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Learn how to build a dry stone wall

Volunteer mending dry stone wall, with traditional hammer placed on top of wall
Volunteer repairing dry stone wall with traditional tools | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

We don’t just look after inspiring places – we also want to inspire you to learn a new skill from the comfort of your home. Find out how to build your own dry stone wall from an expert in this area. Learn from a ranger in the Peak District as they share their knowledge to get your started.

Get started with your dry stone wall

A well-laid dry stone wall can bring structure and natural beauty to your garden. Ranger Mark Leah explains how it’s done in the Peak District.

1. Prepare the ground
Mark out the area where you want to build the wall with string or chalk lines on the ground. Sort your stones into size creating piles of large, medium and small stones. When the area is marked out, clear and level the ground. Stone and techniques vary depending on what’s common in the local area. We are on the boundary between the Dark Peak and White Peak areas of the Peak District so we work mostly with gritstone and limestone.
2. Lay the foundations
Dig a trench about one foot deep. Your trench will hold the foundation stones which should be your largest stones so they support the wall. Lay the foundation stones flat into the trench and pack any gaps with smaller stones.
Volunteer using a line to repair a dry stone wall at Lyme, Cheshire
Volunteer using a line to mark out the area to repair a dry stone wall at Lyme, Cheshire | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra
3. Use a Line
Using a walling line is important to keep your wall straight and prevent dips or bulges in the line of your wall. Affix the line to garden canes, or metal stakes that come together at the top to make an A shape. As you move up the courses of the wall you can move your line up these guides to help create the right shape.
4. Build up layers
Your wall should be built to form an A shape using your line as a guide. Choose and place your stones carefully. Build up layers of stones laid flat and positioned lengthways. Each layer will be slightly narrower than the layer below it. Build up layers on either side of the wall making sure the stones touch and covering joins in the layer below. In the Peak District we shape gritstone and limestone with a hammer.
Volunteers using a 'through stone' to add strength to the wall as they repair a dry stone wall on the estate at Lyme, Cheshire
Volunteers using a 'through stone' to repair a dry stone wall on the estate at Lyme, Cheshire | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra
5. Keep the wall stable
To keep the wall stable, fill any gaps between the larger stones in each layer with small stones called filling stones. These smaller stones will help bind the wall together. As you build up layers you will need to place some ‘through stones’ at regular intervals. ‘Through stones’ extend the entire width of the wall and lock the smaller stones together so the wall bonds and remains strong.
6. Finishing touches
The stones for your final layer are called top, cap or coping stones. These stones should be large, flat stones with a rounded top. When you reach the height you want, lay the top stones so that they stand upright and are pressed tightly together and span the width of the wall.

Regional variations

Dry stone walls are built differently depending on the local area and the stone that is found there. There are plenty of places that we care for with dry stone walls ranging from the more commonly known build type at Grasmere in Cumbria to the herringbone style at Willapark and Forrabury Stitches in Cornwall. You’ll even find hand-built dry stone walls at the highest peak in Northern Ireland if you brave the ascent up Sleive Donnard.

A volunteer placing a large stone on a wall at Lyme Park, Cheshire

Find out more about dry stone walling

The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA) was established in 1968 and is a registered charity that works to advance education in the craft and heritage of dry stone walling for the public benefit.

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