Dry stone walling
The building of stone walls and structures without the use of mortar or cement.
|Historic area of significance||Scotland; North Wales; North of England|
|Area currently practised|
|Origin in the UK||Neolithic|
Dry stone walling is the building of walls and structures without the use of cement or mortar. The skills stretch back over three millennia and include places like Skara Brae and the brochs in Scotland. Dry stone walls are common in upland areas of Britain where stone is much nearer the surface and soils thinner.
Many of the skills used by early wallers are still recognised and used today. The skill of the waller is being able to use the local stone to its best advantage. Today dry stone walling is prospering with an upsurge in interest in the environmental value of walls and the growth in prestigious garden, landscape and artistic projects.
Stones are placed lengthways into the wall to provide strength. Large stones are used for the base of the wall and the middle is filled with smaller stone as the wall goes up. Most walls have throughstones placed about half way up which tie both sides of the wall together and add strength to the structure. The profile of a wall is like a capital letter ‘A’, tapering towards the top. The wall is finished off with coping stones which can be done in a variety of styles and protect the wall from livestock and decay.
Most walls are built using the same basic techniques but it is the type of stone used that gives the walls their distinctive appearance. Some areas of the country do have different styles of building due to the nature of the stone, for example in far north of Scotland where some walls are built with large, single boulders and no small filling.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- At present there are no formal funding opportunities for people seeking to learn the traditional craft of dry stone walling. The Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA) has, in the past, been successful with NLHF grants to offer bursary placements but the future of such a programme is dependent on grant applications and is not a sustainable way forward. Apprenticeships are not available as most dry stone wallers are sole traders so do not meet the criteria of “employers”.
- Grants available for the repair of dry stone walls are often geared towards farmers so private landowners may not be eligible to access funding and the grant rate being offered is sometimes seen as the “going rate” for dry stone walling, which is not usually the case.
Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain – which has further information about the craft and provides training opportunities including short beginner courses as well as residential weeks that offer participants the chance to take one of the accredited qualifications in dry stone walling. DSWA produces a range of books and leaflets which are available via the website or from the office at Lane Farm, Crooklands, Milnthorpe, Cumbria LA7 7NH.
- The Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild – offers non residential weekend courses for those looking to learn the basics of dry stone walling.
Craftspeople currently known
The Dry Stone Walling Association maintains a professional register of dry stone wallers on its website.