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2023 – Building dry stone bridges and going Japanese

2023 has been a year of big dry stone walling jobs and feeling the impact on my daily commute after moving to Fife. I’ve also had the opportunity to push myself building some interesting projects.

New House – new location, different commute!

January’s big event was moving to Kennoway in Fife after 15 years in Livingston. Livingston was such a brilliant location for work as it was pretty much an hour from most of Central Scotland – West of Glasgow, East of Edinburgh, Galashiels in the Borders and Perth when headed North.

Kennoway though offered a new location, a change of scene, an old house needing lots of work and a big plot of land with it.

It’s been a big change for my working life with an extra 30mins added to my commute into places like Edinburgh.

January dry stone walling and steps

Braco wall and steps completed

Working around the house move, I finished off the big dry stone retaining wall, main entrance steps and the low wall at Braco. The winter had been cold and long. I was relieved to have gotten this one done.

Lorimer, the client, was a huge help in getting it over the line.

February old farm walls

Edinburgh old stone walls rebuild

In February, I did one small job for a long-term client, adding a small set of steps to an existing low stone wall at her place in Lanarkshire.

After that I took down and rebuilt a really old field wall at this property in West Edinburgh.

It had once been a farm wall, but the growth of the city had swallowed up the farmland, leaving a 100m section in the back gardens of the houses in this street.

It was a real mish-mash of stone, but a nice change for me working with very random stone. The wall was unsafe in places with sections collapsing. The whole wall was taken down and rebuilt a bit lower than the original.

March – the dry stone bridge

Fife dry stone bridge

I spent most of March working on my first dry stone bridge at a property in Fife.

This long-term client was transforming a piece of his land into a space inspired by Japanese gardens.

Lots of rocks and boulders, two ponds, level changes and a re-routed stream.

So whilst Bobby and his large digger was reshaping the land, I started work on the bridge over the new burn.

Building onto a wooden form held up with a rudimentary wood scaffolding, I set about creating the wedge-shaped voussoirs, the supporting stonework, the side walls and the in-fill.

Two large keystones were created out of some large lintels dug up from the garden. Perth-based letter cutter and stone artist David F Wilson carved the year 2023 into one and the initials MW into the other – the garden is in honour to the clients mother.

April dry stone work and the commuting and parking fun begins

Dry stone bridge

The dry stone bridge completed

The bridge was finished by mid-April, when the form work was removed. It was a very satisfying project – all of the stone work was built by me, and took five weeks in total to do.

Edinburgh low walls and working out the commuting and parking issues

I spent the the second half of the month working on a new project in the south side of Edinburgh.

This new job should have been straight-forward: a long, low curved free-standing dry stone wall with a flat cap, a raised bed, three areas of paving and some steps.

The work itself wasn’t an issue – the commute and the parking became the complicating factors.

It’s expensive to park in the South side of Edinburgh – and thankfully the clients paid the parking fees – but at £15 for four hours it soon added up. A local hotel was good enough to let me park FOC in their car park three days a week. For the rest of the week I used parking permits (that the client paid for) or moving the van to toll free areas and walking back to work. It was all time-consuming – 15 mins here, and it added up to time not on the tools.

On a good day I could drive to the property in just over an hour. On a bad day it was more than two. The journey times were frustrating but mostly it just reduced the length of the working day. So when I should have been on site for at least 8.30am, many days I’d be lucky to be there for 10.00am. Leaving earlier or later made no great difference. It was clear the job was going to take roughly the time I had estimated but spread over many more days – more frustrating travel days, more fuel, more parking fees and more parking fun!

May – Another Chelsea Flower Show medal and Edinburgh paving

Chelsea Flower Show 2023

May involved another trip to the Chelsea Flower Show in London working on a second show garden for Garden Designer Jane Porter.

The Choose Love garden was a bigger project for Jane and involved a space enclosed by a super adobe wall and Mediterranean planting.

Working with Euan Thompson again, we built a pitched stone path to resemble a dry river bed using Purbeck limestone. We laid the stone to resemble the flow of water, with larger stones place in the “flow” of the thinner pieces. Sand grit was brushed into the spaces.

We found time to check out the amazing landscaping work being done and met up with a few familiar faces, despite it being a busy four days

This time Jane’s design won a Silver Gilt.

Edinburgh paving

After Chelsea it was back to the fun of the commute and parking of Edinburgh.

I don’t usually like to do big paving jobs, and I had organised a couple of guys to do this section. Unfortunately they let me down, and I had to do it myself – so more time spent on the job and more commuting than I had planned!

June – Edinburgh, Edinburgh and more Edinburgh commuting

Edinburgh walling close but no caps

I spent most of June working in Edinburgh. The walls and paving were mostly completed by the end of the month,

I wanted to complete the job by laying the cap stones on the wall. However, there was a few weeks delay in receiving the cap stones, So July took me away to other work.

July – Big rocks, tumbledown walls and rebuilding paths

Big rocks and a big digger

I went to Collessie in Fife to spend a day setting these monoliths in place for a job due to start later in the year.

We had discussions about designing a fancy dry stone wall built in-between the boulders. At this point we didn’t have a design pinned down, just a few concepts.

More on this later.

Rosewell garden dry stone wall

I started work on a garden wall and bench in Rosewell, Midlothian using Swinton Rubble. The wall and bench were the straight-forward part of the brief – the tumbledown section in the middle that would become a rockery was definitely a new concept!

More on this later!

Chelsea garden show rebuild

In early July, I drove the 8 hours down to Croydon to spend a week rebuilding the Chelsea Flower Show path at the amazing Good Food Matters charity.

One of the aspects of the Chelsea Flower that concerns me is the excessive waste of materials. The RHS stipulated that every garden relocated. Not because of my concerns by the way!

