Gathan Beaga

Dry Stone Walls

I think that dry stone walls are one of the most charming features of the British countryside. These are walls made completely without cement or mortar, just using the skill and eye of the waller in placing the rocks so that their own weight binds them together. Becky and I were in the UK for a year or so a while back, and in our travels around Britain we would often stop to take photos and look at how they might have been constructed. Most of the ones you see in the North of England are up to 250 years old dating from the time of the enclosures (in the South people grew hedges instead). But there are other examples that are much much older still. It is a very old craft.

Dry Stone Wall in progress: 1In fact, I liked walls so much I decided to go on a walling course not long before I left the UK in 1997. As it was near the end of the summer I had a few problems finding one that suited; but eventually one Friday night I ended up in Littleborough (near Manchester).

The next morning I found my way up onto the moor and the site of the course (using a trusty OS Map, of course). The tutor explained the basics. I found out the rather depressing news that the standard Pennine Wall, the kind we would be building over the next two days, uses approximately a tonne of rock per metre of length. As I had been doing a typical soft southerner’s office job in London, I knew at once that I was going to have an interesting time.

To the right (Dry Stone Wall in progress: 1) you can see the base laid; note the two parallel lines of stone.The Pennine Wall is built double, with some ‘through-stones’ later on.

Dry Stone Wall in progress: 2You can now (Dry Stone Wall in progress: 2) clearly see the through-stones at this stage. These help to bind both sides of the wall together.

Dry Stone Wall in progress: 3And now (Dry Stone Wall in progress: 3) you can see we’ve started putting the cope-stones in on the wall end closest to us. These lock together to (hopefully) stop stock from knocking the wall over. Plus they look good too.

It was much harder work than I expected, but it was good to see the results. I learnt quite a lot… but one of the biggest lessons was that I’m simply not built for moving tons of rock about professionally. I’d like to have a go in the back garden one day though (although maybe Wellington is not the best place for this).

On another page, I show some of the pictures of walls I took while travelling around Britain.