Tuesday, 6 July 2010

New terrace building - learning the art of the ancients

Gary comes from the Northwest of England, the "Black-country" he calls it. He arrived with us after 4,000 km around Europe and North Africa - on his bike. Bicycle, I might add.
Along with some impressive camping gear and an indomitable spirit, Gary brought the skills of dry stane dyking: building walls without mortar.

I'd been trying to figure out how we were going to build our retaining walls for countless tonnes of earth we'd moved from the main house ages ago. And I wanted to build a new terrace for bamboo experimentation...

Back in December last year Aljo helped me build a ramp and a temporary wall, but the Spring rains turned this into a muddy rout, and we lost most of the soil we had surfed down the ramp.

Ali and Thea arrived at the same time (from the Wwoofer volunteer network) and Gary took charge and led an impressive 2 week course-in-practice of the art of walling. Ali became an avid student, jumping up from a hasty lunch to get back onto those stones, "like a 3D puzzle" he delighted. (Later he would have energy for couple of sets of doubles on our newly found village tennis court which has to fill in the slot of an evening surf at the end of a hard day).

Gary is fiercely principled about walls and walling. In fact he says that if you stick to the main Principles your wall will work. Here, from memory, is what I think they are

Princple 1 - every stone needs two good faces :) (:!
No not smiley ones but hey. One face is external, is that which is seen and perhaps brings a smile - or at least deters a grimace with accompanying complaint "Jeez, how foul the frontage of that there stone, how bulbous, out of place". Actually, it seems to be only other wall-makers who actually notice wall quality, stone and face selection (I too have become an obsessive).
The other face we need to think about is the top, which offers itself to the stone above. This should be as flat and horizontal as possible. If both these faces don't cut it, then find another.

Principle 2 - Drive the rain out.
If possible, the external face should be angled so that rain is directed outward, rather than allowed to pour back into the wall. Like tiles on a roof I suppose.

Principle 3 - Two on one, one on Two.
Obvious right? (each stone should rest on at least two others and it in turn is pinned by two others above it). Thus stones are anchored on a couple, and weight of the many bare down upon the one. A more solid base. It might be obvious, but until now we hadn't twigged.

Principle 4 - Follow the line.
Each course has to stick to a determined direction, or line, between two points, but it also has to be slightly leaning inwards to counteract the force of gravity pushing down. Each time you start a new course of stones remember where the front edge of the next course of stones above will sit. So, if you have a stone with a curved front edge, push it out further than you would expect, so that the stone above can "keep the line" above it, otherwise the higher one will have to sit back too far, which has to be recovered later with more difficulty.

I'm sure I've missed out loads, and I didn't even have time to participate in the wall shown here, but I did on the next one...

Overall, it's been incredible to see how we can actually change the space around us, forge whole new faces onto the mountain our land inhabits.

OK, photo upload has gone haywire on this post, so will need to send them to an online album or something.


Mike said...


MOving roks around and from here to there is my favourite hobby! Thanks for sharing this tips.

Rupert Wolfe Murray said...

As a kid we saw these walls every day, but never was the mystery of their creation ever revealed to me. So thanks Bro'

acountrypunk said...

seal of approval from me. good lookin' wall, that.