A guest blogpost written by Deborah Camp, one of our Conservation Volunteers at Denmark Farm, after taking part in a Stone and Soil Banking course, along the historic Green Lane, during June 2021.
I have always wanted to have a go at dry stone walling so when this course came up I was first in the queue. To be honest I had no idea whether I would love it or hate it or what exactly was involved. I guessed it would be fairly hard physically, lifting rocks all day onto a wall! But I’d also hear that it can be quite meditative and rewarding. I also love the idea of building something functional and beautiful with nothing more than stones. No cement, no mixers, no chain saws just stones…
Day 1 – a beautiful June day. Wall to wall sunshine (no pun intended) Thankfully our ‘wall’ was in a shady hollow otherwise I think it would have been an exhausting task. It was still pretty exhausting but also very satisfying and very addictive. When we arrived, set before us was a large selection of stones all laid out in neat rows and what appeared to be a complete wall marked up into sections with string and metal rods.
We soon discovered that the wall was in need of a makeover and our first task was to take apart the existing damaged wall. It felt a bit like archeology, taking out each loose stone and clearing out the soil. It was difficult to know when to stop. I had made quite a large gap in the wall!
Finally the stones either side were secure so I could begin to reconstruct…. we had a plethora of stones to choose from all laid out for us by Peter Drake, our tutor. This was supposed to help with stone selection but finding the right stone for the space was the ongoing challenge. Some just slotted in perfectly, some took time, quite a bit of time to find. It was, for me, like a jigsaw puzzle. You take ages trying to find the right piece, trying them this way and that then somebody comes along (Peter) only to find the perfect piece within minutes. I guess years of experience pays off.
Keeping the wall level and tapered seemed to be the key, sometimes stones would fit perfectly but be too tall or too short or too weirdly shaped to enable a matching stone. But slowly and surely the wall was re built. By the end of Day 1 I’d done at least one level. Tomorrow was another day and hopefully I’d have the time and energy to finish my section.
Every muscle ached – I hoped a hot bath and good nights sleep would regenerate me enough for Day 2
Day 2 – My body was weak but my spirit was strong and actually after an initial struggle my mind and body got back into the zone and I was making progress. It was hard going but thoroughly enjoyable and for me very addictive. I had a drive to finish my wall. My back was aching my feet hurt but this wall needed just a few more stones to be complete.
I finally made it. The gap was filled with new solid stones which survived the walking test (once the walk was complete, to tests its stability a walk along the top was recommended! Thankfully the wall didn’t collapse and I didn’t come tumbling down!)
Peter was a brilliant inspiration, always there when you needed him to ‘trim’ a stone to size or find the stone that solved the problem. His enthusiasm was infections and his stories kept us amused all day long. He seemed to be genuinely pleased with our efforts, we hoped he wouldn’t have to rebuild too much of our efforts and hopefully this new wall will be still standing in the next 10 years…
Our Conservation Volunteers meet at least once a month to help out with a wide range of practical tasks around the nature reserve.