Growing Tea And Being Wrong About Things

Growing Tea And Being Wrong About Things

Now, I’ve never been a fan of herbal teas; especially the flowery ones. They taste like hot, weak squash (cordial) to me. Insipid, weedy and pointless. I’m a caffeine sensitive individual and have delighted in the wide spread of Redbush tea, which I drink with milk like a normal cuppa without the palpitations (even decaff tea gives me the jitters). I can even dunk biscuits in it. That’s my kind of tea. My opinions on herb tea are long established and generally not open to challenge. And if this were one of those sensible ‘Life Lesson’ kind of blogs, there would be a deep message here about being open to new experiences because being closed and certain means you miss out on good stuff, but it’s not that sort of blog, so we’re good. But, it is true. Best to say Yes to everything just in case. Everything except drug smuggling and Marmite, that is. No good ever came from either of those.

 

Anyway, on a recent visitation to a new permaculture friend, Victoria, we were offered a cup of Olive Leaf Tea. Given my general thoughts and opinions on herb teas, I was not hopeful and said yes out of politeness and a lack of any alternative. Keith, who is a tried and tested Northern tea addict, who intersperses each and every activity in his life with a cup of tea – even immediately after a cup of coffee, was even more reticent that I. Long story short, it was alright. It transpires that Olive Leaf Tea is a thing and can be purchased online should one be unfortunate enough to live in the vicinity of an olive tree (gloat). It has been used medicinally since Ancient Egyptian times and used to mummify pharaohs, should that be a selling point for a decent brew. The list of medical benefits is lengthy and includes reported aid for urinary tract infections, candida and aching joints. On a next holiday to anywhere Mediterranean, may I suggest that you forego the bottle of Ouzo and max out your baggage allowance with a bag or two of olive leaves snaffled from the many trees which undoubtedly surround you.

Growing Your Own Tea -01

The leaves are picked and dried in either the oven on a very low heat or the sun if you have sufficient and crumbled into a teapot and steeped for a few minutes before straining. They have a fresh and invigorating flavour, which we heartily recommend.

 

The other pearl of wisdom shared with us by Victoria was that of Nespera tea. Nespera is a fruit tree, also known as a loquat which grows copiously around southern Iberia and elsewhere in the world. The small yellow fruits are delicious and seen in markets in March and April around these parts. Chinese herbalists and scientists rate nespera extremely highly in terms of its curative properties for all sorts of health conditions, ranging from reducing diabetes, releasing anti-oxidants to increase the immune system, blood pressure management and even potentially supresing some symptoms of HIV. It is truly a wonder tree. Fresh leaves and teabags can be purchased online again should you be lacking in a nespera tree (2nd gloat of the day).

Growing Your Own Tea - 02

Once back at home, I began to prepare a Casa Torta estate brew from nespera, lemon and rosemary leaves, all dried in the spring sun. Let me tell you that Mr Tetley has nothing on me. It is a delicious, refreshing night-time cuppa with an undercurrent of citrus and a backnote of rosemary. I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about here, so I’ll stop, but it is really good.

 

So, what else can you make tea out of our should your leaf selection be limited by climate or location? Obviously, all commonly grown herbs such as thyme, mint, basil and lemon verbena can be brewed, but also plants such as certain types of lavender (not all – our Portuguese variety is too bitter and camphorous to drink), raspberry leaves, dandelion root, chamomile buds and passionflower leaves to mention a few. Some experimentation with blends and mixes may be required to adjust your brew to taste, but think of that: your own unique home-grown tea! Take care of course to ensure you know what you are putting in that pot – some plants are poisonous and will not result in a health benefit; quite the opposite. If anyone has recipes or suggestions for interesting blends, please share as I’m on a roll here with what could be a new obsession.

