Dry stone walls

Over 4,000 miles (6,437 km) of dry stone walls run across the Cotswold landscape. Like character lines on a much-loved face, dry stone walls are so familiar on the Cotswold landscape that we would probably only notice them if they vanished.

The earliest known example of dry stone walling is at Belas Knap near Winchcombe, built by our Neolithic ancestors from circa 3,000 BC. But on the whole, the walls we see today originated in the 18th and 19th centuries when large tracts of open fields and downland were enclosed.

Serving as boundaries and stock barriers, and offering shelter from wind and rain, such walls were created when labour was cheap. Sadly, following changes in farm and land management, as well as increasing labour costs, many walls have fallen into disrepair.

Get up close and personal and you will find that dry stone walls offer amazing habitat and wildlife corridors. Mosses and lichens, pennywort and cranesbill all make their homes here. Slow worms, bees and wasps live within nooks and crannies. Birds like wrens, wheatears and little owls nest in cavities.

Then of course there’s the point of keeping rural skills alive. As much art as science, building a dry stone wall without mortar relies on the careful placing of stones and the stones’ own weight to keep standing – for more than 100 years if it’s a good one.

To find out more about our dry stone walling and other rural skills courses, go to: www.cotswoldsruralskills.org.uk