Updated: Mar 1
Well the stone festival season is well and truly upon us.
This year I started my festival season with a trip to Austria’s largest wine-producing town, Langenlois. The wine however was just a indulgence and not my main reason for traveling here. And as much as I like a ‘dry’ white wine, it was in fact the ‘dry’ stone I was here for.
But before I can reminisce about hot weather and cold wine I have to go back to The Gathering of Stones 2013 to when we met Helmut Schieder.
Helmut attended The Gathering of Stones event in Ireland back 2013 and like many others he left the Gathering of Stones hungry for more. About six months later a number of us from that event were contacted by Helmut and invited to instruct at his ‘Stein und Wein’ (Stone and Wine) festival in Langenlois.
The festival was spread out over an area of the vineyards at Heiligenstein and the grounds of Gartenbauschule Langenlois horticultural college nearby where Helmut works.
The first day of the week long events was a day of talks and presentations by various esteemed academics, architects, engineers from all over Europe as well as a number of talks by various wallers.
The only barriers at this event were dry stone ones we built, as live translators turned wild Celtic ramblings into coherent Germanic talks and vice versa for us English speaking symposiasts.
Helmut was keen to open the eyes and the minds of students, teachers, landscape gardeners and architects from across Europe to dry stone walls and also demonstrate that there is more to stone walls than function and aesthetics.
On the second day we got stuck into some serious walling.
There were five different builds on over four days, with groups of students from all over Europe rotating each day to a different wall.
Nick Aitken and Eddie Farrelly worked on a large double sided boulder wall
The double sided boulder wall was built using local marble rubble and stretched over 22 meters in length.
They somehow even found time to add two special features. A ‘sheep creep’ (or a ‘lunky’ if you’re Nick) and a ‘stile’.
It was a unusually hot week for the time of year while we were there, peaking at about 36°C. Fortunately there was plenty of shade and this lovely natural swimming pool on the grounds to keep us cool.
Just up from the natural swimming pool Ken Curran and myself were instructing students on constructing a 10 meter section of a traditional Irish ‘Feidin’ wall using a mix of reclaimed building stone of various stone types.
Fedin walls are not only aesthetically beautiful but they are also a wonderful wall to build with groups. For those of you unfamiliar with Feidin walls, they are a combination wall of a double wall for the first lift with a single wedged wall on top. This type of Feidin here is know as an Aran Feidin and is particularly poetic with its names for the components. The large uprights are called ‘máthair’ or ‘mother’ stones. The small stones between them are ‘na páistí’ or ‘children’ with the large vertical stones that protect the top of the wall called ‘athair’ or father stones.
In another area in the gardens Pat McAfee began work on a 15 meter long wedged retaining wall using the local ‘gneiss’ stone.
Working in that heat and dust sure is thirsty work. One hot evening we were treated to some creamy pints of ‘dust remover’ (AKA Guinness) that Helmut brought in especially for the Irish masons.
Just up the hill from Pat’s wall, Sean Adcock was building a epic 30 meter long Clawdd (roughly pronounced as clouth). A Clawdd is not to be confused of course with cloud computing! I know no one really understands where that data goes but I assure you it is not in a Clawdd.
A Clawdd is a type of stone faced earth bank commonly found in North Wales consisting of tightly wedged small stones. For this Clawdd Sean used local river rock.
The final build undertaken by students was the reconstruction of the walls at of the vineyard at Heiligenstein.
The Heiligenstein is one of Austria’s most famed vineyards. This hillside vineyard was first mentioned in the Zwettl abbey register of 1280 as “Hellenstein”, or hell stone, because it was a mountain on which the sun “burns like hell”. It was later renamed Heiligenstein, or “holy rock”, in possibly in an early form of political correctness.ref. 
The Heiligenstein is a unique geological formation – a geological island – within Europe, dating to the Permian period some 250 to 270 million years ago, comprising an extrusion of desert sandstone with volcanic and carboniferous conglomerates.
Here in the vineyard, Austria’s ‘Mr Stone’ Rainer Vogler instructed students in building the local traditional retaining walls with that local stone as well as building a new seating terrace with a special feature around the natural spring that runs there even on the dryest summers.
Here students built more than 40 meters of wall over the week.
It is easy to see that like many locals, Helmut is proud of his regions rich culture and heritage. This was the second major driving factor in organising this event, as he wished to show the people from Germany, Switzerland, France, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and those from other parts of Austria who attended the event the rich and colourful heritage they have here. Not to mention some seriously tasty wines.
During the course of the week as well as on the last day of the festival we visited a number of the local wine makers and vineyards for some wine tasting and tours.
One of the trips made on the last day was to The Domäne winery in the Wachau. The Domäne is deeply rooted in the Wachau region. Close to 440 hectares of vineyards are cultivated by the members of this quality-oriented cooperative – that makes 30 percent of the entire Wachau vineyard area. These vineyards are found on steep terraces reinforced by old dry stone walls that are part of a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
There is a long tradition here in the vineyards of tapping pins to the face of the wall to stabilize stones being pushed out by the forces behind. This tradition seems to has passed over to their new builds as well where pinnings in the face of the wall are common practice.
And it was at the top of these steps that our tour ended as not long after our tour guide Rainer told us about the freak downpours of heavy rain and massive hailstones that sometimes happen here. We got a live rendition and got completely drenched from head to toe.
And with that our festival came to a close. With over 220 tons of stone used during the week by participants from right across Europe, the festival was a huge success. It was also a quite unique festival in that students got an opportunity to work on such a variety of projects over just one week.
With that I would like to thank Helmut and the team at Gartenbauschule Langenlois for putting together such a fantastic event and for looking after us all so well. And we all hope to be back again in the near future.
Let the festival season continue.
The weekend after Stone & Wine was the Tír Ċonaill Stone Festival in Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal.
Unfortunately I was unable to make it due to work commitments but the festival was a huge success.
You can read more about the festival here
A few other festivals I look forward to attending this summer are:
The annual pilgrimage to Féile na gCloch (Festival of Stone) on Inis Oirr on the Aran Islands will be on 17th – 21st September this year. More info on this here
And to round it off for the year I will be going to The Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada‘s dry stone festival from September 25 – 27th on Amherst Island in Lake Ontario, Canada.
You can find out more about this event and register to be there with us here