Traditional handcrafted frame drums by CAROLYN HILLYER

Dartmoor Drums was established over twenty years ago, since when Carolyn has been making traditional frame drums that reflect something of the spirit and song of this extraordinary landscape. All the materials for these drums are very carefully sourced and everything is created using old (and sometimes very ancient) techniques; nothing is machine-made or mass-produced. Special attention is given to the integrity with which the animal skins are gathered and prepared. All skins are by-products of seasonal culling and would otherwise be wasted; no animal is ever killed just to provide skin for drums. Dartmoor Red Deer skins are sourced from a family-run smallholding and deer forest. Dartmoor Wild Horse skins are sourced from the wild pony herds that live on these hills (please see further information below). We prepare the skins in our small tannery shed on the farm; they are washed and soaked in water from the spring-fed well. Because the gathering of the skins is seasonal, and because the preparation of the skins for rawhide or leather takes 3-6 weeks depending on the weather conditions, the number of drums or leathers that we make in any year is limited. Nearly all of the preparation is done by hand; the final stages of drying the rawhide or finishing the leather are carried out in a small traditional sheepskin tannery on the edge of Dartmoor. The drums are made in a medieval stone barn, dried slowly over several days, then blessed over fire in the neolithic-style roundhouse that we have built on the farm. This is the story that lies at the heart of your Dartmoor Drum.

The artisan quality of the materials, and of the making process, have a significant effect on the song that each drum will sing; these are instruments with a lot of spirit! The careful hand-crafting of the skins means that all the individual character and colour textures of the skins are retained; the drums are undecorated and beautiful in their simplicity. The drum hoop is made from northern birch wood, prepared in a small family workshop in the north of England; all hoops are 2½”/6cms deep except for large ceremonial drums, which are 4 ½”/11cms deep. The tension ring is wrought by a Dartmoor blacksmith. The ring and handle of the drum are trimmed with red deer or wild horse leather. The drum beater is made from branch wood cut on our Dartmoor farm (usually hazel, willow or ash), sewn with leather & filled with animal hair or sheep fleece. A small Dartmoor totem is hung from the back of the drum (antler bead, horse hair, river stone…) to honour both the drum and the drummer. Each drum is blessed over fire in the ceremonial roundhouse.

More about Dartmoor wild ponies… In 2013 we launched a new project involving wild horse drums and leather. We have been pony herders on Dartmoor for many years and have the care of a small herd that roam the hills surrounding our farm. The role of herder is passed on with the farm; it is an ancient commoners’ right that dates back many hundreds of years, although there have been wild ponies and horses on this landscape since neolithic times. The ponies are not wild in the same way as badgers or deer; they are semi-feral similar to the reindeer herds of the European and Siberian Arctic. Over the last decade Dartmoor hill farmers have been faced with serious environmental and financial pressures on their herds, largely due to a significant reduction in possible homes and good markets for the excess ponies. As a consequence there is a culling of ponies each autumn in order to keep the size of the herds in balance with the number that can be fed by the land. We are fortunate that the small size of our own herd, and recent experimentation with contraception for some of the mares on the moor, means that we can keep an eye on numbers without ever taking this route. In order to create something environmentally sustainable from this situation, the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association (which has also found homes for many thousands of ponies during the last 10 years) has been working in a variety of ways to add value to both the live and culled ponies.  One way has been to develop the idea of using the organic meat for carefully created, high-quality products for human consumption; within our culture this is inevitably a sensitive and contraversial subject for the taboos around horses are deeply rooted in the sacred ancestral culture of these islands. However we feel that this is an ethically-sound and traditional herding practice; our ancestors relied on wild herds including ponies as a food source, and most indigenous tribal herders in the world today would consider the culling of excess animals without making use of the hides or meat, to be dishonouring and wasteful. So some of the wild pony skins that result from the meat project are now prepared by us for rawhide and leather. We know that these beautiful creatures are free and untamed right up until their death; they have never been transported or stabled but have come directly from the open hills with the wind in their manes and the rivers around their feet. We hope that we have caught something of their wild song and an honouring of their spirits within these drums. Please note that preparation of wild horse hide has been suspended for now and our remaining stock of skin for drums is therefore limited: this has been reflected in a price increase for the wild horse drums, in order to maximise what we can use to support the ongoing Dartmoor pony protection projects.

For all prices please add 20% VAT and £13 courier postage. Each drum is blessed over fire in the ceremonial round house at Lower Merripit Farm. Drums are usually made to commission, although sometimes there are ready-made drums available so please ask. We do not sell rawhide skins for drum making but sometimes have packs of small rawhide pieces for rattle making. Carolyn has created an album specifically intended to assist with different drumming techniques: Drum Songs from the Heathen Hills can be found on our music page. Please contact Carolyn for more information –  email Seventh Wave Music

Travelling Drum small 14″ £140
Forest Drum medium 16″ £180
Fire Circle Drum large 18″ £220
Ceremonial Drum 18″/extra deep hoop £320
The faces of these drums vary from pale & creamy to golden & shadowy or textured; very good resonant tone with a deeper sound on the larger drums. The forest drum is popular as a first drum because the tone is medium low and it is easy to carry around. Finished with Dartmoor red deer leather and decorated with red deer antler bead.
Small Hills Drum 14″ £180
Medium Hills Drum 16″ £220
Large Hills Drum 18″ £270
Great Hills Drum 18″/extra deep hoop £400
Very dark brown or amber wild horse skins with sturdy thick texture; can have a flatter resonance so they are good for fast running beats and less sensitive to damp weather. Slightly heavier drums for playing and carrying, especially the ceremonial size. Finished with wild horse or red deer leather and decorated with braided copper and horse hair.
Not currently available. Dark nut brown reindeer skins prepared with traditional techniques in the Arctic. Mottled designs that often suggest the hoof patterns of circling herds on frozen lakes. A bright singing resonance that sometimes gives a metallic icy song. Finished with red alder bark dyed reindeer leather and decorated with antler bead.