Stone Walls In The Peak District
I have read that stone walls last about 50 years before they need rebuilding. That’s similar to a human life, you might think! However, until I moved to Taddington I gave stone walls little thought. Now, I am a true fan. Firstly though, what is a stone wall? Well, it’s really a drystone wall, which means that no cement or concrete should be used. The wall builder must place one stone upon another, from bottom to top. Consequently, what matters is the type of stone being used. Flat, slab type sandstone appear easier to use but limestone, our local stone, breaks into odd shapes. As you see in the photo, you pile these near the wall and start building. The larger blocks form the base, something fairly obvious in all stone walls in the Peak District.
What is not so obvious is when walls stop featuring in the landscape. In Britain, this is where hedges take over. For instance, as you drive south crossing from Derbyshire into Staffordshire, the stone walls just stop. In Dorset, a mass of stone walls can be found in Purbeck but not in the rest of the county. However, it’s worth noting the way in which the walls morph into the hedges because the countryside then changes dramatically. Often, the cottages are built in the same stone as the walls and not in brick.
A wood or metal frame is set at both ends of the strip of wall to be built. The frame is A shaped and string between the two points defines the height and width. The wall is wider at the base and narrower at the top. The string is slid up the A frame to confirm that the wall is tapering at the right angle. However, one foot wide across the top is usual in Derbyshire. The wall is finished by using blocks of stone set on edge along the top. Sometimes, to make this easier, the builder might resort to cement. It is not then a drystone wall!
Do you have the eye?
As the wall is built up, the skill is to select the right stone. In theory, any stone picked up should be placed somewhere in the wall. The kneeling wall builder in my photo, a pensioner, was previously a joiner. His stone walling course tutor, a woman, told him he had the eye, probably because of his woodworking skills. Because he is building a wide base, he is infilling the middle of the lower wall with small stones. For certain, his wall building skills are second to none. However, his advantage is time; he can spend as long as he likes on its construction. Not being time constrained is similar to how they built stone circles in the Neolithic period.
Stone walls in the Peak District
Chatting to a professional stone waller out on the lanes, he quoted a price for the work. It was £37.50 per meter and he earned £150.00 per day. That did not include the stone or its transport. That was, he explained, the field standard and not the one you might want around a garden. However, he was aware of the stone walling in my photo and explained that if he did the work to that standard it would cost much more. Perfection, to the human eye, is expensive. Whatever, the blue tits, slowworms and small mammals that will live in the wall don’t care. A wall, you see, is also an environmental resource. That said, digging great holes in the ground to remove the stone is not good. Neither is shifting all that stone by road. It’s another of those carbon dilemma’s.