Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Eighteen people high and dry in Pontypool


This recent photo of the bridge we built in Pontypool Ontario back in July was taken by Carl Vyfschaft

Pontypool? Isn’t that a strange word.

Fr. pont= En.  Bridge > Fr. poule =En. Hen

Hen bridge ?

Chicken bridge

Afraid bridge

Fear bridge

Panic bridge

Bridge over uneasiness 

Bridge over trouble

Bridge to safety 

Escape bridge

Freedom bridge

Free stone bridge

Free standing bridge

Dry laid bridge

Dry bridge


High and dry bridge




Monday, September 17, 2018

Hands-on 'Thinking' with Stones



It's not so much a definitive statement as a kind of inclusion. Thinking with my hands does not mean it's done without my head. The more I hold stones (large or small) I just find it hard to think without using my hands as well. To not hold them is to lose an important cognitive factor. Consciousness of the potential within stone and the awareness of what is waiting to be done with, or understood about 'stones', is just made more possible through holding them and playing with them. These are after all, the precursor to LEGO, and the forerunners of clay bricks, cement blocks, steel beams, all sorts plastic building material and various substances being used now in 3D printing processes. Each new non-stone material ends up being less handled than the previous, and leaves us more and more removed from having a creative one-on-one experience . 


Stones have been around along time before men invented language, before the advent of books, television, computers. They helped us learn to think before we learned why we needed to think, to create before we knew why. We still don't know why, but Im guessing that our collective hands-on experience with stones over the eons of primitive generations surpasses any other knowledge we have attained, even if it's only carried subconsciously in our genetic makeup. It does our head good once in a while to recognize and respect (and look for) the wisdom that comes directly through our hands, by way of stones. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Time Arches


We keep building them because, Canada can always use more dry stone ruins. Time arches on... this is a folly 'ruin' at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in BC. It has been ten years since I ran this workshop.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

It takes a village...



It takes a village to build a bridge. One of the hardest working villagers here at the Saanich bridge was our wonderful chef, Chelsea Davidson. It was her early nourishing breakfasts and amazing lunches that kept us going through the eight days of bridge construction.

 I can't help but think that the success and amount of detailed care and structural aesthetic put into our bridge was in direct proportion to the skill and energy Chelsea put into the delicious things she prepared for those who attended this workshop. As a result we thought it only fitting that we got her to pose for her photo to be taken at the bridge,as she brought some very important ingredients to it.


In response to our request to join us, here's Chelsea carefully  placing one of the sandstone voussoirs in the vault, as a kind of delicious ceremonial bridge filling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Visiting one of my students the day after the bridge workshop


How can you sit on your patio and just relax, after having just taken a dry stone bridge workshop, when that pile of sandstone along the back of your property is beckoning you even more now, to get building a wall or bridge or something ?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Young children on an even younger bridge

Silently arching up off the sides of the steep banks of the park ravine, and leaping magically over the space between, local stones that for thousands of years lay unnoticed in the earth, now support passers by (and children like these two who have come by to sit a while) on this our newly built dry stone bridge, spanning Dominion Brook Park brook in North Saanich on Vancouver Island.
The path is now connected, from one side to another. And as we stand back, and contemplate the bigger picture, it seems that this our most recent project is just a delightful continuation of that path we've taken in the way of demonstrating the art of dry stone 'bridging' across this our great Dominion of Canada 🇨🇦 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Perfect Marriage


Our bridge dedication ceremony yesterday at Dominion Brook Park seemed a bit like a wedding . The sixty or seventy guests who had gathered under the cathedral-like canopy of Douglas Fir trees for the 2 o'clock ceremony were directed to one side or the other of the ravine to watch the proceedings. We might well have asked " Friends of the brook or friends of the bridge?" The brook in this case was the waiting groom- waiting for the new bride's 'veil' ( the centering support ) to be removed from the bridge.  (Bride is 'bridge' without the 'g')

I thought about how the two landscape 'features' had now joined to have a beautiful life together. The happy union of brook and bridge would go on to be a blessing to all those who came along their path.
It's interesting that the wedded  couple are in a relationship where neither one is there to be an obstruction to the other.
Both allow for, and respect, the other's 'flow'.
Both have the freedom to go in a direction that maintains natures harmony and compliments the other.
The meeting of the two is a place of blessing because it is crossing over, a spanning of differences as well as a meeting of the elements. Stone and Water.
It will be a place where new and wonderful things will be conceived. 

A place where dreams come true - a marriage of human skill and natural design which will have hopefully come together to bring out the child in all of us. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

So far so good

We seemed to have done the impossible . Seven days ago there was just a hole here where needed to be a bridge. We agreed to do it. We jokingly said 'what could possibly go wrong'. 
Lots did. But things went very right too. Our bridge became a symbol of cooperation.  Instead of letting individual walls be put up against the pressure of having to  get this challenging project done, we worked together to span it. It began by building from both sides and somewhere and somehow we met in the middle. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

A good helping of river rocks.



