In the serene landscape of Perthshire, Kristie and Luke, the dynamic duo behind The Drystone Company, breathe new life into the age-old craft of drystone walling. Fusing traditional techniques with modern aesthetics, they shape rural landscapes into resilient, sustainable, and visually stunning spaces, all while narrating captivating tales of each project. Here is their story—of not just building walls, but crafting testaments to timeless passion and commitment to the environment.
Hello. Thanks for chatting with us! Take us back to where it all began, tell us a bit about yourselves the company.
Hello, we’re Kristie and Luke, an ex-husband and wife team of drystone wallers working out of Perthshire, Scotland. The Drystone Company began after we moved from Edinburgh in 2018. We both quickly threw ourselves into the outdoors and rural life, and we learned drystone because, very simply, we had a fascination with the structures we saw around us every day. I don’t think either of us planned for it to become a career, but working outdoors and spending time on the land suited us very well, and we have loved building our small business over the last few years.
As a traditional craft, what original techniques are you still using and what is new?
Drystone is what was used to build some of the earliest structures on our planet. North, South, East, West, if there was stone, there was drystone. At its core, it’s a craft that’s all about doing what you can with what you have, and any structure can still be built using only traditional techniques, the very same that were used thousands of years ago. These days, we have access to tools that really help speed up the building process. Big tools, like diggers to clear earth or move stones that weigh many, many tonnes, and small tools like carbide chisels or hammers that make shaping stone quick and precise. No matter the tools that are used, every stone still goes into the wall by hand, each piece of hearting is placed with intent, stones into the wall length ways, one over two and two over one. Just like our ancestors did.
How would you describe your drystone walling style and where do you take inspiration from?
We are keen travellers within Scotland, and have visited so many incredible drystone structures over the years. We have found inspiration in the snecks of a 2000 year old broch, and in the lintel stones of a clearance village, and in the many still standing souterrains around us. There are also many wallers working across the world that are creating incredible drystone, and we are inspired by their work all the time. Our friend Iori in Japan is building beautiful structures, many inspired by Japan’s own wonderful drystone traditions. Our style is informed by the project’s requirements, the stone we’re working with, and the environment in which we are building, but we want a strong wall with great visual balance and flow, and that’s what we are always aiming for.
Talk us through the durability and sustainability of drystone as an outdoor design feature.
Working on the land, and with the land, sustainability has become increasingly important to us. When built properly, drystone can last hundreds of years and that sort of time scale really puts things into perspective in terms of the climate emergency we are facing. We are proud to work within a craft that has unbeatable sustainability credentials. The carbon footprint of drystone is a fraction of that for other building techniques. Our building materials were made
by geological forces millions of years ago and by building without mortar, the large carbon footprint of cement is avoided. The only footprint our work incurs is our travel and, if needed, the transport of stone to site, but to keep our impact to a minimum, we use local stone whenever possible. Dry stone structures also create habitats in their interiors for plants, insects and animals. One small wall in a garden or field, can contain a diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna. Drystone is a sound investment for our clients, but it is an even greater investment in our global future.
What are some of your favourite projects to have worked on?
Our work has been fairly wide ranging so far, but we have particularly enjoyed working on projects that are inspired by traditional structures. For example, a garden seating area inspired by sheep stells, and a large garden planter inspired by the Planticrubs found in Shetland and the outer Hebrides. Repairs are also incredibly satisfying, we love a good ‘before and after’.
We’ve heard about your ‘wall treasure’, what exactly is this and what’s the best thing you’ve found when you’re walling?
‘Wall treasure’ are the wee gifts left behind by those who built the wall before us, whether that’s on purpose or by accident. Every time we are stripping out a wall for repair, we hope to find a treasure hoard, but the best we’ve done so far are some old glass bottles, horseshoes and the occasional tractor spike. It’s hard not to be jealous when people find great ‘wall treasure’ and there have been some incredible finds, old coins and even a gun! We’re not sure it’s technically ‘wall treasure’ but our favourite finds are fossils in the stones, nothing can beat holding the impressions of million-year-old life in your hands. Well, maybe that treasure hoard!
Where are some of your favourite examples of drystone walling and where can our readers go to see them?
There is incredible drystone all around us in Scotland, you really don’t have to look far. There are beautiful walls everywhere, as well as many agricultural structures like fanks and stells. Limekilns are also common in Scotland and well worth a look if you can find them. We always have the Canmore website open in a tab on our laptops for planning weekend trips. It is an invaluable resource, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. Recently we visited Clachtoll Broch in Assynt which is around 2000 years old and has some of the most beautiful, snecky walls we’ve ever seen, and also Easdale (The Slate Islands) has a fascinating history as well as some exceptional drystone. Kristie is also a photographer and has documented all the places we visit on her Instagram account. It’s a great resource.
What do you hope is in store for the future of The Drystone Company and for drystone walling in general?
The Drystone Company has a deep appreciation for the history, skills and styles that are integral to the craft, but we are also ‘looking forward’, anticipating the practice, attitudes and ideas that we believe are needed to take drystone into the next century more relevant than ever. We want to raise the profile of this wonderful craft, and bring awareness to its longevity
and sustainability, putting it at the forefront of outdoor design aesthetics. We also want to contribute to creating space within the craft for women, as well as people from marginalised groups. We truly believe that awareness of these issues, as well as inclusivity, is integral to drystone having the thriving future it deserves. 2023 is busy with many varied drystone projects, but this year Kristie will be splitting her time between drystone and writing because she has recently had a book commissioned. Part unconventional memoir, part drystone, land, and our connection to the past, it’s a wonderful project that we are very excited about. All in all a great year ahead for The Drystone Company.
INTERVIEW BY Eryn Inglis
IMAGES BY Kirstie and Luke De Garis