Drystone Walls

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Peak District Drystone Wall

I often wonder about the drystone walls that form the field boundaries in the Peak District. The White Peak has limestone walls enclosing a larger number of small sized fields than the Dark Peak gritstone. This is a result of habitation and enclosure for sheep rearing being more concentrated in the south of the area.

Gritstone is a dark line stretching far in to the horizon. Dark Peak fields have a tendency to be larger and more uniform in shape until you reach the high moorlands then the walls run straight, up and down cloughs enclosing as much area as possible.

Gritstone walls are dark. They used to be sand coloured but years of weather and pollution have discoloured them so that now the sit as part of the moorland landscape as though they were made for each other. The stone came straight out of the land where the wall sits, why would you transport stone from miles away to just build a wall. They have a smooth side and a rough side. Stacking the stone would mean aligning one side leaving the opposite with all sorts of lumps and bumps. There was no need to dress this rough side, it wasn’t supposed to be decorative, so it just got left. One result of this was that the good side tended to face the landowner, so it looked good at the end of being built, the landowner was happy and the builders got paid, it also gave an indication of who owned the wall.

If you stay long enough you can see and find lots of interest in a drystone wall. I once sat and watched a stoat weave in and out of a wall. He would enter through an unseen hole and then minutes later reappear in a completely different spot. The walls can hold secret letter boxes, used long before geocaching became popular, they hold note books, letters, drawings for the seeker to add to.

At the beginning of spring in 2013, the walls disappeared under huge snow drifts, removing miles and miles of features and making walking a lot more interesting, if only to avoid hitting your shins on an unseen wall.

In recent years walls in need of repair were left, and a wire fence erected to plug the breach. But there is signs of a renaissance in drystone walling. On my way to the Ranger Centre this last few months I have driven past Sugworth Hall where a little down the road a wall has been renovated, or is it maintained. The old wall taken down and then rebuilt, with new stone added where necessary. Hopefully this can happen to others.

Author: Paul Besley

Writer I have spent most of my life escaping into the Peak District National Park, I have grown to love the solitude it can bring. I also have an interest in the growing field of psychogeography particularly, in post-industrial landscapes. I am the author of Dark Peak Walks published by Cicerone Press. I am also studying Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

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