 

To say that we are converts is an understatement. It is not only the drinking of the tea, but the joy and satisfaction of the process of drying and crumbling the mix of leaves into my new glass ‘tea jar’ of which I am stupidly proud, steeping the leaves in a cafetiere due to a lack of tea pot before sitting up in bed and supping the bright green, steaming brew; it looks like absinthe but without the aftermath. Life doesn’t get much better than those moments and it just goes to show that sometimes you can be wrong about things and isn’t that wonderful? To know that there may be more discoveries and adventures out there that up until now I’ve been wrong about. See? There was a moral to this tale after all, I’m deeper than I look.

Photo of glass jar full of nespera leaf tea

This only goes to make me wonder what else I might be wrong about. Could it be that eating cake with my left hand doesn’t make it negative calories after all? Or that Marmite is nice? Get outta here…

21st Century Broad Beans

21st Century Broad Beans

Spring is a beautiful time of year here and the hillsides are ablaze with colour and the swallows and bee-eaters have returned. Our layered beds are planted, our fingers are crossed and we’re hopeful of some kind of harvest.

Photograph of colourful spring flowers in the Algarve countryside

This is our first year of determined growing efforts and we have bought/sowed one of almost every edible species going in order to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s like the Noah’s Ark of gardening. Luckily, trees, plants and seeds are incredibly cheap in Portugal and so this feels possible without any huge financial risk. Our newly planted ‘vineyard’ (it is a patch of ground with vines in it, therefore it is a vineyard) cost €24 for 12 vines. They have more than paid for themselves already through the joy and anticipation we have had in peering closely at this pile of sticks protruding from the earth all winter pining desperately for a sign that reassures us that we are not the laughing stock of the market for having paid €24 for someone’s kindling pile. And that we are in fact, the Algarve’s answer to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the wine-making department (they make their own, but with considerably more staff, I suspect). Over the past few weeks our devotion has been rewarded and they all have sprouted.

Photograph of a young grapevine sprouting its first leaves
Broad beans have been the great success of early spring. We have observed that these are the crop do dia of rural Portugal and wondered why. My memories of broad beans are of pale minority members of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables thrown in a pan and boiled to death by my well meaning mother and the habits of 1970s cooking. To be honest, I only grew them because judging by their proliferation round here, they seemed like a sure fire success and I’m kind of desperate like that. I didn’t really expect to like them. Yet again, I was wrong.

We know now why they are so common: they are incredibly easy to grow and they taste amazing. Given the poverty in rural Portuguese communities in the past and to some extent in the present day, it is easy to understand why a twice a year, non-irrigated food source would become almost a national dish. From our perspective, they grow quickly, strongly and look like an impressive feat of garden expertise with zero effort. You get to see how the Jack and the Beanstalk tale originated when you see how tall they get in such a short space of time.

There are essentially two bean growing seasons in the Algarve – one sowing takes place at the arrival of the rains in the Autumn with a harvest around February and the second sowing goes in around February with a harvest in May before the heat hits. They don’t require watering or any assistance whatsoever. As an added bonus, the impatient gardener doesn’t even have to wait for the beans to reach maturity before reaping some free food from the plants: you can eat the plant itself. It is recommend by some that picking off the top shoots of the plants after flowering will stop the plant using its energy for leaf growth and instead focus it on bean growth, which makes sense to me. The tips are a pale, grey-green colour, but once wilted in a pan with a tiny amount of water they turn a deep and vibrant green and make a fine soup or addition to an omelette. Probably they could make a substitute for any recipe involving spinach or spring greens.

And if you end up with too many in your veg patch, you can always dry them and get fava beans, which should keep Hannibal Lecter happy should he ever pay a visit.

Photograph of a bowl of broad bean, courgette, and broad bean tip soup
Today we had them for lunch in the most delicious and pretty quick to make soup. I could eat this on a daily basis, it is so good, and so darned healthy.

