Winter Walling in Curbar, Derbyshire.

Dry stone walling

This winter, we’ve been fixing up these old gritstone walls for stock keeping in the spring. It’s not difficult to imagine Seamus, the horse would have very easily stepped over this wall before it was repaired. Restored to former glory with the help of an English Nature rural development grant. These are available to applicants wishing to carry out works to neglected walls for the next 2 years at least. More information is available at…/hedgerows-and-boundaries-grant-countryside-stewardship

These ancient walls are set under the majestic soaring Curbar Edge, which must be one of my favourite gritstone edges in the Peak, boasting a brace of old Joe Brown and Don Whillans classic climbs like the Peapod and Left Eliminate, still seeing climbers off after 60 years.

It’s great to be able to put something back into these landscapes, and working with the massive, shapeless orbs of gritstone eventually becomes intuitive and the pieces do start to fit together!

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

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