After the first and second course of the workshop , and the meat of the bridge has been thoroughly prepared and and all the students have partaken, there is always the tasty last course . In this case it is 'bridge cobbler' for dessert, bedded in a crunchy aggregate. Sweet.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bridging across the extrados-sphere.

Five days into the workshop both extrados have been completed. This constitutes an Extraordinary effort by all the Dominion Brook Park bridge participants. The barrel vault is structural enough to take out the wooden centering now but we are waiting until Saturday at 2pm when we will remove it during the bridge dedication ceremonies here in Saanich.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Bridge Labourers

We didn't take the day off. We laboured all Labour Day on the bridge. Dry stone 'work' is more fun than not working.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Can you imagine ?

Foundation prep work nearly completed. All ready to begin the Dominion Brook Bridge Building Workshop. Hope to see a finished bridge here by next week. Can you imagine it?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Bridge Base Work


Christopher Barclay 
Picks up the stones that he'll choose 
Finding a place for each one that he'll use
Filling the space
inside the base. 

Look at him working 
Tapping them in with a grin 
When there's hearting to spare
Look at it there .

All the stoney bridgework
When will it all get done?

All the stoney bridgework
He's glad it's so much fun !




Thursday, August 30, 2018

Recognizing a bridge from a hole in the ground.

Most things built in the dry stone method require some digging first . Wall foundations don't need to be dug as deep as  shelters or cairns or dry stone blackhouses. Bridge abutments need to be dug deeper than the bottom of the water course they are to go over. 


Here in Saanich BC we've had to dig quite deep to get below the creek bed which tumbles down quite a deeply grooved ravine.  Lots of stone will have to be laid below grade before we get to height in order to spring off the sides with the signature voussoirs that form the classic arch that supports the main span of the bridge .

Monday, August 27, 2018

The line of the wall

. Mark and I had the opportunity of working with two great wallers last week. Working with them I've realized once again that it's not just about building structural walls, it is about being able to feel them. Their look and shape needs to be carefully visualized. 

Determining the lines of a dry stone wall,as it flows over the contour of a landscape is so important . It's height and the path it takes, can look good or amazing depending on seeing the finished creation in your mind. 

Fergus Packman has that ability . The walls he builds convincingly merge with what's around them, taking on a presence that doesn't compete or showboat the rest of the property.

Being able to build walls and also having the skill to see the lines before you build them, makes for a powerful combination.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Shoring up the shore


Vertically laid or horizontally, which method of laying stone along the shoreline would you guess would be stronger?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Rock Faces



Our hard working team headed up by Fergus Packman faced a challenging task of getting 63 meters of dry stone wall built in Glengarreff , County Cork, in 4 days. What a pleasure it was to work with such random chunks of gnarly sandstone. Mounds of rock jut out across the Irish landscape here in the south of Ireland, exposing magnificent striated patches of vertically bedded rock. I can see why Irish wallers would choose to lay the stone vertically. It's their natural inclination. 

Many thanks to Ken Curran and Mark Ricard and our enthusiastic client Jeremy Daily who kept the momentum up and got the job done with lots of laughs and tasty breaks ...oh and I guess we can't forget Bandit the hard working mason dog who took this week off and just ran around chasing sticks all day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Walling in Glengarriff


Walling with a view to adding to the beautiful view of Bantry Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Walling as a kind of landscape art. Walling with the intention of putting to good use the stones ( good and bad) that are just laying around. Walling as a form of function. Walling as a way of being sympathetic to the natural contours of the countryside. Walling as way of doing something uplifting. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

That caps it off

The dry stone hut we worked on last June at Langenlois Austria has now been given a lovely corbelled vaulted roof   Congratulations all.







Monday, August 20, 2018

A ball.


Linda had a ball on the bridge we built in Port Hope . She's visiting here from Austria . She brought her parents Mario and Carola

Saturday, August 18, 2018

My kind of fishing.


There's a rock and gem shop in Bancroft Ontario that has a special area out back set up so kids can go fishing for unusual rocks. It's 'stocked' like a lake, not with fish, but with semi rare minerals, all left over mine tailings. 


This way to a pool of natural resources.


My grandkids hauling the day’s ‘catch’ back to be weighed. 


Is that a small rock basalt or just a minnow-rel?



Monday, August 13, 2018

Salem Creek Bridge Drama




This is how far the water came up when Salem Creek flooded after the torrential downpour burst the beaver dam upstream. This is a photoshopped image based on where the flood lines appeared in the lawn,( we had no camera at the time the flooding occurred)


Blue lines show where the wall and part of the abutment washed out.




I repaired the damaged section the next day laying the stones vertically to give the wall along the bank more of a dynamic grip.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Good Wine And Good Bridges Go Together



Check out karlo estates.com 

While many people have visited this first class winery in Prince Edward County and had an opportunity to taste their wonderful selection of wine, perhaps not as many have seen the dry stone bridge we built on the property over ten years ago. 