For the Choose Love garden, it was to Good Food Matters in Croydon, in SE London.

Coccolith visit

Whilst I was working in Croydon for a few days, I took the opportunity to check out the viewing space I created in the autumn of 2022.

Coccolith was looking stunning with its amazing views over Surrey and Kent in the North Downs.

August – Edinburgh done – almost, Rosewell done – definitely

Edinburgh cap stones arrive

At the start of August I was back in Edinburgh for a few days to finish off the cap stones – they had eventually arrived.

Meanwhile the client and I had been messing around with a water feature.

I made a stone spout for the masonry boundary wall. We connected up the pump and feed the water pipe through stone spout. But we just could not get the flow to work as we wanted.

So Plan B was to take the spout to a blacksmith who would fashion a copper pipe to direct the flow better. As I was going to come back later in the year to do a bit more paving, we agreed to leave the water feature until then.

Getting her done in Rosewell

So I went back to Rosewell and completed the feature wall in this garden.

The wall was to provide an interesting backdrop to the garden. One side was a 1.3m high freestanding wall, the other was a secretive bench. There whole wall curved and went from a tall wall down to low back to tall. There were lots of lovely shadow spaces in the stonework. It was a pleasant job to work on.

The tumbledown section in the middle would be made into a rockery. There was left over stone from the job, and they planned to make the rockery and create edging in other parts of the garden.

The clients sent me this issue a couple of weeks after I had finished, showing the rockery in place. It looked great!

September – summer holidays and tea hut stonework

September was a mixture of holidays and stone work.

For the holidays, I went to Buffalo to see another Bills game.

For the stonework, I worked on this interesting series of steps and walls at the Tea Hut in the Japanese garden in Fife.

The buff stone is Alston stone that became available as excess stone from a friend who had built an amazing doocot a few miles away. I put the client in touch and we bought all of the stone – something like 18 tonnes. Much of it went into the bridge, more of it went into the Tea Hut area.

The manager of CED in Allandale contacted me offering 25 tonnes of excess Caithness stone. There was a job lot going cheap and did I know anyone who could use it.

So the Tea Hut walls and steps morphed from one rough idea into something different, using the Caithness stone as treads for the steps.

I like it when projects morph from one thing into another.

Not only did the excess Alston and Caithness morph into the bridge and the tea hut works, the leftover piles helped me formulate a plan for the next job – the Wavey Wall.

October – vertical stones and flowing stones

The Wavey Wall begins to flow

A recurring theme of 2023 was having to work around long delays in quarries and suppliers fulfilling orders.

I had to wait weeks for the cap stones in Edinburgh.

In Collessie we ordered cap stones in March for the Tea Hut walls and they eventually arrived in December.

The treads I ordered to complete the steps in October were due before Xmas but will now be here sometime in January – when it’ll be too cold to use cement to complete the steps.

Very frustrating.

So whilst I waited for the cap stones in Fife, I started the biggest part of the Japanese garden project. This was a large 35m+ artistic wall to provide a backdrop to the garden.

Sometimes the gestation of projects takes a while in my head. I had been thinking of ways to make the feature wall in the garden interesting. Various Ideas were considered and then rejected: from herring bone walls, to diagonally laid stone and others.

And then I thought about combined the Alston and the Caithness to create a flowing river of stone, matching the flow of the water in the Japanese garden.

November – wavey walls

Creating waves

The big walling project in Fife became known as the Wavey Wall.

In creative terms the intention was to make a dry stone feature wall to complement and complete the work done on the Japanese garden.

Alston stone was laid vertically as the base, and Caithness stone horizontally as the upper section, creating a series of panels were to be built between the large boulders we’d put in place in July.

Four of the boulders had the Japanese script for the seasons carved in them by David F Wilson.

The picture here says Haru or Spring.

The others are Natsu – Summer; Aki – Autumn and Fuyu – Winter.

December – Getting into the flow

Collessie creativity

December was all about ploughing on with the Wavey Wall.

I spent several hours cutting dozens of copes the three sections I had built to height.

Once on, the copes reall completed the look I was trying to achieve.

The idea of the Wavey Wall is to create a wall using stone to imitate the flow of the water in the garden . The vertically laid stone is the foundation and the river bed, and is meant to show the permanence and hardness of rock. The upper section is all about the flow of water. Sandstone is of course born in water as particles of rock are laid down in rivers and compacted and formed into rock over millenia. The face of the panels are curved and flow between the boulders. The top of the wall flows too! Everything about the Wavey Wall is meant show movement and change. The view changes depending on where you view it from – up close, all the face of the wall, from afar.


I’ve always been a keen user of social media to promote my business.

Whilst my Facebook and Instagram accounts have never really brought in work, they have been useful ways to help promote the business and help my google search profile.

When I discovered that my page was hacked on Xmas eve, it was a huge pain in the arse.

Meta has me waiting in a queue until they can look at my case.

I’ve cancelled my business bank card; and i’ve deleted all of my bank info from my business page on FB. I’ve changed various passwords on apps linked to IG and FB.

Much time, effort and money has been spent building up a following, so I hope that it gets sorted soon.


Other than that, there’s not much more to do that to wish you a happy and prosperous new year.

Hopefully I’ll get my Instagram page back in early January.

I’ll be continuing with the Wavey Wall for a few more weeks. Then I have three jobs to work through. One, in Edinburgh, is going to be a fantastic challenge but also back to the long commutes. One is in Perth and the other in Livingston.

After that? Who knows! Enquiries always become infrequent in winter. It’s not until the Spring that people look at the gardens. It’s then that they wonder if some nice stone work would look good there.

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