ruins not far from where she grew up. She says upon reflection " It's no wonder that I feel so drawn to the craft! "

About a year ago she decided she wanted to build a bridge.

She went about learning the process and figuring out how to best go about it.
She then sourced out some beautiful local sandstone and spoke to the Westwood Hotel Golf and Country Club a large local establishment who said they were interested in it being located at their 18th hole.
Anne wrote to sum up by saying  "Once that was all sorted out,  it was then time to begin"!!

It looks like she has indeed 'begun', and is doing a splendid job !

Anne's father came by recently to help out on the bridge for a day . 

Anne can be found on Facebook at

I hope to post photos of the finished bridge when Anne has completed the project.