How to build a drystone wall

Steve Lindop, Area ranger in the Peak District Steve Lindop Area ranger in the Peak District
Drystone wall in the Peak District

A well-laid drystone wall is truly a thing of beauty. Area Ranger Steve Lindop explains how it’s done in the Peak District.

1. Prepare the ground

Mark out the area where you’ll build the wall with string or chalk lines. Sort your stones into piles of large, medium and small stones. Stone and techniques vary depending on what’s common in the area. We are on the boundary between the Dark Peak and White Peak areas of the Peak District, so we work with gritstone and limestone. When the area is marked out, clear and level the ground.

2. Lay the foundations

Dig a trench about a 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, packing any gaps with smaller stones.

3. Build up layers

Your wall should be built to form an A shape, using your A-frame as a guide. Choose and place your stones carefully. Build up layers of stones laid flat and positioned lengthways, with each layer getting slightly narrower. Build up layers on either side of the wall, making sure the stones touch and covering joins in the layer below. We shape gritstone and limestone with a hammer in the Peak District.

4. Keep the wall stable

To keep the wall stable, fill any gaps between the larger stones in each layer with small stones (filling stones), which 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, locking the smaller stones together so the wall bonds and remains strong.

5. Finishing touches

The stones for your final layer are called top, cap or coping stones and should be large, flat stones with a rounded top. When you reach the height you want, lay the top stones so they stand upright and are pressed tightly together, spanning the width of the wall.

A version of this article first appeared in the National Trust Magazine Spring 2018 issue. 

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