Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All things being not equal.

Unless someone has a lot of experience, both having inspected and constructed many many walls incorporating all kinds of challenging types of stone material, it is not always possible to correctly determine if the stones in any particular wall have been used to their best. 

The people who are really qualified to appreciate good workmanship are not insecure.They don't need their egos boosted. They don't have to find fault just to impress others. Nor are they hopelessly unrealistic in their expectations of what is possible.  

They can fully understand the difficulties and material constraints that exist and may have been the legitimate cause of a wall to not look as neat or as correct as other walls made with less challenging material.

They can appreciate the fact that the stones may not have been as 'shapable' as they might look to others with little experience,  that the selection may have been more limited than one would assume, that the waller may not have been given the opportunity or choice to do it differently within the time required or the restrictions placed upon them by the client or the architect. 

Basically a sympathetic and qualified observer/inspector of dry stone walls understands that all things may not have been equal.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A stone does not suffer tools gladly.

A stone does not to like waste time.
It is usually the shape it is for a reason.
It does not suffer tools gladly 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hardwired sandstone

Weathered sandstone along the coastal islands of B.C. and Washington has this amazing patterning. 
It's as though the stone is, or once, was alive and its interior cellular makeup is now being revealed.

I imagine the bubbly network of concave shapes, if seen in the inverse, would look similar to a random dry stone design.

The rock material suggests a built in receptivity to that same kind of dry stone patterning. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Without Mortar !

venice architecture biennale beyond bending


Patrick McAfee sent this to me today. It's about some new technological developments using a brilliant form of dry stone vault and dome construction. It's based on the traditional Catalan vaulting methods from Spain. We need to see this done in Canada.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Basket Wall Anyone?

A properly built dry stone wall has a good deal of give and take to it. It stays together the same way a basket does. 

The stones in the wall are skillfully interlocked in tight arrangements and yet are still able to move. The connectedness of the stones create thousands of expansion joints. Each joint can move a fraction of inch if it needs to. 

The unsightly cracks one sees in a concrete or masonry block wall our to frost heaving, hydrostatic pressure in the earth and erosion do not occur in a dry stone wall.

Stones laid up in dry laid configurations not only have a basket-like adaptability to stresses within their structure, dry stone walls can even be adapted to become basketball backstops too. Here's one I saw in the Lake District a few years back.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Arch Jenga

Around supper time on the holiday Monday, at the close of the 2016 Victoria Highland Games, we began dismantling the 20 foot dry stone wall, (and the arch) we had built during the event.  All 12 tons were then palletized and plastic wrapped and all the hearting put in containers. The process took several hours.

Instead of just pushing down the arch, to make the teardown process more exciting, Christopher, Kevin and I made up a game of Arch Jenga where (during fits of giggles) we tried in turn not to be the one responsible for removing the stone that would cause this very skeletal-looking arch to collapse. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Flying Visit

Flying in from Ontario two days ago just to do this demonstration walling event in BC, I felt a bit like this falcon who did her own flyby to grace the arch we built yesterday at the Victoria Highland Games. 

Quite a crowd gathered too to see the wooden form being removed at the announced time Sunday afternoon.

It was gratifying to hear the many positive comments about our presence here at the games this year. One lady said that watching us build the arch was worth the price of admission alone. 

Others remembered us and remarked on our doing previous installations at The Games other years and how unusual each of the walling demonstrations were.

It took several hours, after we built the arch, before the space cleared to take this photo from the same angle as yesterday's blog shot, without any people in the photo.

Thanks to the Highland Games Association and to Christopher Barclay, Kevin Maloney and our students, for all their effort in making this year's walling event such a success. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Highland Fun and Games

We started off early yesterday morning at Topaz Park in Victoria at the Highland Games with our site looking like this. Lots of quiet , lots of room and lots of stone to have fun with. 

Drawing to the close of day one of our workshop we have begun to transform the place.

Here are some of the workshop participants. Well almost all of them. 

B.t.w. we were not just huddled together to have our photo taken. We were completely surrounded yesterday morning, and feeling pretty outnumbered by the dozens of wailing bagpipers, all practicing their different tunes before the events began.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Looking for holes in your skill level.

It never seems to fail. When you work every day building dry stone walls, your shirts invariably start looking like this. It's like the stones have some residue acid on them. 

Batter acid perhaps? 

Actually, it's just the little nibbles they try to take out of your belly every time you lift heavy stones to waist height onto the wall. 

