Cow collateral damage.

These English longhorns are quite valuable beasts,  but also very destructive. They got used to trampling through this hole in the wall, and using it as a thoroughfare, after it’d been taken down by a fallen tree bough. It was quite a job to dissuade them from going over the foundations and it had to be well protected during construction!

2015-09-15 13.06.31During building.

I think they have given up now, but wait… 20 minutes after I finish, what do I see? If those cows aren’t deliberately leaning against the new wall to test it… test me, more like it.

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Oh well, it’s all work. They should stay up a few hundred years, but these cows don’t respect that.

Bob Graham Update

2015-04-04 15.12.49A big ‘Thank you’ to everyone who sponsored me for the Bob Graham Round, which we completed with a great team from The Peak and Lakes in 22 hours and 46 minutes!

We had a great day out on the hill, ran up over 8000 metres, 42 Lakeland fells and about 70 miles in the time… a few blisters and some aches and pains, but otherwise fine.

I have managed to raise over £738 for Myeloma UK, in recognition of the help and support they have given my Dad, Clive with his condition in the last few years.

If you’d like to help me make my target of £1000 for Myeloma, then you can still donate at

Thanks again,


Sandstone rebuild, Bubnell

Quite happy with this rebuild at Bubnell completed last week just in time for farmer Chris’ son’s wedding reception in the field a day afterwards- phew!

Thanks go to Steve Atkinson of Cumbria DSWA for the help with this and the advice along the way, as well as for putting up with shoddy stone, virile cows and dodgy electric fencing.

2015-07-03 12.00.322015-07-03 11.35.19

Right tree, wrong place?

Here’s a wall, built of lovely Longcliffe limestone, looks great, but for how long? Maybe in less then 10 years the maple will have uprooted the wall, or maybe less.

It won’t cost too much to rebuild the wall and it won’t do the tree too much harm, but it’s these considerations that need to be looked at when you’re thinking about removal or building around obstructions such as trees, sheds, buildings, existing walls, patios, stumps and a whole host of other stuff.

What do you think?

Right tree, wrong place
Right tree, wrong place

Why choose a dry stone wall?

My latest finished piece in Bradwell, Derbyshire. This is a straight limestone wall with 2 water smoots (as the lane often floods and runs off into the neighbouring brook) and 4 wall heads incorporating a gateway.

The stone was some of the last to be taken from the currently defunct Once a Week Quarry at Sheldon, it’s a hard, shiny and quartzite stone, regular and flat in shape and full of fossils and quartz and feldspars, which catch the sun and make it very attractive for this purpose.

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This wall was commissioned by the client as a barrier to keep grandchildren away from the nearby Willow Brook, which runs through the garden and poses quite a danger. With a wicket gate in place, peace of mind will be assured, as this solid piece of walling should last a life time and more.

This is really the dilemma when people have a look at whether they would like a dry stone wall or not; a lot of folk in the Peak are faced with it- do I have the traditional solution which may cost quite a lot, or a cheaper fence? With a well-built wall, the construction will actually become stronger over time. With no mortar to fail and crack in the cold and heat, a dry stone wall will bond with natural flora and lichens, moss and other agents, to make an eco friendly and habitat rich environment in itself.

As the wall strengthens, after 10 years, a fence will just start to be rotting; a brick wall will be deteriorating. Over the long term, the price doesn’t seem so bad, although it is an undeniably an outlay. Some would say an investment. Always ensure that you see a portfolio of work by wallers you may employ. The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain website at contains a list of registered and approved contractors in all areas of the country. Probably not Buckinghamshire, but I will travel!

So the answer: why have a dry stone wall? They are beautiful things, I think, anyway. Each one I create is a piece of time and each stone contains a thought.2014-10-28 09.49.04

Hurricane Gonzalo

So the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo is coming through tonight. Wind has been howling around outside like a banshee and pretty much all the leaves will be off the trees tomorrow. Fortunately only about half the total leaves are off so far, so we won’t lose all the autumn colour in one go, as has happened in autumn gales on previous years.

