Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The making of a memorial

I thought some of you might be interested in the story behind the memorial that recently appeared on the WHW.

When I heard the news that Dario had died it was like a punch in the guts.  It was just terrible news.  He was way to young (more particularly, younger than me!) to die.   It was some small comfort to know that he died doing what he loved (running in the hills) with good friends.

Soon after his death, there was talk of some sort of memorial to the man who has done so much for Scottish ultra running and the West Highland Way race in particular over the 10 years of his tenure as race organiser.  A number of ideas were put forward on the race discussion forum but this was followed by a quiet period of "nothing happening".  This was then followed by an even longer period of apparently "nothing happening".

Nearly a year after his death there still seemed to be no sign or talk of a memorial to Dario on the WHW.  For better of for worse, I took the decision to make my own memorial to the man.  I was (in fact I still am) concerned at perhaps having trampled over other folks ideas or plans but I felt that if my plan really did clash with anyone else's plan, my memorial could always come down.  Meanwhile, for the present, there would be a memorial in place.

Personally, I have strong misgivings about personal memorials in places of great beauty, national parks etc..   One person's sincere memorial can all to easily be another's tacky eyesore.  I overcame my misgivings by designing the memorial to look like an existing piece of WHW furniture, namely a way-marker. This I hoped would be unlikely to give offence to anyone.  I could be wrong but it was a gamble I was prepared to take in order to properly honour the man.

So, how do you make a WHW way-maker/memorial?  The first bit, acquiring a 4"x4"x5' post was easy enough.  The existing WHW waymarker posts have a simple pyramidal top designed to shed water but in this they are only partially successful.  Water still enters the wood slightly at the top (promoting rot) and I wanted my post to look similar, but just a bit "special".  I decided on a metal clad domed top for my version of the post.
Post in early stages of being rounded off

Now circular but not domed
After the first stage, it was then a matter of planing, rasping & chiselling wood off the top until I had a satisfactory domed top.

I've kind of jumped ahead here with my photos as I've no intermediate stages of my WHW emblem carving.  This was done by overlaying the post with a suitably resized photograph of the WHW emblem and then pricking through the pattern on to the post.  Then it was a case of careful chiselling with my smallest chisel and then painting in the logo.  This was done on both sides of the post.

The next job was the metal cap.  I had originally thought about copper but my metal working skills don't amount to much and with copper prices these days I thought it might be too tempting a target for some ne'er-do-wells.  Instead, I got hold of an old piece of roofing lead and had a go at beating into shape.  I wasn't hugely optimistic at getting it to work but after a bit of hammering about with a mallet and the judicious use of a couple of G-clamps, the lead was coaxed into shape.

This isn't a great picture but it's the best of got of that stage.
The next stage was carving the inscription.  Not possessing a router, the skill or suitable chisels, I decided to get this done at a woodworking shop at my local psychiatric hospital.  It's pretty soft wood so it doesn't lend itself to fine carving so the inscription ended up rather larger that I would have liked.  With hindsight, maybe I should have gone with a good hardwood for the post but you live and learn.
Despite this, I was pretty pleased with the finished results.  I didn't want the inscription to be too bright so it painted in with a sage green wood stain.

Well, if you're reading this then you've seen some of the pictures of it "in-situ".  Amazingly, the numpties who erected it <holds hand up> forgot to take a proper camera so all the photos to date have been taken with a collection of mobile phones.   One thing the picture doesn't show, and you'll have to take on trust, is that there's a small bottle of Glengoyne whisky cemented into the base of the post.  I hope that Dario's spirit can more freely through to the bottled spirit. ;-)

It wasn't all fun being out there on the WHW that evening though.  See all those green specks?  Those are the famous WHW midges enjoying an unexpected feast. ;-)  The loch itself that evening was lovely with dramatic clouds and the moon rising, casting its light across the water.  As we rested and admired our handiwork, two RAF fighters flew low up the loch in what seemed like an impromptu fly-by in honour of Dario.

I would just like to finish this blog by thanking those fine people who helped me erect it, a London fireman and a lovely lady from Strathaven.   Also, the folk at my local woodworking shop who refused to take any money for their work.  There were however absolutely delighted when I took them a picture of the post in situ.  I also need to thank a local roofing firm who I approached for some patination oil.  This is stuff that has to be put onto untreated lead to stop it leaving white streaks of lead carbonate down the post.  I went (with the post) to cadge or buy a small quantity.  They had no open tins but they opened a new on and gave me some oil gratis once they saw the post.

As to how the post got to it's resting place and how that spot was chosen, I think I'll leave that for another post.