Traditional craft of dry stone walling

The traditional craft of dry stone walling is a skill that has been practiced for centuries and is still prevalent in many parts of the world, particularly in the UK. Dry stone walls are built using natural stone without the use of any adhesive such as mortar or cement. This technique requires precision and skill to create sturdy and durable walls that can withstand the test of time.

In episode 115 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, Sue Stockdale interviews Georgina Bark, also known as Bo, who is a dry stone waller. Bo is one of the many wallers who build and maintain the 180,000 miles of dry stone walls that exist in the UK. She explains that dry stone walls can also be found in at least 35 other countries, including France, Switzerland, Nepal, Australia, the USA, and Canada. However, the UK is considered the epicenter of this craft.

rough stone wall on dry land in daytime

The origins of dry stone walling can be traced back thousands of years. Bo mentions that even the pyramids were built using a precise form of dry stone walling. This demonstrates the long-standing history and importance of this traditional craft.

Bo shares her journey of how she transitioned from working in office jobs and retail to becoming a dry stone waller. She applied for a training bursary with the Dry Stone Walling Association and was fortunate enough to be selected. This opportunity allowed her to learn the craft from experienced wallers and gain practical experience in building and repairing dry stone walls.

As a child, Bo had aspirations of becoming a paleontologist or archaeologist, inspired by TV shows like Tony Robinson’s Time Team and movies like Jurassic Park. She even pursued a degree in archaeology and heritage. However, she realized that the competition for jobs in the field was fierce, and she decided to explore other career options.

Bo’s desire to be outdoors and her love for nature led her to pursue a career that would allow her to work in the open air. She mentions how she used to spend her office days longing to be outside, even daydreaming about thumping fence posts or doing any job that involved being in nature. When she came across the training bursary opportunity for dry stone walling, she saw it as a chance to fulfill her desire to work outdoors.

During her training, Bo was paired with experienced wallers who taught her the techniques and skills required for dry stone walling. She also obtained certifications and had the opportunity to work with different types of stone in various locations. After completing her training, Bo received her level two intermediate certificate, which indicated that she was ready to work independently as a dry stone waller.

Dry stone walling requires not only physical strength and dexterity but also an understanding of different types of stone and the ability to create structurally sound walls without the use of mortar. Bo mentions that the wall she is standing in front of during the interview is made of Cotswold stone, which is commonly used in the area where she trained.

The traditional craft of dry stone walling is not only a practical skill but also an art form that contributes to the beauty and cultural heritage of the landscapes it adorns. These walls serve various purposes, including defining boundaries, preventing erosion, and providing shelter for livestock. The craftsmanship and dedication required to build and maintain dry stone walls make it a valuable and respected tradition.

In conclusion, the traditional craft of dry stone walling is a skill that has been passed down through generations and continues to be practiced today. It requires precision, knowledge of different types of stone, and a love for the outdoors. Bo’s journey from office jobs to becoming a dry stone waller showcases the fulfillment and satisfaction that can come from pursuing a career that aligns with one’s passions and values. The podcast episode provides valuable insights into the craft and highlights the importance of preserving and appreciating traditional skills in a modern world.