Even though the Yorkshire breed is a hardy one and bare hands are the tools of a great waller (you have to feel the stone) there comes a point when you have to pop on the gloves to stop your finger ends from wearing down to the bone. Of course I’m a ‘soft lad’ after many years of tapping the keyboard, but I had thought that my season of house building had toughened me up a little.
Armed with nothing more that a lump hammer, a crowbar a pick and a couple of nails and a piece of string my first day of dry stone walling started early yesterday. The frost was thin on the ground the air was fresh and the sun was just starting to say hello, which made for an entertaining journey through the dale peering through an unwashed windscreen; thankfully I wasn’t driving.
A couple of valleys to the East on narrow winding roads, passing through the odd village and hamlet, we reached our destination; what appeared to be a well organised farm yard, even though it was scattered with the commonly found polythene wrapped circular hay bales and an assortment of machinery. The usual greetings ‘ar ya reet’ and ‘ow’s it going’, plus a fair amount of chatter that I wasn’t privy to soon revealed that the Mule (a glorified four wheel drive golf cart) was out of action due to an altercation with a steep hill and a failing handbrake, so our eyes turned to the ‘landy’ (Landrover), but of course this was also suffering from a few mechanical problems; a flat battery, a deflated tyre and a possible starter motor issue. A bit of quick thinking, some jump leads and a general consensus that the tyre would ‘be reet’ we only had one final hurdle to jump before we headed off up top and a days graft. As we pulled the Landy up to the red diesel tank to pop a bit of fuel in to stop the annoying orange warning light the plan fell into disarray, not only was the tank locked but so was the fuel cap, with no key to be found! The plan was finally shattered, along with the early morning quiet, as a masked quad bike rider tore into the yard, sliding to a halt a couple of feet away from us. Denty (the only name I will ever know him as), the rider and supervisor, was quick to explain that our intended wall was still undert’ snow and our trip to the hills was scuppered. Fearing, or possibly hoping, that the days work was not to be, I meandered around whilst new plans were made and we soon headed off across a couple of fields to a fifteen meter stretch of half built wall; an unfinished job of fifteen years past.
I was initially drafted in to do the ripping out of an old section of wall whilst the lads rebuilt the section, but as the job had changed so did my role. I was now tasked with digging out the old stone that lay at the foot of the wall, sorting and passing required sizes and filling in; all relatively east tasks compared to my intended labour. I still found the work hard, but enjoyed every minute as the the sun warmed our backs and the wind stayed calm. The layers of clothing soon came off and Hadley, my nephew, was soon bare chested; there was even a moment when he stood in the middle of the field in just his boxers and alpaca socks as he discarded his thermals; quite a sight for any passers-by, however distant. Ben, his partner in crime and on occasion referred to as a smurf due to his blue tracksuit, made much of this and the banter remained thick, fast and funny throughout the day.
All of this was topped off with wonderful scenery and on the odd occasion that we stopped to have a bite to eat I marvelled at my surroundings and I couldn’t think of any better place to be working and I was reminded of the old saying ‘you can take a Yorkshire man out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take Yorkshire from the man’ and for good reason.
As the day wore on so did my gloves, even wearing two pairs gave little protection and the material was through on four of my fingers! I did however take heart and considered that I wasn’t a complete wuss as even my betters donned sturdy pairs as they set the heavy top stones.
With the Job done the sun decided to leave us and I welcomed the cold beer and outstanding lamb shank meal my sister had cooked; the addition of a second nephew and a few friends created the perfect atmosphere to finish the day and for the first time in a long I went to bed early and slept with a clear mind and an aching body 🙂