Scotsman Newspaper/Digital - 10.01.21
Drystone Walling Perthshire getting the craft of dry stone walling some much needed coverage. This was off the back of an apprenticeship programme (QEST) Drystone Walling Perthshire had gained funding for - unfortunately the planned 24 month apprenticeship programme mentioned in the article only lasted 6 months (Jan 2021 - Jun 2021).
Drystone Walling Perthshire getting some much needed media coverage for dry stone walling / dyking in Scotland. We spend so much time and deliver so much passion into building and repairing Perthshire's dry stone walls, it was great to get chosen to represent the craft and my company.
A short radio clip (20:46) from Kaye Adams 'Mornings' show - discussing the DSWA, How I started dry stone walling in Perthshire, the new training centre in Fife and the future of Dry Stone Walling.
An article written in April 2021 and published in June 2021.
This interview and accompanying photoshoot was commissioned by QEST who provided the funding which Drystone Walling Perthshire had acquired for training an apprentice - unfortunately the planned 24 month apprenticeship programme mentioned in the article only lasted 6 months (Jan 2021 - Jun 2021).
Nonetheless a great article highlighting some of the work Drystone Walling Perthshire undertakes.
Photos below taken by Pascal Vossen -
In an old steading, a mere kilometre west of the A9, two new houses have been built, for the same family. They are white-harled, L shaped, with gables and garrets. Picture windows overlook vast Perthshire fields. One house is slightly larger than the other: that is for the younger generations. Next door is for the grandparents. Three generations will live a stone’s throw, literally, from each other.
It was a warm dry April morning. In the yard in front of the houses two drystone wallers are at work. A local farmer has just turned up with a trailer, dropping off more stones. It’s a happy arrangement; the farmer clears the stones from his fields and is glad to offload them. The wallers get plenty of local stone to work with.
The wall they are building, to traditional techniques, will mark the boundary between the two houses. Since they began the job five days ago, six meters of wall has risen from the yard. A further wall will sweep around the west side of the bigger house. A careful strew of stones is arranged on the ground, so they can see what’s what. It’s quiet work, only the sound of stone on stone, voices, sometimes metal on stone. Quiet enough for them to have the radio playing.
Martin Tyler turned down the radio and invited me to sit on one of the hefty stones lying about. Here is a man who loves his work. I told him that when I had received the call, asking if I’d nip up the A9 and visit two drystane dykers in rural Perthshire, I’d expected moss, ancient rusticity, old estates. Martin said that this was far from the first new-build he’d been engaged on. The client is an advocate, he said, meaning an advocate for traditional dry-stone walling. She is not alone. Martin whipped out his phone and showed me the little red disk that counts the unread emails: all of them customers wanting craft-made walls. He laughed ‘and they all want it done, like, yesterday!’
Both Martin and his apprentice Luke De Garis have changed their lives. For years Martin a ‘high end car salesman’, spending long hours in a showroom among Porches. But unhappy. ‘And then everyone’s unhappy’ he said, which I took to be a reference to his young family. He confided that he was earning a huge amount. But...
‘Why walling?’ I asked. ‘It was just innate’, he replied. ‘I’ve always liked them. I would be stopping the car to jump out and look at them. Feel them. I think I like boundaries. Purpose. A dyke has a purpose.’
So came the life-changing weekend; leaving the car showroom for good on the Friday, and on the Monday, starting a training course with the Dry Stone Wall Association. And from there to the day (‘terrifying’) when hebegan his first job as a self-employed drystone waller and dyker. And now there are all those emails. Martin reckons he has enough work for two years ahead. The present job might take two months.
As we were speaking, Luke De Garis came over to join us. Luke is the one who holds the Quest scholarship. As far as they are aware, they are the first drystone wallers to participate in the scheme. I could tell by Luke’s accent he wasn’t local – his was another changed life. A native of Guernsey, he had been a mental health nurse. Why the change? ‘Outdoors’ he said, plainly. But why walling? I asked and Luke’s response was similar to Martin’s. ‘I just really like drystone walls. I always have.’
The two met on a training course; Martin was the teacher and Luke the learner . The scholarship, said Luke, takes the pressure off. It’s buying him time to slow down and develop his craft skills. ‘It takes the panic away. The need to get on, get done...’ The scholarship means he can and look and learn. I’d imagined walling to be all about hefting rocks but much seems to be the art of looking.Visualising is crucial. The men explained how in choosing a stone to fit a space, they have consider its outward face (if the wall is to have an human audience, like the present one. If only sheep are looking at it, they can be less fussy.) The stone’s ‘reach’ into the wall’s interior should be long enough to bind the wall together under weight from above, and itsslope ought not to pull the horizontal line out of true. An upper course of stones should span the gaps in the course below. ‘A stone has 8 facets’ said Luke. All that needs thought about, pictured. Ideally, also, any given stone should converse with its neighbours, so no one stone sticks out, literally or metaphorically. Luke can do that, but he says he cannot yet look at a space where there is nothing, and imagine it occupied by a wall. Martin has that skill. He can visualise the shape and flow of a wall which is yet to exist.
All traditional drystone walls have a section shaped like a capital A, starting wide then sloping inward slightly until the wall can be capped. On this job, Martin is working on the south side, which will be visible from the windows of the younger family’s house. Luke is engaged on the north face. They work head to head. Each must bring his side of the wall up to the height indicated by a horizontal string. But the two sides will have different appearances. Martin’s side incorporates a row of massive boulders at its base. That was the client’s request. The boulders are in place now, that was the first day’s labour. Luke’s side is more even in its flow, prettier, no monoliths, again in accordance with the householder’s wishes. It has an audience, and is therefore a ‘wall’. If it was a field boundary, it would be a ‘dyke’. A step-style has been introduced so the kids can nip over to granny’s.
The two appreciate the terminology of their work, the old words. The ‘batter’ is the backward slope of the wall, before it’s capped with ‘coping’ stones. Thin ‘pinnings’ fill nooks and crannies. The void between the two faces is filled with ‘heartings’. The tools, likewise. Though reluctant to change the natural shape of a field-stone, it’s sometimes necessary to whop off a slice with a mason’s hammer. Martin holds up two such hammers. The smaller by a third is a Pennine hammer. The bigger is a Scottish ‘catchie’, a hefty bit of kit that speaks to the hardness of the stone hereabouts. What kind of stone is it? ‘I just call it Perthshire field stone. Whin, bits of granite. It just rises up out of the fields.’ Martin sprayed his section of the wall with water so the colours shone. It was mostly a tawny orange. ‘But look at this fellow here’ he said, pointing a greenish speckled granite interloper. Luke, having grown up in the far south, appreciates the different stone in different parts of the country. Down there there’s more lime. A stone wants to be at home, they agree. ‘They know’. Martin said. A stone out of place knows it.