THERE’S not an inch to spare in Aidso Bradley’s garden shed, but everything has its place. A multitude of screwdrivers and chisels of every shape and size sit upright on the workbench in wooden holders he made himself, neatly in rows according to size. On the wall hang pliers, wrenches and spanners for every job imaginable. 

Then you have the mallets, hammers and saws. And that’s before you come to the electrical tools – the mini-chainsaws and sanders and heat guns. Oh, and on shelves above sit rows and rows of varnishes and glues and polishes and paints.

It’s in this wee shed that magic takes place. Because it’s here that Aidso takes rough and thorny branches he’s sustainably harvested from hedges on the Belfast Hills and turns them into walking sticks that would be anyone’s pride and joy.

The shed is an Aladdin’s cave of carpentry – but the surprising thing is that this is just a hobby for Aidan, who’s a postie by day. Those joinery skills lay dormant until 17 years ago when, during one dander across the fields beside his  home, his foot sunk into another muddy swamp, and when he managed with some effort to pull it out his water boot was lost! “After that I decided I’d make myself a walking stick to help me avoid those mud traps, and I’ve never stopped making them since,” said Aidso this week.

That first stick he made for himself wasn’t the classic blackthorn, that hard prickly wood that makes the famous Irish shillelagh. A blackthorn stick is good for long walks along paths or, as a top-heavy shillelagh for protection if needed.  But Aidso knew he needed something different, something that would sink deep into those muddy hills.

He searched Colin Glen and found the answer: hazel, coll in Irish. Famously long and straight, it makes for a great walking pole when you’re heading off-piste. That hazel stick set Aidso off on a life-changing journey that he could barely imagine, and eventually to this seat in his garden shed surrounded by everything a skilled tradesman would ever need to make the perfect walking stick.

His research into the different qualities of native trees was only the start. But almost 20 years after making that first stick, the hazel is still the stick of choice for Aidan when walking the hills – that’s his favourite in his left hand in this picture. It’s truly majestic, he simply treated it with several coats of Danish oil to seal it.

A good stick is an essential for hillwalking, and especially on our hills where it’ll help you balance on the uneven ground or when you’re crossing the many streams.

Aidan uses a clamp and heat gun to straighten any small bends (years ago boiling water was used). Then he cleans it down with paint thinner before painting it with the same matt used on blackboards.

He enhances the thorns by making a nick under them – and so he’ll easily spot his own creations.

“I saw a guy downtown in Centra in the city centre with one – I knew right away it was one I made. I had to ask him where he got it. He was from the Shankill and I finally worked out that I had given it to one of his relatives.”

Some of his sticks have travelled even further. He took one to Australia as a present while visiting his son.

Aidan doesn’t charge for his sticks – this is a labour of love, not a business. Which for Dúlra makes them even more valuable.

And selling them isn’t on his radar at this point.

“It’s a hobby,  I’m not at it 24/7,” he said. “I have a run at it for a couple of days and then leave it – which suits this job because it takes time.”

Aidso got the country bug the way Dúlra did – as a boy gazing up at the beautiful mountain. “Black Mountain was there at the top of the street,” he said. That street was Beechmount Street and although it was a bit of a dander to Black Mountain, he spent all his spare time there.

He still loves the hills and delights in spotting potential sticks. “Blackthorn flowers in April and hawthorn in May,” he said, and in a few weeks’ time, the easily-overlooked blackthorn will stand out. “I spotted a wee white flash last year among the hawthorns that line Hannahstown Hill and realised there’s a blackthorn in there.”

Hannahstown Hill provides rich pickings for Aidso, who lives right beside it in the aptly named Hawthorn Glen.

“Some of the straightest hawthorn sticks you’ll find in these hills are on the hedge of Hannahstown Hill because they’re cut every year and that makes them grow tall.”

And with that, the woodworker presented Dúlra with a hawthorn stick. It had ‘thumbnails’ – a fork at the top which can come in handy when walking through brambles, or for resting your binoculars on!

It was an inspired choice. Aidso wouldn’t have known, but Dúlra’s walking stick for many, many years when he walked the hills was a hawthorn he had cut himself. So beware brambles, Dúlra’s on his way.

• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.