Courgette, Broad Bean and Broad Bean Tip Soup
Makes 2 large bowls or 4 small bowls
Slug of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large courgette, chopped
500g fresh broad beans in their pods (less if already de-podded). I leave the little jackets on, but if you prefer a creamier taste, take ‘em off
3 handfuls broad bean tips
1 litre stock – I used some boiled up roast chicken bones to make the stock but a stock cube of any variety will do
Slug of vermouth or white wine (optional)

Heat the oil in a pan, gently cook the onion for 5 minutes, then add all remaining vegetables and cook for 10 minutes. Add stock and wine if using and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes before blending – either until completely smooth or leaving a few lumps for texture. Adjust liquid if required.
Serve with warm bread and some creamy cheese.

English Country Dustbowl

English Country Dustbowl

As I may have mentioned before: it’s hot, but let that not hinder the Mad Dog and Englishman mentality and stop us from gardening. Nothing much is growing as I imagine all of the poor plants are gagging for breath and water in a climate which provides little of either. The sweat that literally drips from the end of our noses is probably the most nutrition they’ve had for weeks.

Our garden, you may recall, was a pile of rocks and earth with a few neglected but flourishing fruit trees and flowery bushes dotted about. It looked something like this when we arrived in March after a typically soggy Portuguese winter:

 

As the weather improved, the rain stopped and the strimmer did it’s stuff, slowly the garden has taken some kind of shape.

Then, the inevitable happenned in an environment as dry in the summer as this – it turned into a brown dustbowl. Most of the gardens that are owned by immigrants (that’s expats to you) are beautifully tended with large cacti with heavily mulched (bark) or bare ground in between. They are a battle with nature won by the obliteration of all natural growth. The only lawn is made of astroturf or quenched by more water than our borehole could pump. The local Portuguese garden is a more simple affair, sometimes with vegetable beds, mostly just with a few chairs in amongst the scrub. When telling our Portuguese teacher that we have been garden she said (we have a new teacher after sacking the old one for being impatient with Keith’s difficulty in speaking any language at all, including English), that ‘You English love gardening’. So, it seems we are known for it and one does hate not to live up to expectations.

The garden was upsetting me. it was big, bare and overwhelming. I’d started to outline some beds but the rest was just an unfathomable stretch of dirt. I know nothing about gardening, but I do know about order. And order was what it needed for me to be able to look at it with a sense of calm rather than a jittery feeling. So, after spending many days shifting rocks in order to create structure into our own patch and therefore be able to tackle each smaller section individually, I realised that we have turned our dusty patch into an English country garden with winding paths and strictly defined areas. Just need a gnome or two and a rosebush and the transformation will be complete – if you can see past the complete lack of greenery and Sweet Williams. I was a bit put out by this initially as I would prefer not to colonise our tiny corner of Europe with British values, but actually, sod it, this is what my eye requires and I now look out on it with peace and joy rather than stress and anxiety. It’s not much to look at I am aware, but what I see when I look out there is ‘hope’ and promise. I have plans, dreams and a vision within those neatly defined borders.

You may also recall that I had started mulching some beds for growing next year. In our 36+ degree gardening frenzy we also finished those which are now awaiting a layer of compost from our bin and a layer of manure from the stables down the road. They will get these in the autumn ready for a good soaking over the winter. This method is called Lasagna Gardening and basically means that we are creating new sub-soil rather than having to did into the rocks that dominate the ground below.

As a small experiment, I planted a load of seeds just to see if we could get anything to grow – its too late in the year to expect much to happen. So far, so good. We have a few courgettes and squashes and a row of sweetcorn on which the grasshopper in the top image has taken almost invisible residence – his camouflage only dashed by the bloody huge holes he has left in the leaves.

This gives me hope that we can get growing next year. The lack of frost here means that planting can begin in January or February. The pumpkin and sweetcorn crops in neighbouring fields are already harvested now in mid August so we could eating our own this time next year. Exciting.

For now, our landscaping work is done and we will just sit and wait to see if a courgette turns up before the winter comes, whilst resisting the temptation to erect a flag in the midst of our barren, but neat, wilderness to declare it under strict English control, just in case some far more relaxed, Portuguese grasshopper had some funny ideas about whose territory this is.

