Monday 22 March 2010

Dyking - 'dry stone walling'

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Tarset has miles of stone walls, they would be introduced when the enclosure acts came in. Built with stones hewn from local out crops of stone or out of the rivers/burns and probably lead to the spot by horse and cart. The stones would be dressed - squared up with hammers and chisels - as the wall was built. Unfortunately, what goes up can also come down as the above picture shows.

So, there's been a couple of wet days when Shep wasn't able to get on with sheep work and a spot of dyking has been done. Dykes in this area are dry stone walls, down south I found out they are ditches and there will undoubtably be various other meanings to the word. All shepherds would turn their hand to dyking, a trade handed down or learnt from others on the farm. Less staff on the farms these days often means proffesional dry stone wallers are called in to rebuild the walls which have come down.

The walls are a very important structure, not only providing boundaries to a field they provide shelter for the stock held in that field. A wire fence lets the wind through, a stone wall doesn't. Today, as the weather worsened I ducked down on the lee side of the wall and felt I was in a different world, the driving rain abatted and life felt far more comfortable, unfortunately I eventually had to stand up and resume my task, to find the weather hadn't subsided at all.
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Walls are built with the biggest stones at the bottom, with the stones hopefully getting smaller towards the top of the wall. Common sense would tell you not to put the big heavy beasts at the top of the wall as this weight will encourage the wall to come down. The wall is tapered in with each layer of stone meaning it will be wider at the bottom than the top. Each layer of stone must overlap the existing layer, to help tie them in. It is a sin to have two stones on top of each other with the join not overlapped.

The wall is held up with back fill, small pieces of stone placed in the hollow centre of the wall, these are also used to 'pin' the stones to prevent them from moving. A dry stone wall can not be built succesfully without back fill.
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Thruffs, throughs or binders are names for the big binding stones put into the wall, these are large flat stones which cover the whole width of the wall, often protruding out on both sides (you may have used these to stand on whilst climbing a wall), these thruffs are put in a third of the way up and then lighter ones a third of the way up again with the final layer of stone being the capes (coping stones) again placed across the width of the wall as a final binder. The above photo shows the thruffs protruding and the capes on the top.

Walls fall down for various reasons. Trees which have grown near a wall will rock in the wind, their roots running under the walls will cause the wall itself to move until one day it is all too much and the wall tumbles down. Cattle can be hard on walls, enjoying a good scratch on the thruffs protruding out of the wall which can dislodge them. Horses stretch their long necks over the wall and the weight of their chests push the wall over. Then there is the frost, it causes stones to move and can eventually cause everything to tumble down, the weight of snow can also bring them down. Traffic causing vibration as it passes by can eventually cause problems. Sheep can learn to jump a wall and then there are problems!!! The first photo of a gap is ideal for a sheep to pop over, hoping the grass is greener on the other side, if they are allowed to do this too frequently they will soon learn to jump higher bits of wall and before long you have a huge problem.

Climbing walls is not ideal, we've all done it. It pays to look closely, find a stretch of wall that looks really sound before climbing over and should you dislodge any stones replace them immeadiately. Ideally try walking a bit further and finding the gate, especially if you want to remain friends with the farmer.

Cars running off the road knock down quite a few stretches of wall and it is hugely frustrating to the farmer if they are not notified of this as stock can easily escape and also the car driver is insured and stone walling isn't cheap if you need to call someone in to build it for you.

There is more to the humble wall than first meets the eye, watch this space.......