Walling Diaries - Andrea Keys

Photo: @ShortTitle@

On 14th & 15th July this year, Andrea Keys attended one of the Cotswolds Conservation Board's Dry-stone Walling for Beginners courses with a view to repairing a section of dry-stone wall that bordered her own house. Here is her story.......

'I bought a house needing renovation just over a year ago now, and as usual there has been much more to do than I first expected! One of those jobs was repairing an old dry stone wall that was looking a little sad in places and actually falling down in others! And for a number of reasons, one being my ever decreasing budget, I decided that this was one part of my project that I would do myself!

It was my neighbour who mentioned the dry stone walling course, he wasn’t sure where it was or who ran it as a friend of his did it some ten years ago, so I did the usual Google search and found the Cotswold Conservation Board website and in a moment of great confidence / madness booked myself on! It was a two day event at the Cotswold Farm Park – 9am to 4pm on a Saturday and a Sunday.

I had a few moments between booking the course and starting it where I lost my confidence a little! I looked at my wall that needed repairing and started to wonder if I was more on the mad side to think that I could take it on! I should say at this point that I am a 35 year old pen pusher! My day job involves little to no physical activity and the only thing I can think of that I have ever built is a sandcastle on Margate beach! That being said, I will try anything, I had booked the course and so I was going to do it!

The course date came around quickly as these things do and the weekend was forecasted to be mostly dry, which was a good sign as summer 2012 had pretty much been a washout up to this date.

Our instructor was Kath, a straight talking and very funny Yorkshire woman and the group was made up of 10 of us eager trainees! It was interesting actually to see such a wide variety of people in our group, there were a couple of guys who were in their early 20’s who were looking to learn a new trade and maybe earn some money repairing stone walls. A couple more men who were in their early 50’s who were like me and wanted to repair some walls and maybe build some more at home, and there were also two other women, similar age to me I think, and they were there just because they thought it would be fun to learn something new and get outside.

I was expecting the course to involve a little bit of theory and maybe a ‘fake’ wall in a studio that we would work-on during day one; build it up and then take it down, or something along those lines. What we actually did was much more hands on. As soon as intros and early morning coffees were done, we wondered off down to the entrance of the Farm Park and a piece of wall that had fallen down was pointed out; this was what we were going to learn on – an actual section of a very long and very public piece of dry stone wall!

We were split into pairs, assigned a section from the ‘hole in the wall’ and pointed towards a 2 tonne pile of new Cotswold stone! Kath of course talked us through the theory of walling first; why dry stone walling as a technique, a good foundation, the importance of using ‘guidestrings’, the wooden ‘batter frame’ which gives you the walls shape if you were building from new, pointing between stones (or filling as our group decided to rename it!), though stones, etc, and she did all of this whilst demonstrating with an initial course of stones with such ease and confidence we were all chomping on the bit to give it a go!

Kath had a lot of great stories about previous courses, walling competitions, the places she’d walled and she recounted these whilst we were all getting hands on with our repairs. She would walk along the wall stopping at each ‘waller’ giving us some one-to-one advice and guidance thought-out the two days, showing us how to shape a stone, finding a piece to fit that difficult spot, keeping a straight and level course etc.

By the end of the two days I was really amazed by what we had achieved. The wall looked good! I may not be an expert and it may not have won an award, but to the unprofessional eye, it was a really really good wall! Kath warned us that physically we would ache, no matter how fit we were, and she wasn’t wrong! But it felt very satisfying to have achieved so much in those two days, and maybe to have toned up a little at the same time!

When I got back home on the Sunday evening after the course I looked at my wall with a renewed confidence! I think I might actually be able to do this! I took some advice on the wall from a professional, just to check my ideas and my thoughts on how I would tackle it. It’s a 10m wall and so the main piece of advice was that it will take a good three weeks to tackle all at once for a novice like myself! So the best plan of action is to take it down and rebuild it in sections.

I’m pleased to say that after a full 5 days I completed section 1 (3m) and I am really pleased and a little surprised with what I have achieved! My friends still think I am a little mad for taking it on, but I know they’re quietly impressed as well! I now have the pleasure of driving past my work everyday which is incredibly satisfying and I would honestly recommend to anyone of any background and fitness to do the course and try it yourself, whatever your reason for doing it!'

Sections 2, 3 and 4 to come……!

I must at this point give credit to the following people:

  • Della – my equally crazy friend who Volunteered to help me!
  • Kath – for being a fantastic, funny and motivation trainer
  • My Mum – for teas and coffees during my 5 day wall building marathon

Andrea Keys

Marketing Manager

Evesham