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Thurso is the venue this weekend for the UK's only drystone festival

By Gordon Calder

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THE UK's only drystone festival is taking place in Caithness this weekend for the first since the coronavirus pandemic three years ago.

The event has not been staged since 2019 because of Covid but is set to make a welcome return at Thurso Campsite from today until Sunday.

The Northfest Stonefest, now in its fifth year, has been organised by local master drystone waller, George Gunn, who explained the event continues to build useful features for the public, using ancient dry stone walling skills.

He said: "The artistic, traditionally built seats we have made in Thurso are well known and loved by many. We are proud to be the only Highland group actively promoting this ancient craft using skilled and qualified Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA) instructors, and are very thankful for the encouraging local support we get."

A feature being built during a previous festival. Organiser George Gunn is on the right.
A feature being built during a previous festival. Organiser George Gunn is on the right.

Mr Gunn added: "We are a registered, not for profit, constituted voluntary group, run in a relaxed and friendly but professional way. Our small group are all unpaid volunteers, including myself. I do it for my love of the craft of drystone dyking. I've been working at it for 37 years since being trained but am doing less of it now."

This year one of the tasks being undertaken is the building of an artistic wall under expert, DSWA qualified instructors on the Friday and Saturday using two different coloured Caithness Flagstone types.

There are also free guest speakers giving talks on Saturday in the upstairs room in the Pentland Hotel, Thurso at 6pm.

They are: Karl Kennedy, Ireland whose subject will be The Gathering of the Stones Heritage Project while

Charlie Juhlenski from Caithness will talk about repairing Whaligoe Steps single-handed.

George Gunn's theme will be The Famine Wall on top of Suilven – A Steep Challenge to Repair.

On Sunday afternoon, there will be a boat trip to the uninhabited island of Stroma, for a £15 discounted fee, weather permitting. Otherwise, there will be a tour of interesting local sites.

To book contact Mr Gunn georgegunnwalling@hotmail.com

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