Most of us have seen a dry stone wall. They are the most basic of durable barriers built from material literally torn from the earth. Different regions will have different styles of wall. This may depend both on the type of local stone that is used, but also on regional identity. Rural walls may be rougher in appearance than those bordering urban properties, however they are of no lesser strength. Dry stone walls can be very old. Carbon dating of peat covered walls in County Mayo dated them to 3800BC, however with rebuilding it can be difficult to date a wall. Often built to keep livestock in, sheep can frequently damage a wall by clambering over it, and sheep being sheep, others will follow, bringing down further stones. Frequently a farmer will add a layer of wire above a dry stone wall in an attempt to discourage this.
Over two thirds of our nation’s dry stone walls are thought to be in a ‘derelict’ state. The art of the dry stone waller, or dyker, is still very much in demand and they are an expensive alternative to simply throwing up a few wooden posts and some barbed wire. Many wallers have attained various levels of certification indicating their level of proficiency.
I met two wallers on my walk along the Pennine Bridleway in 2022. The first I chatted to over a pint in Derbyshire. He had as much work as he could want for, rarely worked outside a twenty mile radius and charged £35-£45/metre to build and the same to take down. For an ‘exhibition’ class wall, that takes more care and time to build, he reckoned on £75/metre. He was recently contracted to work on a series of walls for one farmer totalling over three kilometres in length. You can do the maths. Another waller I met further along on the Pennine Bridleway in Lancashire charged £46/metre to build and £26/metre to take down. There doesn’t appear to be any standard charge and the images below will partly explain why. Different types of stone and the terrain a wall crosses will require less or more labour, it is as simple as that.
I have simply included here a few images taken on a two week walk up the spine of England on the Pennine Bridleway, one of the National Trails of England and Wales. I haven’t even included location, just some dates as I moved northward from Derbyshire to Cumbria, as these are typical images of the type of wall you might see from a car, bus or train window as much as from walking between the walls bordering a bridleway. Sandstones, shales, gritstone, limestone and others, the geology of the land walked through dictates what might border a path.
You might have gathered that I have a soft spot for these hard stone walls. I love them, I love that they furnish and compliment a landscape. I love that they are part of the fabric of my country. That they bind together our culture and countryside as much as they are bound together by expert hands to form an (almost) impenetrable barrier to the wild eyed sheep, nervous lambs and doleful cattle beyond. They also do a good job at discouraging the furtive backpacker looking to hop over for an out-of-eyeshot wildcamp!
Dry stone walls are to be found anywhere in the world where stones are plentiful. They are very much part of the ‘image’ of a countryside and a summer saunter up England’s Pennine Bridleway, crossing from county to county, region to region, reveals just how much an important aspect of the landscape and rural farming practices they can be. There is a lot of helpful information on dry stone walls and a good reading list to be found on the website of the Dry Stone Walling Association.
- Pennine Bridleway- Middleton Top to the Mary Towneley Loop
- Pennine Bridleway- The Mary Towneley Loop
- Pennine Bridleway- Mary Towneley Loop to Settle
- Pennine Bridleway- The Settle Loop
- Pennine Bridleway- Settle to The Street, Ravenstonedale
- Maps and guidebooks for the Pennine Bridleway
- Stone buildings on the Pennine Bridleway