Gecko Poo and Hardcore Gardening

Gecko Poo and Hardcore Gardening

Here’s a question: If you buy an orange tree which has an orange on it and plant it in your garden, can you legitimately claim for have ‘grown’ that orange? Thought not.

There were two oranges on it, as you can see. Not anymore. The other one tasted fantastic.

The new orange tree (we have others already, but this is by far the biggest) brings with it hundreds of little orangelets and our great hope for them to transform into big ones. Oranges grow in abundance in the Algarve and as such are dirt cheap (€0.50 per kg) but they are not grown so far up here in the hills as its too windy for them and the soil is not their preference, so our hope may not be quite sufficient. Gotta be worth a try though. We already have an established lemon tree (as you know) full of ripening fruits.

And a grapefruit (which as you can see has some way to go) and a nespera which are fruiting, as well as a pomegranate and olive which are flowering beautifully.

We also planted a fig, tangerine and quince, so hoping to have a right little packed fruitbowl at some point in the distant future. They cost between a fiver and a tenner each, so not an expensive risk. Seems amazing to be able to buy these things so readily and so cheaply, and that they have a chance of growing. Too exciting.

We’ve been here almost a month now and the place is looking a lot better than it was. We have furniture, cushions and rugs but no telly. No Family Guy for Keith and no Place in the Sun for me. It’s a revelation; we cope. Our entire structure, routine and general way of life has gone out of the window and we’re alright. Perhaps we are cured of our *autism? If you remove enough stressors; a relaxed normality is possible. I feel like a different person here without that ‘life’ stuff that many seem to manage with relative ease and minimal fallout. Although it is fair to say we have barely spoken to a soul apart from ourselves, so hardly been pressed on the social front, which could be the true test or our ‘recovery’.

* NB. This is not a serious comment. There is no cure for autism and the amount of money spent on looking for one could be far better spent improving the quality of life for autistic people rather than in trying to eradicate future generations.

Moving on…

The person, apart from each other, that we have spoken to most since we’ve been here is Luis, our Portuguese teacher, and that’s hardly a social chat, concerned as he is for gender, verb endings and whether Maria’s house is green or yellow. The Portuguese lessons are a slow struggle starting from zero and having to unlearn all I know about other languages I have some familiarity with. Portuguese isn’t like any of them. They don’t have a ‘k’ in their alphabet for one thing so we have no idea how Keith says his name. For Keith having never learned another language even the jargon of ‘verb’ and ‘article’ is something that has to be understood before he can even begin. The only success I have had with my learning, apart from being able to order an espresso, decaf with milk and two Pastel de Natas with aplomb (frequently practiced), was when cycling up the 1:4 hill to our house today, an elderly country gentlemen asked me if I was tired and I was able to both understand and reply that I was. I’m practically a local now.

After becoming acclimatised to my environment after a few days of hayfever and general yuk at the beginning, I can report a drop in blood pressure (a very important kidney disease indicator), zero headaches – I had one for 4 months constantly before arriving here and no back (kidney ache). I am now going to live until I’m 103 and defy my cyst filled kidneys. Portugal is the cure for everything.

The streaks down the walls which we presumed to be rain have revealed themselves to be gecko droppings. They live in the roof except the one who lives behind the boiler in the bathroom and who poos on the washing machine, but you know, we’re new here and we don’t know anyone, so company is company. Beggars: choosers and all that. I did a Google on gecko poo and it’s a thing. Many people appreciate their appetite for bugs in the house and so feel that a bit of poop here and there is a fair trade and leave them be. Other people are not so kind… Ours are staying, especially Eric behind the boiler.

In summary the past month has been spent cooking, eating, doing DIY jobs, gardening and fixing or replacing all of the things that Keith has broken (washing machine, garage doors – two doors: both broken, toilet – 4 days and counting of using a bucket).

