Secret cottage took a photo of this dry stone wall at Snowshill. Tourists taking Cotswold tours are often seen photographing this wall because it is so unusual. Carving and setting these stones must have been very time consuming when being built at the same time as Snowshill Manor, now owned by the National Trust.
You’ll see plenty of dry stone walls in the area, but what IS a dry stone wall?
Britain has 125,000 miles of dry stone walls and a few are ancient, dating back to 3,500 BC.
Modern walls use mortar to bind bricks and stone together, but as you might guess from the name, dry stone walls don’t use any mortar in the build. The stones interlock, providing a strong structure. And because of the way they are put together, every wall is unique.
You’ll find dry stone walls around churchyards, in gardens and as field boundaries instead of hedges. These walls are abundant in the Cotswolds because of the local Cotswold stone being readily available.
Rich in history, older walls were built from the stones and boulders found in fields when they were cleared for agriculture – using them as boundaries was a great way to use a valuable material that was in the way! Other walls were built from stone that was deliberately quarried for the purpose.
A dry stone wall is actually two separate but interlocking walls, tied at regular intervals by longer stones, and a middle filled with a mass of smaller rocks and pebbles. If you look closely, you’ll see that the width of the wall diminishes as the wall gets higher before large stones (called capstones) are put on the top. Any small gaps between the stones are filled with smaller ones. You might think this is a simple balancing game, but dry stone walling takes considerable skill. When you think how long some of these walls have stood the test of time, you’ll see that the size and position of every stone is crucial in creating a wall with a good lifespan. Building a dry stone wall is like doing a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle!
Even though most farmers use wire fencing nowadays – due to its cheap cost and quick installation – this often needs replacing and maintenance. Once a dry stone wall is up, it’s relatively low maintenance and will last for centuries – not to mention the fact a dry stone wall looks so much more beautiful in the landscape! Sadly there are only about 40 dry stone wallers in Britain who hold a master’s certificate. But dry stone walling is a fascinating craft and there is a Cotswold branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association where you can find out about beginners courses.
Make sure any Cotswold Tours you go on stop for you to take in the fascinating history of dry stone walling!