How to volunteer to restore the dry stone walls in Yorkshire

RELEASED: 00:00 November 9th, 2020

Charlotte Oliver

Old barn and dry stone walls of a hill farm on the North Yorkshire Moors (c) SteveAllenPhoto / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Old barn and dry stone walls of a hill farm on the North Yorkshire Moors (c) SteveAllenPhoto / Getty Images / iStockphoto


Dry stone walls are the thread that connects Yorkshire’s landscape. Would you like to try it out? Pete Maynard quit his job to do just that.

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Yorkshire dry stone walls have a long history.  (C) Nick Beer / Getty Images / iStockphotoYorkshire dry stone walls have a long history. (C) Nick Beer / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Seven years ago, Pete Maynard decided to ditch his stressful life as a lawyer and devote himself to the generally more enjoyable pastime of the drywall.

Sounds romantic doesn’t it? From the rat race to an overall simpler calling to life and tradition outdoors in the heart of Yorkshire.

Pete lived in Ravenscar by the North York Moors and learned his trade from a catfish who had worked for more than 50 years and was still going strong at 78 years old, albeit part time.

Pete’s wall work is strenuous but satisfying, less lucrative but more than rewarded by an “office” with no ringing phones, blinding views, and on a memorable morning, “the sunlight that highlights five buzzards soaring high above a beautiful valley. It was a wonderful morning! ‘

Pete Maynard gets his hands dirtyPete Maynard gets his hands dirty

You won’t find that on many job descriptions and the appeal is obvious. This is one of the reasons the drywall craft is gaining popularity across the board – from people like Pete pursuing life-changing careers to people who like to volunteer or attend work holidays like the National Trust. Although the craft of drywall is so deeply rooted in the past, it shows no evidence that it has gone down in history. Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild (YDSWG) membership is growing steadily, and the number of people attending the guild’s training courses has doubled over the past six years.

As Pete says, adding something to the landscape that one of his clients said was “really beautiful” is a great satisfaction.

Dry stone walls have graced some of the UK’s finest countryside for hundreds of years and remain a quintessential and popular feature of the Yorkshire countryside. The Dales alone are believed to have about 5,000 miles from them, and while this seems like the simplest structure, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Dry stone walls, so called because they were built without the use of mortar, are held together by the arrangement and mass of their stones. Instead of gradually weakening like an ordinary wall as the mortar ages and cracks, a drywall actually strengthens over time as gravity acts on the bricks and they close closer and closer. In fact, a well-built drywall can easily last a century, and often a lot longer.

Tim Jones, a member of the Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild, has been a professional catfish and stone mason for most of his professional life, well over 20 years ago.

He too learned from years of working with an experienced catfish who was only too happy to pass on his craft. For Tim, it’s both a craft and an art.

“It’s a craft because not everyone can do it, you have to know what to do to get it right, and while for some people it’s just a structure, for me it’s an art because everything I do , I like to look aesthetically pleasing. ‘

This can be seen in the villages around Scarborough and beyond, where Tim’s work is easy to spot with its extremely well-tended pathways (layers of stone) and flat wall surfaces. Knowing that the walls he built will be there long after he dies is definitely one of the advantages for Tim.

In addition to fresh air, exercise and rest, this pays off well for the physical strain that work physically causes, especially in the icy winter months. Tim laughs when asked about the adage that a real catfish only picks up each stone once.

“You can’t see what’s under a rock that is lying down – you can’t see if there is a large lump, so you may have a really bad looking wall with large gaps in the front, especially with the rock around here . ‘

Tim has seen a change in the demand for drywall over the years. During the real estate boom, when the barn remodeling trend peaked, he mainly built new walls, while his job now is mainly repairing existing ones. Growing awareness of environmental issues could herald a resurgence of interest in dry stone walls, he hopes, as the masses rediscover the green evidence of this ancient construction.

This type of construction was used by ancient civilizations around the world and many examples from that period are still preserved today, such as the Egyptian pyramids and the Inca temple of Maccha Picchu. The oldest in Britain can be seen in Skara Brae, a Neolithic village in Orkney believed to date from 3500 BC. BC. Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire is closer to home and has some wonderful medieval examples. However, most of the county’s dry stone walls were erected at the height of the enclosure laws in the 18th and 19th centuries when common land was divided and structures were needed to mark boundaries or contain livestock.

Dry stone walls have traditionally been used for these purposes in highland areas where exposed terrain can make hedges and trees difficult to thrive. The rocky, thin soil characteristic of these places is cleared to allow grazing or harvesting and the resulting stone goes into the walls, making the whole process completely environmentally friendly.

Due to the differences in local geology, the available stone can vary widely in size, color and shape from place to place. This has contributed to the development of contrasting designs and patterns across the UK.

Tim Jones Drywall 07932 991344 07904 220469

Try it

If you feel like holding on to drywall, there are plenty of volunteer groups across Yorkshire who would love your support.

West Yorkshire National Trust Volunteers is a conservation volunteer group founded in 1983 serving staff at several National Trust properties in West and North Yorkshire. Tasks usually include repairing footpaths, fences, and dry stone walls.

Try a dry stone vacation with the National Trust in Upper Wharfedale. You live in a converted barn house in Buckden. The cost is £ 200 per week.

In Nidderdale you can become a dry stone volunteer. The group meets every Wednesday. No experience required, they will train you.

The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA) is a registered charity committed to promoting education in drywall craft and heritage for the common good.

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