‘Why is a dry stone wall so called?’… The first question we got asked on our two-day course by our course leader John Shone had us all wondering. Many of us thought it was because no cement was used to hold the wall together; however John quickly put us right, and told us it is so called because air passes through the wall to dry it should it get wet.
With that wisdom, and after spending half an hour checking for nesting birds in the existing wall, we set off doing the first task of the day – arranging all the stones we were going to use into orders of thickness, so we could see the front faces of the stones. We used three different types of Cotswold stone in varying colours – white stone from Clipsham, Rutland; sandy-coloured stone from Ancaster, Lincolnshire; and a darker stone found only in a certain part of Nottinghamshire.
The old wall had been built with a concrete slab on the top of it, which didn’t allow for the wall to move with time, causing it to collapse in various places. We used crow bars and sledge hammers to break up the concrete and started dismantling the old wall, rescuing some stone that we could use again, whilst filling buckets with small and large infill for later use. This was done by sifting through existing infill to separate the dirt from the reusable pieces, whilst removing excess grit and soil to avoid weakening the wall. We did this until we reached the foundation stone at base level and puzzled stones together to make it all level.
It was on our second day of the course that the building really began! We set up an A-frame with string stretched between both ends – this acting as a guide for where to place our next ‘course’ of stones – and gradually made our way up, moving the string up a course for each new level of stone we put on.
A mini spirit level was attached to the string so that each course was as straight as possible. We then used a tape measure, as well as our instinct, to choose stones that would fit perfectly in line with the string. We used the appropriately named small and large infill collected previously to fill in gaps on each course, and also placed ‘through stones’ half way up. Again, these are aptly named as they span the width of the wall and provide rigidity for the whole wall. We had to make sure that all the stones we added did not tilt inwards as the pressure exerted can push them out and make the wall crumble.
So if anyone wants a drystone wall building you know who to call!!
Amy, Barnaby, David & Emilie