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2014 Review of dry stone walling projects – July to December

The second half of 2014 was dominated by three big projects plus my first stone building in the USA.

July 2014

Edinburgh – Moongate project.
By July the Moongate was starting to form.  I’d done a big chunk of walling, including making one of the three raised beds, laying a ton of copes and making the lower half of the moongate.  Another 14 tonnes of Alston stone was delivered and shifted in a day.

Grangemouth Scottish Wildlife Trust – pond rebuild
I was commissioned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust to rebuild a pond at their urban wildlife garden in the oil refinery dominated town of Grangemouth.  The section of garden we were working in had a theme of up-cycled, so the design brief was to build the pond with anything and everything.  So we did.  Various kinds of stone, brick, slabs and concrete.  Old bottles and boots.  And pretty much everything else in between.  And lashings of Devil’s Cream.  Callum from Keltie Landscapes helped out.  It was a fun job.

August 2014
Stow, Scottish Borders – retaining walls
August saw a return to Stow to build the second of the retaining walls. Again, I had Neil Moffat working with me.

Kirknewton, West Lothian – bench and planters
In August I started building this bench near the village of Kirknewton.  It was one of those jobs with a very long gestation period, and once started had a couple of hiccups along the way – the main one being the stone getting dumped in the wrong place, meaning that I had to spend an unscheduled and rushed few hours barrowing the stone off of the client’s lawn.  A second delivery of 6 tonnes, somehow grew into a delivered 10 or 12 – a generous quarry no doubt, but the four tonnes of dross were not ideal! However, the clients were about the best you could have.

Grangemouth Scottish Wildlife Trust – stone and slab bench
The SWT asked me back to build a small stone bench to fill a space in the upcycled garden. I had a very short timescale to complete the project before the official opening.

Milnathort – Recess arch and paved seating area.
With my Kirknewton clients away on holiday for a couple of weeks, I had a choice of continuing working at their place without coffee, or starting a new job with coffee. I chose the latter.

This turned out to be the most technically demanding job that I have done. I’ve built a couple of arches before, but never a curved arch. It was a lot of fun working out how best to do it.

Kirknewton – steps rebuild
One of the neighbours of my bench client had spotted me shifting the stone, and had asked if I could take a look at their crumbling brick built steps. So out came the power tools to break up the old steps, the cement mixer to produce the Devil’s Cream to bind the new ones together and the 9? angle grinder to cut the slabs. Not my favourite kind of work, but nice clients and pay helped me get over my aversion to mortar!

Western New York
The day after the Scottish Independence referendum, I flew out to Buffalo NY, USA to undertake some work for my Facebook stalker. This is an American fan of my work who pestered me relentlessly to come build her something. Actually the conversation online went like this: Her: “I’d love for you to come build me something in stone”; Me: “Ok”; Her: “When?”; Me: “September?”; Her: “Cool”. And that was it. I was off to the USA to build something for a total stranger. It turned out that the trip was great fun, the clients were brilliant; I caught up with some walling friends in the area; I ate my own weight in Bison; and I got to see the Buffalo Bills NFL team in Buffalo (a team I have followed from the UK for 30 years!). And the sun shone every day!

Kirknewton – stone bench
Once I got back from my USA trip, I was back on building and completing the stone, turf and wood bench. By now, the design had changed a couple of times more. We also devised a use for the excess stone dust and dross: constructing a wild-flower meadow. The final bench looked great – the very regular size of the stone meant strict and level courses. However the curves sweetened the look, and the three circular beds were most enjoyable to make; even though each cope took 12mins to cut, shape, fix, set, amend, chisel and finally set. Phew!

Milnathort – recessed arch and mud pit
By now the seasons were marching on and with autumn came rain. In fairly typical fashion, the developers who had built my client’s house had stripped all of the top soil leaving clay sub-soil with a layer of turf. Once it rained, the whole place turned into a quagmire. It made moving around the site a messy and slow business. However, I just donned the waterproofs, pulled my hat a bit lower over my face and persevered. Steve Rowe and his trusty helper Bruce came to lay the slabs and do a bit of wooden fencing. A planned two day stay turned into very long three days,working into the dark on two of the nights. Its amazing how a little thing like trying to remove an overly-engineered fence post can slow you down!

Worse of all, I managed to really hurt my back spending a largely fruitless and extremely wet day with a friend trying to tame the unruly clay sub-soil that we wanted to level a bit. Six weeks later I still hurt… It was a day I wished I had stayed home.

Anyway, despite the pain, I was really pleased with the finished job. Having built a moongate and a curved recessed arch this year, I really, really like building arches! Did I mention that ever?

Thornhill – retaining wall and steps rebuild
Callum from Keltie offered me a wee job that he was unable to take on. I spent just over a week rebuilding these two retaining walls and steps. Apart from some delays with my back crippling me, some rain and a lack of stone, the job went pretty smoothly.

Edinburgh – retaining wall and bench
And so to the last job of the year, and what a doozy. I like challenges but this one presents so many logistical nightmares. All of the material (about 10 tonnes) had to be hand-carried in trugs (big plastic buckets) from the very busy street, down steps, through the house, up steps before it was dumped. An old masonry wall had to be demolished and a couple of tonnes of heavy soil dug out and moved before I could even start building! All of the dyking stone has had to be thrown down into the hole and basically for a small job, its been very time-consuming.

Oh, and we’re on design number 9 now…

However, it is nearly done.  But the amendments and extras keep coming… I’ll be here in January 2015 finishing off my original bit and doing a wee bit more too.

Thanks for following, commenting and liking Stone Inspired in 2014.  Here’s hoping for some more great projects in 2015.

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