A dry-stone wall, also known as a dry-stone dyke, drystane dyke, dry-stone hedge, or rock fence is a wall that is constructed from stones without any mortar to bind them together. As with other dry stone structures, the wall is held up by the interlocking of the stones. Such walls are used, both in building construction and, as field boundaries.
There are several methods of constructing dry stone walls, depending on the quantity and type of stones available. Most walls are constructed from stones and boulders cleared from the fields during preparation for agriculture. The type of wall built will depend on the nature of the stones available.
A double wall is constructed by placing two rows of stones along the boundary to be walled. Basically, the rows are composed of large flattish stones. Smaller stones may be used as chocks in areas where the natural stone shape is more rounded. The walls are built up to the desired height layer by layer, and at intervals, large tie-stones are placed which span both faces of the wall. These have the effect of bonding what would otherwise be two thin walls leaning against each other, greatly increasing the strength of the wall. The final layer on the top of the wall also consists of large stones, called cap stones. As with the tie stones, the cap stones span the entire width of the wall and prevent it breaking apart.
Boulder walls are a type of single wall in which the wall consists primarily of large boulders, around which smaller stones are placed. Single walls work best with large, flatter stones. Ideally, the largest stones are being placed at the bottom and the whole wall tapers toward the top. Sometimes a row of capstones completes the top of a wall, with the long rectangular side of each capstone perpendicular to the wall alignment.
Another variation is the "Cornish Hedge", which is a stone-clad earth bank topped by turf, scrub, or trees and characterised by a strict inward-curved batter (the slope of the 'hedge'). As with many other varieties of wall, the height is the same as the width of the base, and the top is half the base width.
Different regions have made minor modifications to the general method of construction-sometimes because of limitations of building material available, but also, to create a look that is distinctive for that area. Whichever method is used to build a dry stone wall, considerable skill is required. Selection of the correct stone for every position in the wall makes an enormous difference to the lifetime of the finished product, and a skilled waller will take time making the selection.
As with many older crafts, skilled wallers, today, are few in number. With the advent of modern wire fencing, fields can be fenced with much less time and expense using wire than using stone walls, however, the initial expense of building dykes is offset by their sturdiness and consequent long, low-maintenance lifetimes. As a result of the increasing appreciation of the landscape and heritage value of dry stone walls, wallers remain in demand, as do the walls themselves.
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