It's worth taking the time to go there this summer and join the ever growing number of people who have discovered this gem of a place, and then stood on the bridge and raised a glass to friends (old and new) and all the good things there are to drink and eat and discover right here in Ontario 

Photo- Saxe Brickman









Friday, August 10, 2018

The Best Camping Activity



Getting away, getting back to nature... the great outdoors holds so much attraction. For many of us the call of nature is so irresistible we manage to find some way each year to pack up and drive great distances in order to find a place where we can set up our humble camp in the wild, pitch a small tent and then sit and relax by some lake or river and take in the 'peace and quiet'.

This euphoric idea of being immersed, if only for a few days in the serene calm of such undisturbed surroundings, may only last a few moments however, when we actually get there. The bugs can quickly take their toll on our pioneer spirit and outdoorsy enthusiasm. So too, like the food in the cooler, our sleeping bags and yes, even our resolve to enjoy these precious moments away from civilization, may all get bit soggy over night.

The fact is after sitting for a while in the untouched surrounds of mother nature, eating and drinking, after going for that swim or hike, we will eventually get restless for something else to do. 

Some campers resort to gathering wood for fuel or gathering mushrooms for fun or rare wildflowers, others try checking their phones or just eating and drinking more .

As my associate Mark and I sat at our camp site contemplating our forest surroundings last week, we recognized that we were not restless at all. A perfect out door activity awaited us each day to engage our full energy in. 

We didn't have to wonder what to do or make up some project to pass the hours. There was a stone bridge to build. 

We found we couldn't think of doing anything more satisfying and enjoyable on our work-away holiday. It provided all the engagement two dry stone wallers needed to have a blast in the forest and yes, get paid for it. 

At the end of each day we rested fully satisfied in our progress of adding, stone by stone, a permanent natural arched passageway across a small stream ( all be it, dry at this time of year) built entirely of natural stone material, nothing else. 

It beat just building a dock or fitting stone steps down into the lake or making a fire pit or a stone footpath somewhere. It even beats balancing stones or making sand castles on the beach.


Camping and bridge building just seem to just go together!






Wednesday, August 8, 2018

New Bridge


The calm serene simplicity of a stone bridge leading across to the lush forested regions of our unexplored imagination. 

We completed this our latest dry stone bridge in Haliburton Forest yesterday with a flagstone pathway over the walking surface. 

Now we sit and wait for the rains. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Perfect Hearting Material



Any dry laid structure is only as good as the hearting used inside it. Hearting is the network of stones used to wedge, pin and bind the stones in a wall together properly.  In just the same way a cemented wall is held together with a poorly mixed, or an improper mixture of, aggregate and bonding agent, will result in it not lasting long, so a dry stone wall 'laced' with round river stones, slippery pebbles, cubes of broken flagstone or crushable brick or friable rock fragments is not going to stand up for long either. 

No, a good wall can only be as structural as the hearting is, and even if you don't skimp on the hearting, if you use incorrectly shaped stuff or place it badly your wall will fail. 


We have recently found a plentiful supply of the best material ever to use inside a dry stone wall. It comes in a wonderful variety of suitably-sized sheared-off wedge-shaped chunks of stone, from a quarry floor where flat 3 inch slabs of stone are being squared-up by banker masons with hammers and chisels. The stuff we've been privileged to collect for free, though it looks like useless stuff to the boys at the quarry, is like gold dust to us. We use it, dare i say, like a dry mortar. It helps stones bind together, yet gives the wall capacity to move and not have stones slip or slump and so the wall yields and breaths and the stones with the hearting helps the wall shed moisture .Each carefully chosen sharp wedge shape fits perfectly between or under any combination of builder stones. 

Good hearting material (like this or other similar sharp hard fragmented stone material) is the secret ingredient that makes dry stone walls great. To pin or fill any part of a wall with any thing less is 'heartless'.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Reusable Stones


Back in 2003 during the 2 days of the Uxbridge Highland Games that year, we built this demonstration arch from inexpensive random 'rip rap' limestone rock that I had purchased from a local Vicdom gravel pit.
That weekend the completed wall and arch became part of the fencing arrangement that penned show cattle and livestock at the Highland event. 

I remember just before the games ended, a friend offered to pay for all the stone material to be dumped at his property where he was restoring an old presbyterian  church. Being able to do anything with the stone was a huge relief for me because I had nowhere to take the 23 tons after the event was over.

Later the next year after attempting to build a wall and arch ruins with the stones he had bought at the games, that same friend called me up and asked if I could come and build it for him.
It was a challenge to build a much more permanent arch than the demonstration one we had quickly constructed the year before, while only using the same very irregular random stone.
I got a text last Thursday form some recent clients of mine who happened to be driving through Sonya, Ontario and saw the arch that I built there at beside the old church back in 2004.
They sent this pic and wrote "Is this your work?"  I was pleased that they guessed it was mine and relieved to see how charming it still looked beside the old church and that after 14 years none of it looks to have crumbled or slumped.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Wall Together Now

There is nothing quite like discovering how a huge pile of random stone material all fits together to create one ordered expression of connectedness