There are more but we tend to erase them from our memory in order to avoid them being resurrected during a future argument. Sometimes its just best not to know how much of a liability you’re love is. Keith breaks a lot of things. It upsets him more than it does anyone else, so he says, but how the fuck does he know??

For balance, and to avoid someone setting up Keithline to protect him from the horror of me revealing his failings to the world (he did remind me of extra things he’d broken so that I could include them here, so save your pity, he’s a media whore), I did this, whilst trying to ‘cleverly’ transport the paint, but ‘stupidly’ failing to check the lid was shut.

We’ve been doing a lot in the garden as its mostly way too nice to be indoors but still probably a bit too hot for our type of gardening, which is a bit hardcore by necessity of the environment. Our garden is made mostly of almost solid rock and every tree we have planted has required a pickaxe to break up the soil.

If the sight of pale Northern European flesh disturbs you, please scroll no further. If it excites you, please send £10 by Postal Order.

I’ve become very interested in permaculture over the past few months in preparation for our new plot. Permaculture is the idea of working with nature and what you’ve got in your surroundings, rather than working against it in all aspects of your plot (and your life, if you like) – design, practical use, using existing resources rather than introducing new ones. So, for example, instead of chemically blasting your aphids, you introduce and encourage native plants which attract insects which like scoffing aphids, such as ladybirds and lace wings. Keith thought it sounded like a load of hippy guff when I first told him about it, but that’s not so and he is now converted. It is about efficiency, multiple functions and resilience (multiple solutions to each need/function) and so is right up our logical systemised street, as it were. It also means we get more food grown for less effort and we don’t do any digging, so it’s a Good Thing. There are a multitude of websites, books and courses to become properly knowledgeable about it, but my reading has, I hope, allowed me to understand the basic principles, which we are, and will be applying to our life here. We’ve started by weeing on all of our trees (nitrogen producing and save water on flushes), leaving patches of wilderness for the bug eating bugs, composting and making raised beds from the abundant rocks already here to mention a few. We have longer term plans for solar powered showers, compost toilets and veg companion planting methods, but they’ll have to wait a while. It’s my new favourite thing.

Bamboo mulched raised bed with rock border and rock path. We got a lot of rocks.

The dry stone (rock) wall compost bin. Still got a lot of rocks.

We have also tooled ourselves up for our horticultural adventures. This is a chipper which turns all your tree and grass choppings into mulch. It has a sign on it which tells you not to put people in it. It would be good for getting rid of people, but the blade gets a bit gummed up if the leaves are too wet, so I imagine a people would be quite wet and require some manual ungumming. Best stick to the leaves.

We also have this little beauty: a brushcutter; that’s a hardcore strimmer to the uninitiated. This is my job as Keith doesn’t really like to get smashed to pieces by bits of flying stick, grass and rock, and I do. I like the battle scars. It’s a deeply satisfying job; totally locked away in your own little world behind your ear defenders and mask making so much noise that no one can speak to you, turning the scruffy wilderness into something tidy. What’s not to like? Oh bugger, I’m still autistic, aren’t I? Not cured after all. No multi-million pound retirement for me once I have relocated all autistic people to Portugal to live a calm, warm and peaceful life with their own brushcutters.

*NB. If this does turn out to be a bloody brilliant idea, I’m claiming copyright and 10% minimum.

It’s a glorious rural environment both harsh and vibrant at the same time. Some days we have woken up and a new tree or shrub has burst into blossom from what we had presumed to be a half dead stick.

The novelty of almost wall to wall sunshine – apart from the night that it rained so hard on every single pair of shoes we have that it filled each and every one to the top with water – doesn’t wear off.

