Drystone Walling

The attractiveness of drystone walling stems from the natural variability of walling stone. Unlike brickwork or masonry, no two stones are alike – yet with care and experience it’s possible to create order out of chaos. At Cumbria Stone Walling, I take pride in this unique construction method and the valuable role dry stone walls play in our cultural identity.

dry stone wall being constructed from beck stones or field stones near Appleby, Cumbria.

Predicting the future

The skill of a drystone waller is to predict how a wall will move or settle over time, and select stones to minimise the consequences of that inevitable movement. Weight distribution is key, as a typical wall can exceed 1 tonne for every metre – putting immense pressure on the foundations. Almost every stone in a well constructed wall is positioned so as to divert the centre of gravity into the middle of the wall.

Cumbria Stone Walling has a wealth of experience in understanding the structural qualities and vernacular styles of stone walling here in Cumbria.

upland dry stone wall being rebuilt near Appleby, Cumbria.

Much of my work involves repairing farm walls. Many of these were originally built during the enclosures, and so are generally getting old at about the same rate. It’s vital that any modern repairs last a significant period of time so that future generations aren’t faced with insurmountable lengths of wall to upkeep. To this end I’ve produced a guide to dry stone walling repairs which owners of field and garden walls may find useful.

Flexible mortar

drystone retaining garden wall with lime mortar.

In some situations mortar may be advisable – typically for safety reasons or if the structure is small (the strength of drystone walling relies in part on the weight of stone above). Cement is inadvisable, particularly in the centre of the wall, because it tends to force stones apart during normal seasonal movement. In these situations I recommend lime mortar, which is more flexible and can be made in differing strengths according to how exposed the structure is.

Interestingly, there are many similarities between drystone techniques and traditional solid wall buildings.