Last week I had the pleasure of working with contractor Innes Watson, of Highland Stonecraft. Innes (pictured below) is a skilled and experienced dry stane dyker who is well acquainted with the dry stone constructions of St Kilda.
Most of St Kilda’s iconic structures are of dry stone, including the cleits, many kilometres of dykes and enclosures, and the blackhouses. Although these structures may seem static and unchanging, most of them have underwent a continuous process of repair and alteration throughout their lifespan; this process of managed change continues under the stewardship of the National Trust for Scotland.
The collapse pictured above is typical of the changes that the Trust deals with on a yearly basis. Believe it or not, this collapse is repaired stone for stone – where possible, every stone will be put back exactly where it fell from. Most of Innes’s normal work is on new dry stane constructions, where he would use regular courses of carefully selected stones to craft beautifully even creations. In contrast, the essence of St Kildan dyking is randomness, which means that often Innes is tasked with rebuilding walls to a state of collapse – a challenging but rewarding process for a skilled craftsman. The photograph below shows Innes’s excellent repair.
It should also be noted that our contractors generally stay on the QinetiQ base. This has the perk of an excellent feed in the canteen, including the option of a daily full breakfast, and chips with every meal. Just the thing for a working man!
Àrsair Hiort/ St Kilda Archaeologist