It’s a continual delight that every day is mostly warm and mostly sunny, to the point that when it does rain we don’t really mind because we know it won’t stick around for long, and anyway, we need it if we’re going to make that rendezvous with those oranges later this year.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire

 

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 01

We have discovered that many of the hosts advertising work exchanges have livestock which need tending. We don’t have livestock. Our only current animal experience is a fox which shits in our garden on a daily basis. In our continued (but meagre) efforts to improve our attractiveness to potential hosts we have made a commitment to spend time learning about beasts. Sarah had a goat tending course booked… but due to unexpected holidaying commitments (tough life) needed to cancel in order to join Keith in France, where Keith was failing to take the opportunity to try-out his newly acquired dry stone walling skills. The scorching, French October weather, spectacular Cevennes countryside, châteaux and occasional café were so inviting that cycling won over hard labour. No dry stone walling practice took place. The boars are winning in their wall demolition objective.

However, we are not complete failures. We found a sheep tending course in Shropshire, managed to not get diverted with something more interesting or apparently important, and went off to tussle with sheep.

It has to be said we were both completely bowled over with the beauty of this previously unvisited county. OK it was a damp, chilly day, but this did not detract from the rolling green beauty of the surrounding hills, only interrupted by the occasional baa and moo.

Trevor Wheeler runs Clun Valley Organics on Brynmawr Farm, a 400 strong organic sheep and beef farm on 90 acres of mist shrouded hillside. He also has a beautiful eco cottage on the grounds rented-out to the townies to make them feel they have an authentic country experience in their unused wellies. It was certainly that, although despite the house being toasty in the evenings, no amount of sustainable wood can sustain the voracious appetite of a wood burning stove so as it remains pumping out heat all night – breath on the air and reluctance to leave the confines of a warm bed are almost guaranteed on winter mornings. Take your woolly knickers if you’re going in November.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 02

 

The cottage has spring water, wind turbine electricity and solar heated water plus the wood burning stove. The night sky above is devoid of light pollution and abundant in stars. It’s a stunning location with a warm and jovial host in Trevor, who has lived here all his life and has the calm air of a man largely satisfied with his lot.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 03

We began our day with finding and gathering some poor sheep to suffer our novice attempts at animal care. Aided by working dog, Jess, a motley crew of various breeds of sheep were expertly herded. Her innate desire to gather sheep meant that she did so even when told not to by Trevor.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 04

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 05

A worried bunch of sheep who can spot a couple of amateurs a mile off.

We learned everything there is to know about keeping sheep, including how to clip their toenails, find out how old they are by looking at their teeth and dagging – a ‘dag’ is a cluster of pooey wool on a sheep’s bum. ‘Dagging’ is the removal of said poo with some pretty powerful electric clippers. I was terrified of accidental castration (we learned how to do that too but didn’t get to apply this knowledge). Keith wouldn’t stay still long enough.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 06

An ungrateful sheep gets a short, back and sides around the backside. Not sure who was most nervous.

I have a new respect for these largely silent, passive creatures, although having seen them follow each each other to get stuck in a hedge, they do deserve their reputation for limited intellectual capacity.

After our day of sheep wrestling, we went off to a neighbouring farm owned by Jacky and James where we met the beautiful Sara, their new Highland cow who was due to meet her new buds out in the field. They were all fantastic and its incredible how fast they move and how much they wave those horns about without ever causing even a scratch to each other. Their spatial awareness is far superior to ours; they don’t appear to have any bruises from bumping into bedframes in the middle of the night when going for a wee.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 07

Our final job of the day was to catch 16 Badger sheep – so called because of their black striped faces – and bring them into the barn. No dog this time, just a quartet of middle aged, wheezing individuals running up and down a hill whilst 16 sheep did as they pleased. Eventually, perhaps having pity for the humans, they agreed to head inside.

Vegetarians read no further.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 00

Some of these particular sheep were destined for the abbatoir and half of one of them is currently in our freezer.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 09

We had a great day being outdoors and really appreciating being in our own country, as opposed to always trying to head off elsewhere. It really was a revelation to discover this region. We did genuinely think about moving up to Shropshire and as part of our standard location finding exploration, looked at the climate data. It rains on 233 days each year in Shropshire. That’s why its so green and so beautiful. That’s why its not for us. What was that sound? It was a flock of sheep breathing a sigh of relief.

