Keith learns a new thing.
There is a plot of land in the south of France we own, along with a pile of rocks arranged into the rough form of a house. The land is terraced up a hill running behind the house. There are about 20 terraced levels, each retained by a beautiful, laboriously crafted dry stone wall. The effort involved in building all of these walls must have been far more enormous than the house. At a guess it equates to over 400 metres of wall.
The local wildlife in this part of France include the nocturnal, free-range boar. These 150 kg roaming, eating machines have no aesthetic or functional appreciation for the walls. Just intrigue as to what goodies are hidden within. Whether it be the elusive truffle or not, the boar will tear into the wall with what appears the following morning to have been wild abandon. Leaving the poor wall repairer with a heavy job in the blazing sunshine.
I have so far had two approaches to managing the tumbledown walls, neither really satisfactory. The first was to try to stuff the spewed original contents of the wall back into the gap left by the pigs, but this proved generally unsuccessful. This led to my second approach, which was to ignore the piles of newly mined rocks completely.
So, with newfound time on my hands since taking redundancy, I felt the very first new bit of knowledge I should garner was that of dry stone walling. We have also noticed that many hosts on the work exchange sites that are our new favourite thing (Helpx and Workaway) appear to have tumbledown dry stone walls too, so considered this a potentially very useful skill to have to tout ourselves to potential hosts living in beautiful locations with falling down walls.
The Dry Stone Wall Association of GB have quite a few regional gatherings, but West Sussex, where we live, isn’t one of them (no stones, no walls). So, off we set to the parents for the weekend for a couple of days of lifting, lugging and grunting in the September Derbyshire sunshine.
The event was tutored by a great craftsman, Edd Smith who was just the most perfect instructor I’ve had, easy going and a great communicator. Edd informs us from experience the majority of the students who attend are there due to ill-conceived birthday gifts. Four of the six people attending this weekend are there for exactly that reason (including my father), then there is Derek who wants to leave his job in IT to begin a dry stone walling carear and me, who has left his job in IT to have adventures.
The principles are quite simple and few: All stones to be placed flat, not tall; big, ugly stones at the bottom; taper the wall inwards on both sides as the wall increases in height; infill between both sides of the wall with small stones to ensure each placed stone is firm; the occasional long stone between both sides of the wall to bind both sides together; a flat top to ensure both sides of the wall can be bound together at the very top with a spanning dress or coping stone.
The event was held at a working farm in the peak district. We had to take down and rebuild part of a field dividing wall that had, according to Edd, “settled” over the last 80 years our so, producing a slightly soggy bottomed assembly of stones.
The course was to take 2 days. Day 1 saw us remove to the foundations the stones from a 6 metre section of wall and the stones stacked into the field. The wall was then to be rebuilt afresh. By the end of day 1 we had each half rebuilt a 2 metre section of wall. Edd says that to earn a living from dry stone walling we would need need to increase our workload to a full 4 metres. But, we had paid to be there.
This was a working beef farm. Overnight, the curious cows in the nighttime had inspected our work… and, no, had not destroyed our partially rebuilt wall, but had left us all with pongy parcels of curiosity all over our field-stored piles of stones used to rebuild the wall. Our gloves needed to be disposed of once the coping stones were on.
The end result of our efforts was a wall that Edd advised would outlast all of us.
The 2 day course cost £95.00 and similar courses are held across the country through the Dry Stone Wall Association of GB