Friday, 1 March 2013

New takes on dry stone walls

Dry stone wall in England
A musician acquaintance has written some music and painted scenes to celebrate a very long (22 miles) dry stone wall in northern England. I never thought of walls and music together, but these are exceptionally poignant. "Wall to Wall" is the name of an exhibition of music and paintings by Martin Matthews. On his website, the paintings are accompanied by a couple of music tracks by himself playing northern-style tunes on the banjo that can be run while gazing at the picture. What a delight!

Dry stone walls are a feature of the English countryside. Once they are built, they tend to stay put forever for two reasons. Because dry stone walls are a product of clearing rocky ground that cannot be farmed, they tend to enclose pasture for sheep. Unlike fertile crop fields surrounded by hedgerows, stone walls are not destroyed to enlarge the fields; hundreds of miles of hedgerows have been lost to such "efficiency" enlargements.

Secondly, it takes a long process of natural invasion by plant life to deconstruct a well built wall; and then one is left with a pile of rocks in the landscape instead. It is sobering to think that most of the 250,000 miles of dry stone walls in Britain are at least 200 years old, and some date back to the Neolithic, 5500 years ago.

So now you've read this far thinking, "what is a dry stone wall?". A very complicated structure indeed that takes knowledge to build and to maintain. The Guardian ran an article on dry stone walling where an expert explains exactly how to build one. It is one of the traditional crafts of the countryside, along with roof thatching, hedge laying, blacksmithing, stonemasonry – what The Guardian calls "disappearing acts". The video accompanying the article has drawn a number of interesting comments. You can learn a lot from these resources and even find out how to attend courses and become a dry waller.

In closing, take a look at this new version of a dry stone wall. Now, if this isn't ingenious, I don't know what is!

New-style dry stone wall for a bike shed in Cambridge