Walk the Walls Tour 2015
The Old Stones
In 2015 our Walk the Walls Tour took us to Northern Scotland, the Orkney Islands and on to the western Islands of Mull and Iona. This was our fourth tour and again we were joined by John Shaw-Rimmington (DSWAC) and as in previous years, no trip is complete without meeting our familiar friends from the dry stone walling community, workshops and festivals, at each locale we visit.
We visited stone age ruins and contemporary sites of stone walls, bridges, buildings, gardens and follies. Learned about the lost arts of dry stone structures, the history and legends of the castles and glens; we absorbed ourselves in the landscape, the music, the food and the traditions of the region.
The first half of the trip took us to the Orkney Islands, just a short step from the Scottish mainland. These islands are mainly “low lying, gently sloping, fertile valleys, where spring days are long and skies enormous”. However, our interests were the well preserved treasury of Stone Age settlements and the recent discovery of Ness of Brodgar. As National Geographic describes this site in their August 2014 article, “Before Stonehenge…one long day ago around 3200 B.C., the farmers and herdsmen on Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands decided to build something big…”. See the article National Geographic ‘Before Stonehenge‘.
From Orkney we took the ferry to the mainland to meet our friend and DSWA Master Dry Stone waller George Gunn, (winner of and International Award for the Built Environment and Architectural Heritage). George also used to guide motorcycle tours in the Highlands, so he knows the backroads of this remote area and beautiful country, a land of legendary stones. We will also met singer, songwriter, poet and mountaineer Dave Goulder and his wife Mary, our hosts Lairg/Rosehall/Summerland. Dave totes his Master Craftsmen/instructor walling certificate around with him, as well as his guitar and members of his Rosehall Ceilidh band. There is a wide variation of building styles and stones in the Lairg/Dornoch vicinity, — double and single walls (dykes), sheep fanks, cairns and castles. We stayed in a Scottish Castle (Dornoch Castle Hotel), on the edge of the Dornoch Firth, a designated National Scenic Area in the Highlands of Scotland.
The second half of the tour we travelled south to the Inner Hebrides Islands of Mull and Iona. Here we were joined by our very good friend and past host from the Balmoral Castle portion of our 2011 tour, Norman Haddow, a royal waller to the Queen. (DSWA Master’s Certificate) Historically the island was known for crofting, whiskey distilling and fishing, yet now is known for castles and stone structures as well as one of the best seabird viewing areas in Great Britain. We spent most of our time on Iona, a pilgrimage site for several centuries and a place of Christian worship for more than 1400 years. The extensive pink granite ruins of the Augustinian nunnery, and the Abbey that dates from the arrival of the Benedictines around 1200, as well as the sacred burial ground which is said to contain the graves of kings of Norway, France, Iceland, and Scotland, including Duncan and Macbeth, are all within a walking tour of the island. We left the islands behind and spent our last night in Glasgow.