One day, Life Will Stack Up
About ten years ago, put under pressure from a well-meaning friend, I came out … as a closet dry-stone waller. I have always absolutely adored it; even writing about it is making me smile. My earliest memories are actually building little dry stone walls from the broken bits of stone cast to one side by dad as he built ‘grown up’ stone walls at home. Aged 6 or 7, I would build my little dry stone walls alongside dad only to have them knocked down at the end of the day in the clearing up process. I’d like to think dad knew what he was doing, fostering an innate skill, but knowing him, it was just cheaper than buying Lego! Either way, I have been totally addicted ever since.
Much later in life, I read an article about a man recuperating from Leukaemia in Hawaii. He would visit the beach every day to stack stones as a mindful and healing endeavour. That was enough to spur me into action and I contacted ‘Master’ Dry Stone Waller, Ken Young. We met up in the God’s on a bleak Welsh moor above Blackwood, in horizontal rain. Sharing a cuppa in the front of his Land Rover, I told him about my love of stone and the Hawaiian story.
“Of course, I want to be able to build proper stone walls as an obvious addition to my landscaping work”. I added wisely.
Staring straight ahead, Ken replied, “I can teach you to build a dry stone wall, but if you just want to stack stones, you can buggar off and find someone else to do it.”
I like Ken. A lot. I like the fact that he prefers silence to chatter. He doesn’t waste words.
In this crazy world, I was unable to get a grant or any financial help to enable me to train for any relevant qualifications, but Ken accommodated me as best he could, and the remainder of the learning curve is simply sheer determination and continual practise. My stone walls are a far cry from Ken’s standard, but they stay up. As another brilliant Welsh waller, Stuart Fry, reassured me; “That’s the most important job for a wall.”
I have loads of dry stone walls at the cottage, which are always in various stages of collapse, which keeps me busy, and are all good practise, but I am always secretly thrilled when a section of a client’s wall falls down. That way I get to indulge my passion and be paid … leaving no stone unearned.
Not Out of the Winter Yet
It is said that if the end of January and beginning of February is frosty and fair, then there is more winter ahead than behind. And of course there is more folklore connected with Candlemas Day (2nd )
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter won’t come again
Another rhyme tells us, ‘If the cat sits in the sun in February, he will sit by the stove in March,’ and another – ‘The Welshman would rather see his dam on her bier, than see a fair Februeer’.
Although January and February are on average the coldest months in any year, the temperature can vary daily between 15C and minus 10C depending on the direction of the wind and absence of a warm blanket of cloud. But taking averages over the past 130 years, the 10 coldest days are always spread out between 3 January and 20 February. Half of these days are in the first half of January. But then there is a gap and February 13, 14, 17, 18 and 20 are bunched together, making that the coldest week of the year, traditionally. So get your thermals ready for that week.
The coldest day is the 17th February with an average minimum of 0.8C and maximum of 6.7C. However, typical of the British weather, that too can fluctuate wildly; February 17th’s lowest recorded temperature was minus 23.9 in 1879, at Aviemore in Scotland and the warmest, a barmy 17.4C was actually recorded in 1878 at Llandudno in north Wales.
The highest overall February temperature last year was 18.3C recorded at Kew Gardens on the 20th and was the highest February temperature recorded in the UK since the all-time record of 19.7C set in 1998.
Digging ‘No Dig’
I am a huge fan of Charles Dowding’s ‘No Dig’ method of growing crops and am always motivated by the regular newsletters he sends through. It is so inspiring at this time of year, and of course, you still have plenty time to get your plots ready, knock up a few raised beds or prepare some suitable containers to enable you to enjoy the taste and rewards of home grown goodies.
At this time of year, I also enjoy investing the odd inclement hour watching his YouTube tutorials. Charles also runs wonderful courses – find out more at www.charlesdowding.co.uk