Chasing Sheep in Shropshire - 10

Dry Stone Walling

Dry Stone Walling

Keith learns a new thing.

 

Dry Stone Walling - 01

There is a plot of land in the south of France we own, along with a pile of rocks arranged into the rough form of a house. The land is terraced up a hill running behind the house. There are about 20 terraced levels, each retained by a beautiful, laboriously crafted dry stone wall. The effort involved in building all of these walls must have been far more enormous than the house. At a guess it equates to over 400 metres of wall.

The local wildlife in this part of France include the nocturnal, free-range boar. These 150 kg roaming, eating machines have no aesthetic or functional appreciation for the walls. Just intrigue as to what goodies are hidden within. Whether it be the elusive truffle or not, the boar will tear into the wall with what appears the following morning to have been wild abandon. Leaving the poor wall repairer with a heavy job in the blazing sunshine.

I have so far had two approaches to managing the tumbledown walls, neither really satisfactory. The first was to try to stuff the spewed original contents of the wall back into the gap left by the pigs, but this proved generally unsuccessful. This led to my second approach, which was to ignore the piles of newly mined rocks completely.

So, with newfound time on my hands since taking redundancy, I felt the very first new bit of knowledge I should garner was that of dry stone walling. We have also noticed that many hosts on the work exchange sites that are our new favourite thing (Helpx and Workaway) appear to have tumbledown dry stone walls too, so considered this a potentially very useful skill to have to tout ourselves to potential hosts living in beautiful locations with falling down walls.

Dry Stone Walling - 02

 

Dry Stone Walling - 03

Dry Stone Walling - 04

The Dry Stone Wall Association of GB have quite a few regional gatherings, but West Sussex, where we live, isn’t one of them (no stones, no walls). So, off we set to the parents for the weekend for a couple of days of lifting, lugging and grunting in the September Derbyshire sunshine.

The event was tutored by a great craftsman, Edd Smith who was just the most perfect instructor I’ve had, easy going and a great communicator. Edd informs us from experience the majority of the students who attend are there due to ill-conceived birthday gifts. Four of the six people attending this weekend are there for exactly that reason (including my father), then there is Derek who wants to leave his job in IT to begin a dry stone walling carear and me, who has left his job in IT to have adventures.

Dry Stone Walling - 05

 

Dry Stone Walling - 06

The principles are quite simple and few: All stones to be placed flat, not tall; big, ugly stones at the bottom; taper the wall inwards on both sides as the wall increases in height; infill between both sides of the wall with small stones to ensure each placed stone is firm; the occasional long stone between both sides of the wall to bind both sides together; a flat top to ensure both sides of the wall can be bound together at the very top with a spanning dress or coping stone.

Dry Stone Walling - 07

Dry Stone Walling - 08

 

 

The event was held at a working farm in the peak district. We had to take down and rebuild part of a field dividing wall that had, according to Edd, “settled” over the last 80 years our so, producing a slightly soggy bottomed assembly of stones.

Dry Stone Walling - 09

 

The course was to take 2 days. Day 1 saw us remove to the foundations the stones from a 6 metre section of wall and the stones stacked into the field. The wall was then to be rebuilt afresh. By the end of day 1 we had each half rebuilt a 2 metre section of wall. Edd says that to earn a living from dry stone walling we would need need to increase our workload to a full 4 metres. But, we had paid to be there.

This was a working beef farm. Overnight, the curious cows in the nighttime had inspected our work… and, no, had not destroyed our partially rebuilt wall, but had left us all with pongy parcels of curiosity all over our field-stored piles of stones used to rebuild the wall. Our gloves needed to be disposed of once the coping stones were on.
The end result of our efforts was a wall that Edd advised would outlast all of us.

Dry Stone Walling - 10

Dry Stone Walling - 11

The 2 day course cost £95.00 and similar courses are held across the country through the Dry Stone Wall Association of GB