As you walk the fells, moors and dales of northern England, this is what you’ll see.
Miles and miles of drystone wall. In the Yorkshire Dales alone, there are some 8000 km. of wall, compared with only 990 km. of hedgerow, and 250 km. of fencing. These walls keep flocks of sheep contained upon a single fell. They provide a boundary between moorland heather and bracken, and more productive farmland. They divide one farmer’s plot into more manageable fields.
Off they march down the fellside, turning a corner and skirting the valley bottom, before cornering again to march back up. Or they’ll make snug little criss-cross squares in an ancient family farm. Well maintained or slightly ramshackle, they make Yorkshire and the Pennine counties instantly recognisable. Here’s a selection:
Constructing these walls is an ancient art which seems in no danger of dying out: younger generations continue to learn the skills needed. Large stones are carefully jigsawed together into 5′ to 7′ high walls. Here are some instructions:
‘Gather and sort the stone by size in a type that complements and harmonises with the landscape such as limestone, grit stone or sandstone. Make foundations level and about a yard wide. Large stones go at the bottom butting against each other. All other stones must make contact with others and have the weight back into the wall and the face facing. With each layer of stone fill in void spaces with smaller stones to ‘bind’ the wall. The wall should taper like a flat topped ‘ A’, this slope is called the batter. ‘Throughs’ are the large heavy stones laid across the wall at intervals for extra strength. Topping stones as the name suggests are the icing on the cake also called coping, cap or comb stones. Cheeks or Heads are the end stones. A Cripple hole is a rectangular opening at the base of a wall built to permit the passage of sheep. Also known as a hogg hole, lonky or lunky hole, sheep run, sheep smoose, smout hole, thawl or thirl hole. Smoot hole is to allow Rabbits and Hare to move through or even small streams.’