Dry Stone Walling: A Living Craft for the Present Day
Dry stone walling in Britain stretches back thousands of years, to the village of Skara Brae in the Orkneys, and the Iron Age brochs of northern and western Scotland. Dry stone walls, built without mortar, are found mainly in upland areas of Britain where soils tend to be thinner and rock much nearer the surface and where trees and hedges do not grow easily, due to altitude and/or climate.
Dry stone walls also provide valuable habitat for a range of small mammals, plants and insects. The middle of the wall is usually quite dry so an ideal place for voles, birds and even stoats to make a home. Lichens and mosses colonise the outer surfaces, which in turn offer a foothold for other plants such as stonecrop and ferns to establish themselves.
The Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA) is often asked the following question “Isn’t dry stone walling a dying art?” In recent years there has been an increase in the interest in the use of dry stone walling, whether for field boundary repair or for landscape gardening. There is also a small increase in the use of dry stone walling for civil engineering projects, although the individual nature of dry stone walling can make engineers and architects slightly wary of its capabilities.
Like many traditional crafts, dry stone walling is perhaps perceived as something carried out by “the older generation” but there is no reason why young people cannot make a successful career out of dry stone walling, providing they are willing to work hard and take time to learn the skills and understand the materials they are using.
Further information is available from the DSWA website, www.dswa.org.uk or by contacting the office on 015395 67953.
Alison Shaw, Dry Stone Walling Association, Lane Farm, Crooklands, Milnthorpe, Cumbria LA7 7NH