Drystone Walls

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.


Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and the Derwent Edge
Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and the Derwent Edge

I attended my first Peak District National Park Ranger day since Christmas recently.  It was an easy day with some maintenance work in the morning, scraping leaves off double yellow lines on the approach roads up the Derwent Valley.  It felt good to be back with the shift.  I’ve missed the lads, the work and the camaraderie.

After lunch we all went out on individual patrols.  I like this part of being a Ranger the best.  Talking to the public, helping them, educating them on what the landscape is doing this time of year in the valley.  It was a nice day and I wanted to visit a small secluded valley, not often frequented as it is off the main trails.  Walking down the old Derwent Valley road to what is now left of the village the sun warmed me up, the first time this year that has happened.

I reached my turn off and heading up a vehicle track, stopping off to view an old barn, now used for storage, that sits opposite a derelict farm-house.  What life was like here I don’t know but I managed to conjour up an image in my mind of shepherds working with their flocks.

I continued up an old holloway, the ground still a bit muddy from all the rain we have had.  About halfway up there is an old oak tree, all knarled curling branches.  It sits on top of the holloway banking and looks out over a small dale.  Clambering up I was pleased to see the roots formed a natural seat with the trunk forming a  back rest.  I took out my map and leaning back into the tree settled in to look at the landscape.

There were old lines where once field boundaries had been, these were long removed to facilitate larger fields.  Some had the odd tree still standing in line with its neighbours, and looking at these markers in the land I could reconstruct the way the land used to be.  How long back I could go I guess would have been a hundred years or more.  The farm above is well over 300 years old and judging by some of the field boundaries I would say the landscape was at least 7 – 800 years old.

I sat there for an hour or more, taking in the sun and the landscape.  It is one of the nicest hours I have spent this year.