You can’t get away from stone in the Cotswolds for all the old houses are built of it – and some of the new ones too. It is the stone that gives the villages and towns their beauty and what brings tourists by their thousands to visit the region.
But it is the walls dividing fields and gardens that are perhaps the most iconic of all the Cotswold scenes. Probably nothing more than heaps of stone thrown to one side when the fields were first cleared, centuries ago, it was the obvious choice for building and permanent too – a good stone wall lasts for decades with virtually no maintenance. However, neglect took its toll.
A dying art, the old stone walls fell into disrepair until recently when, with an upsurge of interest, building of new walls and repair of the old, has seen the work revived. New, younger blood learning the skills from the dwindling number of ‘wallers’ and with classes available to anyone, means that for the time being at least, the craft seems safeguarded for the future. Here a new walled garden – the classic feature of the English country house – is being created.
The use of a timber frame as a guide creates the ‘batter’ – the name given to the sloping sides that gives the wall stability. The photos below shows the frame and a new wall being built. Modern techniques tend to use a bit of mortar at the base and also cementing in of the ‘header’ stones along the top. The latter is partially to make the wall more weatherproof (how the old timers would shake their heads at that!) and also to prevent theft of the stone, which is expensive and does disappear at times. Sometimes, the headers are left off altogether and a concrete cap is placed instead which soon weathers down to give an acceptable appearance.
Our garden in the secret valley has a wall that has stood for over 150 years, below. It will be many years before new walls have the depth of colour and the mosses and lichens of this one.
And, so far (touch wood), our traditional wall has never had its stones stolen, despite every piece of it being ‘loose’. One of the joys of this wall is that it is full of wildlife from small bugs to wrens nesting in the crevices and even the occasional stoat and weasel looking for mice.
This region is filled with stone walls, too. Most of the walls here are dry laid but some have been finished as those you featured above, and yes, with the concrete mortar (yuck). Many of our old 1700s homes are made of regional limestone and there is usually one or two outbuildings of stone, as well. Stonework is beautiful and the walls you featured are lovely. The older, lichen-covered wall at the secret valley is exquisite.
We have nothing like this in the US. I can still see the walls going up the hills in Wales. It is amazing the labor involved. You are making me want to come back to the UK.
What a great post on stone walls. The old ones are really fun. We have some shorter walls in New England and they house all sorts of animal life.
I love these walls! This is one time when having rocks is a good idea. 🙂 Remember the TV program I told you about that talked about these marvelous rock walls in the Cotswolds? I think pictures just don't do them justice. I would sure rather see these than barbed wire. I can't abide a barbed wire fence! A great post–once again! Maybe you should be a writer on the side 😉
The walls are gorgeous, of course they are, but thank god some young people are taking up the craft. It is sad to see all the traditional "crafts" falling by the wayside. I'm glad this is not one of them.Deborah
Hi,Want to be featured in the Guardian?I’m Michelle from Jam and I’m working with the Guardian on their ‘Enjoy England’ feature, which is being produced in partnership with enjoyEngland.com. I would like to get in contact with you about an opportunity to share the great things we can do in England, but I could not find a contact email for you. Is there a way I can contact you with this information? My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Kind regards,Michelle
I remember the last time I was there, I read an article about reviving the lost tradition of making stone walls and willow fences. I love that the 'younger generation' is learning it…we need more of this in the world! I loved your post 😉
Many thanks to all of you for your posts and continuing interest in my blog.I am glad that you found the walls interesting and, I agree Jim, the walls going straight up the mountains of Wales are especially extraordinary to see. But, of course I am prejudiced, nothing compares with the beauty and mellow colouring of our Cotswold walls!Michelle – I have emailed you to give you my contact details. Thanks for your interest.Johnson
I love the character of these old walls. Apparently a well-built dry stone wall can last hundreds of years. Someone told me that in Ireland, there are remains of dry stone walls going back 4000 years ago. And we use cement now!