Staying on top off our ancient dykes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

they feature in the most picturesque of postcards and they’ve been a part of our landscape for centuries but dry stone dykes aren’t the first thing that would spring to mind when thinking of modern day job opportunities for young people.

These ancient dykes were an essential part of the fabric of our history, marking out fields and boundaries between some of our most historic country estates. A bit like listed buildings, all dry stone dykes in Scotland are recorded and designated by the Scottish Government – so if one gets damaged or falls into disrepair it can’t just be replaced by a cheap fence!

Some of the dry stone dykes on the Leys Estate in North Deeside are centuries old and, as Thys Simpson, countryside ranger at Leys Estate, says, this means a lot of work.

“Sadly the years and the North-east climate has taken its toll on some of the dry stone dykes on the estate and they require more of a fundamental rebuild than a quick repair.”

For the last few years, Thys has been the custodian for maintaining and repairing them. During 2008 and 2009 Thys trained two local lads, Neil Cobban from Tillyfourie and Olly Steam from Crathes, in the art of dry stone dyking.

The pair have gone on to help with much of the repair work on the estate and recently completed an epic repair and rebuild project of a 250m stretch of dyke.

Thys continues: “We are very much focused on conservation and sustainability and the relationship between us and the local community has always been close. By training local people to assist we can create jobs and keep traditional knowledge, skills and expertise alive for future generations.”

With this particular project finished, Olly is now away to begin university in Glasgow whilst Neil, who has just graduated with honours from Gray’s School of Art, is looking to set up his own business repairing dry stone dykes away from the estate.

In August, Thys ran a two-day ‘Introduction to dry stone dyke repair’ course on Leys Estate which was attended by four locally based participants and following this success he’s planning to run another next year.

Those interested in learning this skill should contact Thys Simpson directly on 01330 826506.