You can’t visit the Yorkshire Dales without noticing our extensive dry stone walls. The dry stone walls are one of the most dominant features of the landscape and the largest manmade feature of the Yorkshire Dales National Park totalling around 5000 miles in length.
Why were the dry stone walls built?
The dry stone walls are essential to the farming system. The walls were originally constructed as field boundaries to help restrict the movement of animals such sheep and cattle and to keep wild or domestic animals out of crop fields. Today they are still used for the same purpose but also indicate who owns the land.
When were the dry stone walls built?
Some of the dry stone walls are among the oldest manmade features in the Yorkshire Dales. However, sadly many of the older walls have been left unattended and are now in bad condition and are no longer in use. The oldest walls can be found on Calverside Moor in Swaledale and Burton Moor. These are thought to have been constructed around the Bronze Age. However, they are simply ruins of the original walls and only the lower stones now remain. The dry stone walls that are still in use are likely to have been constructed in the last five hundred years.
How are the dry stone walls built?
Dry stone walling is a unique trade with only around 40 qualified dry stone wallers in the UK. You need a keen eye to be able to slot together what is essentially a giant 3D puzzle.
A dry stone wall is actually two walls running parallel together. A trench is built first where the large base stones are laid. From the base stone the dry stone waller builds upwards, course by course (layer by layer). The two walls are joined together by longer stones named ‘through’ or ‘tie’ stones at regular intervals along the walls about a metre apart. The gap is filled between the two walls with smaller rocks and pebbles. You’ll notice that on a well-built wall the stones slightly tilt out from the centre, this is to allow the rainwater out of the wall. The top of the wall is capped with large flat stones with smaller stones wedging the bigger stones in place. Pebbles are also used between the cap stones to keep the wall solid.
How long did it take to build the dry stone walls?
Building a dry stone wall is a long job. An experienced dry stone waller can build a wall of 1.5 metres high by 3 metres in a day.
Dry stone wall conservation
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is keen to ensure that the dry stone walls are maintained. Please visit their website for more information.