Tomorrow the clear up will begin.

building a dry stone wall head

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A dry stone wall head, also known as a wall end, cheek end or many other regional variants, is not just where the wall finishes, it’s vital to maintaining the strength of the wall and without a well built termination point, walls tend to collapse in a relatively short time. The head is usually the first point of failure in a dry stone wall if it’s not built well, so it’s well worth getting it done properly, as it will save a lot of hassle and money later down the line. Here’s how we do it.

Select solid, where possible flat and level foundation stone and bed well into the earth in a trench of about 2.5cm depth.

Stones are set within the batter frame or profile pins (see in the picture above) to keep the shape of the wall head, which tapers in slightly over its course. All stones for the head are dressed to fit this profile, which makes it less likely that livestock will catch the head and knock it down (in agricultural settings) and it makes for a stronger and more aesthetically pleasing shape.

Each course of stone is put onto the wall using lines to keep the courses straight and level. We start building with the stones at the head and build away from this point, covering the rest of the section on that course/level before adding more levels to the end piece.

The end of the wall head side on, needs to be dead on vertical, so we use a level frequently as new stone is added to check this.

With random stone as in the picture, it’s not always possible to get flat end pieces, so some chisel work may be necessary to achieve useable stone.

Stones laid on the head should be either all the way across (a through stone), 50/50 or 70/30 across the width of the wall. It’s vital to avoid and double joints in the head. This would result in a very unstable wall end. See pictures below for some possibilities. Good luck!

Wall heads
2014-08-26 16.42.11 Completed wall head

Last froglets of summer

2014-09-15 15.27.36This little fellow must be one of the last froglets of the late summer and it’s fortunate that we found him close to a well vegetated pond. He’ll still have a bit of growing time before he needs to think about hibernation. This week we’ve been busy getting in the last pruning jobs of the summer, as leaves start to fall and turn around us as we work. Autumn is really starting to take hold and this is showing also in the number of fungi on show. We are now starting to book in a lot of tree felling and removal work. It is an ideal time of the year, now the summer vegetation and bedding plants are dying back, to get an idea of what needs to come out, and to take on larger removal and tidy-up projects. Be on the look out for fungal attacks on mature and smaller trees becoming obvious, with the fungal fruiting bodies (mushrooms) becoming visible. On larger trees, it is worth getting a professional eye on the situation, as basal fungi (those affecting the root plate and base of a tree) can have a devastating effect even on mature trees.

We’ve been spotting Fly Agaric with the kids in the woods this week. There’s lots of it and it’s easy to spot, with its red and white spotted cap. This is a hallucinogenic fungus, so be careful and do not handle, as with all fungi. Only for the experts.


We’ve also seen a lot of road-kill this week: badgers, fox, pheasants and so on. One of the things I’ve been working on this week is lunkies and water smoots, which can provide passage in walls and banks for small animals and waterways. I’ll explain how these work in the next post.

Autumn Comes Early

You can tell that autumn has come early this year. We are busy settling our last few pruning jobs; something you don’t want to be doing during trees’ leaf shedding phase. This common action has the effect of taking away the vital energy a tree requires for its dormancy before it gets the chance to take the nutrition back from its leaves and into the woody parts (this is the reason why leaves die and drop off). The horse chestnut is often the first to start turning yellow-orange and then is usually the one which burns the brightest, turning to vibrant orange, scarlet and deep burnt browns as Autumn progresses. During a recent mycology outing via the rope swing, our kids found this wonderful example of boletus Badius (the Bay mushroom). We did not touch, but took only photos, from which we learnt that the Bay is not named after being found beside the sea, but due to its chestnut brown cap colour. This mushroom is edible and compares in taste to the Cep or Penny Bun mushroom, although it lacks some of the teste of this more well known fungus. As we all know, mycology is a bit hit and miss; you should have a look and try to spot them and Autumn is an excellent time to do it, but unless you are 100% certain of a species, you SHOULD NOT EAT fungii. Many mushrooms look similar to less friendly, poisonous or even FATALLY POISONOUS species. Beware, but do enjoy looking