It is required of fully skilled, certified wallers, who have passed every other test, that their T-shirts must end up looking like this. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Stone is Here to Stay

Photograph by Goretti Sobeit

Reaching out from one particular block of dressed stone from hundreds of huge granite blocks that form the walls surrounding Victoria Harbour, is a bronze hand holding a mirror. 

Presumably this piece of public art encourages people to look into the mirror and take a 'selfie' looking back from the mirror at the harbour.

It's one way of substantiating the fact that you were indeed here in beautiful Victoria. 

As it turns out I am here too this week in Victoria B C to help teach a two day stone wall course during the Highland Games which takes place again this year at Topaz Park. I hope to see lots of you there too. 

Though not with bronze hands, we will certainly be 'reaching out' to create another kind of art this weekend, one that reflects an exciting return to building with stone in Canada, and emphasizing the virtue and structural superiority of stone, rather than continuing to mirror the fading glory of concrete.

Stone is here to stay.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Solar solution

Our solar pump (purchased recently on-line) provides an effective water solution for the newly built dry stone 'enclosed garden', which is in full sunshine but situated too far from the house to be able to use a garden hose. The garden gets watered now from the nearby creek.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

On the island of Doon

Accompanying Patrick McAfee and me crossing the lake on this our exploratory visit last Monday to consider and discuss strategy for removing the invasive ivy and repairing the collapsed section of the Doon Fort was archeologist 
Paula Harvey and DSWA of Ireland's 
Louise Price and of course our boatman Patrick McHugh

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Visiting 'The Ring'

Early yesterday morning our boatman rowed us to a small island on a lake near Ardara in Ireland to visit this ancient dry stone structure known as Doon Fort. I can't think of anything to better capture how awe inspiring this place is than the short video below. Tomorrow I will share some more about our special visit to this mysteriously remote and little known ring fort.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Walls with a view.

Old dry stone walls over six feet high flank the bicycle trail through County Mayo near Muranny.  It's all part of a system known as the Greenway. 

While cycling this beautiful part of the world makes for a splendid holiday, our hands had more to do here than merely hold on to handlebars and steer through the countryside. 

There are a number of sections of wall along this stretch of the old railway line that are in need of some tender loving repair, and for about a dozen of us who attended the dry stone wall and lime mortar conference last weekend, lending a helping hand to fix a few of the spots along the way was our great pleasure and privilege.

We will all be coming back next year to do some more, and if you enjoy everything to do with walling and all things Irish you might think about joining us. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Remnants of the past

We visited here yesterday after the first day of teaching the County Mayo dry stone walling workshop in Ireland. I was profoundly impressed by what I saw. 

The Deserted Village at Slievemore on Achill consists of about 100 stone cottages. Archaeological evidence suggests that there has been human settlement in the area for thousands of years.

The first Ordnance survey of Achill Island in 1838 showed the village at Slievemore to be occupied. Less than twenty years later, following the ravages of the Great Famine, a traveller to the island described the village as deserted.

The houses are all rectangular in shape with well built thick dry stone walls. Many of the gables especially appear to be in good shape. Apparently in the past they had thatched roofs. The majority of the houses are windowless and have only one doorway. Some of the cottages have two doorways, one at either end of the house.

These relic dry stone structures stand in mute testimony to how hard this part of Ireland was hit by the Great Famine and by the exodus of its citizens that followed.

First day of sunny walling in County Mayo

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hollywood Beehives in Ireland

It's a pity they didn't build authentic style dry stone beehives with real wallers here in Ireland. It would have been faster. Read about it in the Irish Independent below...

Star Wars: Episode VIII’s Almost Finished Jedi Temple Set Photos From Ceann Sibeal Revealed

Author ThumbnailAlthea SeradMay 02, 2016

The Star Wars: Episode VIII set at Ceann Sibeal in Kerry, Ireland is almost done.
In a myriad of photos revealed by the Irish Independent, it appears that the sixth-century monastic settlement replica on top of Ceann SibĂ©al on the Dingle Peninsula is nearly completed. The new slew of photos comes prior to Episode VIII filming to be held later this month.
The new images showcase elaborate beehive huts with steps leading to the center of the entire area. With the photos showing structures uncannily similar to the Unesco World Heritage Site at Skellig Michael, which is the site for Luke Skywalker’s hideaway planet Ahch-To, it’s expected that the Ceann Sibeal location is where Rey will be trained by Luke.
Check out the amazing production work in progress via the Irish Independent:

Ceann Sibeal is only one of several Irish locations used for the filming of Star Wars: Episode VIII. Unlike Skellig Michael, Ceann Sibeal posed very few issues in production since it had less conservation restrictions in filming.
This weekend, photographs of the Millennium Falcon have also leaked, showing the iconic space ship parked in the middle of lush vegetation.
Episode VIII is still months due its release, and it seems that with each location shoot, it can’t be helped that set photos are being leaked. In any case, the photos tease the awesome job production design has accomplished over the past few months. Hopefully though, nothing spoiler-y comes out.
Star Wars: Episode VIII hits theaters on December 15, 2017.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Secret Garden

In keeping with the latest trend of securing special dry stone wall projects where the location and design of which can not ever be divulged, we have signed an agreement to take on one ourselves. 

Our client has established a media blackout about the whole thing.  Only a few special people have ever been allowed to visit the site and even they have had to be driven blindfolded there and then spun around three times before they got to see anything. All cameras and iPhones are confiscated at the security gate and then destroyed. 

I'm very excited to be able to not talk about this new project or show any photos. However, I'm sure you can imagine how fantastic the feature is we are building. When it is completed I may try to get permission to post drawings of it done by one of  those courtroom sketch artists. But right now I'll bask in the thought of having a project so secret that even I don't know where or what it is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Our henge is not mechanical. 
It is human.

Enclosed in a circle of life,
Our lives and our dreams are not meant to be kept in box.

We are lifted up when we dance together.
Creativity is an unfolding of a mystery, one we all can share and celebrate, 

As we inspire one another to look up
beyond our mortality....

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ireland in the spring.

I'm off to Ireland tomorrow and very much looking forward to seeing Patrick McAfee again. Here's a photo I took of him last year at this time at the Famine Museum looking at a book about dry stone walls. It looks like he's finding it an amusing read. Must be a dry humour.

Here's a section of dry stone wall in County Mayo near the site where we will be working again.

Here's looking across the street from the place where we stay.  Crazy interesting stonework everywhere. I love Ireland!

Once more Patrick and I (and Eddie Farrelly and Eoin Madigan) will be in Mulroney (Mallaranny) County Mayo, Ireland on the invitation of the Mayo County Council to teach another dry stone walling course this coming weekend. 

These beautifully built dry stone walls (over 150 years old) were commissioned by the railroad to be built along stretches of what has now become a new tourist hiking and biking trail called the The Great Western Greenway

Monday, May 9, 2016

Badly Built?

Norman Haddow tells me that when he's teaching a dry stone training course, and talking about throughstones and batter and hearting, he sometimes likes to show his students a photo of Stonehenge and wait a few minutes and then ask them, "So why did it fall down?"

It's a good question because it points out the silliness of putting more emphasis on the fact that something did not last because it wasn't built in a certain way, rather than celebrating the fact that someone had the imagination and passion to build in the first place.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Listen to what you are looking at.

The stones in a well built dry laid structure can be described as all 'talking' to each other in a pleasant and satisfying way. Understanding the elements of that ‘conversation' helps one appreciate what’s going on. 

You can analyze any wall’s ‘appearance' by letting your eyes listen to the how the stones are interacting and how they are coping. Stones that have been placed structurally have all been put into a logical and meaningful arrangement, and thus are in 'agreement'. The resulting wall is the 'story' that they tell.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Granite Crevice Garden

This spring we installed a crevice garden with granite flagstone laid on end into the earth to look like an outcropping of fissured bedrock. 

Looking up from the sidewalk the strong diagonal rhythmn created by laying the stones this way stabilizes the look of the property's challengingly steep grade. 

I really like building these types of 'imbedded' retaining walls (which is basically a kind of 'pitching' or cobbling ) as an alternative to the usual upright 'stepped' terracing. 

The hill is easier to walk up and down and also provides a level walking area immediately above the wall making it possible to stand and cut the grass above. This kind of 'wall' still holds back the earth and prevents erosion.   

Next year, when all the alpine plants, mosses and small flowering plants have taken root in the crevices, this slanted garden rockery wall will look stunning.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A cause for celebration

We had a fun filled workshop in Canton Ontario last weekend.

This one was particularly special.

No less than three of the participants were celebrating birthdays, and were there thanks to their spouse's thoughtfulness and generosity. 

One dad, who's birthday it was, brought his two boys along to help out and learn all they could. Presumably mom planned it that way, not just to be able to have a break from the kids, but have her three guys coming back with some valuable walling skills; enough to build her new garden wall for her perhaps.    

Ben and Simon got very good at hearting