Drystone walls ….. If you spend any time in Cumbria they’ll be a familiar sight and if you spend any time working in conservation they’ll soon become a very familiar sight. They’re called drystone because they have no mortar to hold them together, just a set of rules that are applied to every stone you put on the wall. How fast you do it often comes down to how often you do it – practice makes …. well, let’s say gradually improving ….
|It's always a right mess when you start, but all those stones need to go back|
Here’s some of the basic drystone wall rules:
- Build the wall with two ‘skins’, with a centre of smaller stones (hearting)
- Try to use the biggest stones at the bottom of the wall, smaller ones higher up.
- Always place the stones on the wall so their tops are not tipped up, they are level flat.
- Two on one and one on two – always try to cross the joins by placing the next stone so that it spans the gap between the two stones below it.
- Place stones so their length goes into the wall, not along it (a tracer)
- Try to ensure the outer faces of the stones present as flat a surface as possible.
- Your wall should be roughly twice the width at the bottom it is at the top. This gives it it’s ‘batter’, or sloping face.
- Finish with a row of larger stones to pin it together (the ‘cams’)
We’ve had lots of opportunity to put those rules into practice recently. The Red Nab bridleway runs from a popular car park towards Wray Castle, much of it flanked by a wall. It was starting to look like a very tired wall too and in great need of some TLC, which is where we came in. For the last two years we’ve repaired many sections of it, all with the help of volunteers. We recently had one of our last days there with the local group the South Lakes Conservation Volunteers, putting the cams on a long stretch.
It was a nice feeling to be wrapping things up there but we wonder if it won’t be long before we return. The trouble with fixing up the worst bits of a long wall is that the bits that weren’t so bad suddenly look like the new worst bits by comparison. And that’s where another simple rule comes in:
- For your own sanity, know when to stop ….!
By Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger