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Dry Stone Walling

You’ve marvelled at the mile upon mile of wall constructed with no cement and yet seemingly indestructible. You’ve probably asked yourself how on earth they manage to build them to withstand everything that nature can throw at them. Well, you can learn how to do it and then help restore and preserve them.  It’s hard work but you’re outdoors in the fresh air, usually in lovely countryside so what could be better?


You’ll be in good company and following a long line of predecessors. Building with dry stone is one of the earliest skills developed by man, used for building shelters, fortifications, burial mounds, ceremonial structures and animal enclosures. The Neolithic village of Skara Brae, in Orkney, built in about 3000 BC and buried in sand for thousands of years until rediscovered, demonstrates the early development of skills in dry stonework. The magnificent Iron Age fortified buildings of Scotland, called brochs, which have stood for thousands of years, are proof of the durability of this ancient craft. There are estimated to be about 125,000 miles of dry stone walls in England alone, which shows just how widespread and durable they are.

Craft topics and links

Dry stone walling is so durable because it contains no mortar to crack and break, but is held together merely by the weight of stone, and by the skill of the builder who selected and fitted the stones together. Dry stone structures are constructed in such a way that as they slowly settle with time, they become stronger and more closely bound. A correctly built structure of durable stone contains nothing that can deteriorate or fail.
So now you know why dry stone walls are so enduring. But how do you go about learning the craft?

The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain
has branches from Scotland down to Somerset and you can find out more about it from them. You can also find out more from the The Conservation Volunteers. TCV is the largest practical conservation organisation in the UK. It supports more than 85,000 volunteers from all sections of the community in doing various conservation work. With more than 110 offices around the UK, TCV is able to work in a range of areas carrying out different activities to protect and improve the environment. Working on dry stone walls is high amongst their list of tasks, so if you like the sound of dry stone walling there is plenty of scope to get involved.

However, dry stonewalling is not just a skill to be used in the rural uplands. In the last few years, dry stone wallers have become involved in designing and building garden features, sculptures and other structures, bringing the skill of dry stone walling into community gardens and other urban sites. Wherever it is built, dry stone work can be useful, aesthetically pleasing and a valuable wildlife habitat. So if you want to practise and develop your skills closer to home, you can do it in your own garden!

This Guide to Arts and Crafts is written by Retirement Specialist Dave Sinclair supported by members of the LaterLife team. As well as writing on retirement matters Dave is Training Director at LaterLife and responsible for the content and continuous improvement of LaterLife's Retirement Courses.
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