Thursday, 18 December 2008

More on stone walls.




Field boundaries round here are entirely dependent upon indigenous material lying in the field. If there have been enough stones (in our case, limestones) then the farmer, many centuries ago, would have gathered them up and built them into a field boundary. If the field eventually changed shape (e.g. the farmer bought or sold some of his land) then it would be only a little trouble to demolish the wall and rebuild it in a new place. Even travelling about The Yorkshire Dales you notice a change in the colour of the stone used in the walls. In some places there is also a tradition to put "throughs" every few layers. A "through" being a slab which is slightly wider than the wall so that it sticks out either side and helps to steady the wall. For there is no doubt that frost, rain and wind (not to speak of stoats and rabbit who often live in a wall) are all capable of demolishing a wall. On our farm parts of the walls come down every year and one of the jobs to do in Spring is to build them all up again.


The two photographs above were taken in 1994 when my father-in-law was still alive. In one picture you can see the wall down, which gives you an idea of how small stones are used to plug the gaps. My father-in-law is sorting the stones out to rebuild it. In the other picutre he has begun to rebuild and you can see how neat and tidy it starts out, before weather conditions begin to move and reshape the whole thing.


Where there are no available stones then we have hedges. Some of these are hundreds of years old and have many different species in them. Holly is always present - it makes a good, thick, impenetrable hedge which the birds like for nesting; hawthorn of course is usually there along with field maple, blackthorn, spindle and a host of small trees (ash, sycamore etc.) which have self seeded. Over the years all these are colonised with wild roses (rosa canina) and with wild blackberries. Here and there will be a hazel bush which throws out beautiful golden catkins in the early spring.

22 comments:

Leslie said...

The wall are very nice and I enjoy the history of your walls as you tell it. I like hearing about your greenery over there. I have a "big" imagination and I can almost smell the smells and hear the birds,etc. I am so happy I found your blog. Blessing to you and yours.

Travis Erwin said...

Love the shots. All we have is barbed wire in my part of the world.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love dry stone walls, funny though I'd always thought the throughs were to help people nip over the walls....

I like hedges even more i think though for their wildlife...

Red Clover said...

Fascinating and Beautiful. I loved England's stonewalls. I wrote a poem about them.

Dominic Rivron said...

The big change in the colour of the drystone walls occurs when you reach Skipton (to the South). The limestone comes to an end. I read somewhere that South of Skipton, the land sits on a stratum of gritstone know as the Woodhouse Grit*. This extends as far South as the edge of the Calder Valley, at a place known as Woodhouse Scar. It's by the side of the road in the posh bit of Halifax. Years ago, I spent many happy hours climbing there. The dark colour of the gritstone (combined, I suspect, with years of smoke from factory chimneys) account for the grim, Mordor-like appearance of many of the walls and buildings in the area.

*A quick google informs me that the Woodhouse Grit is now probably known as the Upper Carboniferous Midgley Grit. Anyone who is really interested in this can, of course, pursue it further! :)

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad to welcome you, Leslie

The Weaver of Grass said...

I hate barbed wire, Travis.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Love your idea for throughs C G P!!!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Why not put your poem on your blog red clover - I would love to see it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the bit of science Dom.

BarbaraS said...

Oh you see heaps of these running up the side of mountains over here in Ireland, where farmers haven't bothered to put them back up. Dominic put up a post a day or two ago about one collapsing outside his house... must be that time of year... and I see that he knows quite a lot about the subject from his comment here!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

It is comforting to see these walls which go back so many years, and a real heritage. I love the way stone walls kind of wiggle across undulating hills.

Also, as Dominic mentions, the different kinds are fascinating. In the millstone grit areas of the Pennines and Peak District the stones seems more rounded - I suppose this is the geological structure of the stone?

Do you like Andy Goldsworthy's work?

Leenie said...

Thanks for the info on your walls. There is nothing wonderful like that here. I love the James Herriot books that tell about English countryside and John Keats' poem,"To Autumn" speaks of hedge crickets. Fun photos.

Annie Wicking said...

Wow, I just love our stonewall there's nothing else like it... It's so English, so Yorkshire so wonderful.

It's what is so great about reading your blog. I must catch up on your other posting, weaver.

Best wishes,

Annie

acornmoon said...

I have enjoyed reading this post and being reminded of dry stone walls. I grew up in Lancashire where we had stone walls. Where I live now it is mainly hedges.

I love your barn owl poem, they are such magical creatures, something slightly scary about their beauty.

willow said...

I love the picture of your father in law in his wellies working on the wall. Our little Ohio town is covered with old limestone walls similar to these, except that the stones are layed horizontal and the top row vertical.

Debra (a/k/a Doris, Mimi) said...

I love the historical essence of your post, Weaver. It's comforting to think of the generations of farmers who toiled year after year to rebuild their stone walls. It's something that endures with time, long after we are gone. Lovely photos too.

Sharon said...

They're so beautiful! Like Travis we are surrounded with barbed wire and electric fences!
Not for any lack of rocks though! :)

Robyn said...

When we travelled around England we loved seeing these old walls....as well as the hedgerows.

Heather said...

A well made stone wall is a thing of beauty and a work of art. I live on the edge of the Cotswolds so there are plenty of walls in this area, but interesting to note that they are different from yours, and again from those in Cornwall and Devon. Each region has it's own character. Just as it should be.

Janice Thomson said...

Stone walls and hedges are a heap more attractive than barbed-wire fencing. Neat photos Weaver.

Robin Mac said...

We loved the stone walls and hedgerows when we were driving around England, but any Americans we met were horrified by the throughs - thought they were downright dangerous in the narrow lanes!!
Love the owl too. Cheers, Robin