Saturday, November 11, 2006

Drystone walls

click photo to enlarge
"As old as the hills" is a saying that many think applies to the drystone walls that characterise the Yorkshire Dales. In one sense they are, being mainly made of the native carboniferous limestone laid down under a warm sea over 300 million years ago. But, the oldest remnant walls are probably no earlier than Iron Age (probably 1000 BC), and are associated with hill forts. Some later examples have medieval farming or monastic origins. However, most that we see today were erected in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the result of the Enclosure Acts that encouraged landowners to enclose the common lands.

A well-built limestone wall is capable of lasting for centuries. The basic structure of good heavy footings, well chosen face stones, rubble heart stones, "through" stones spanning the width of the wall, and copestones (or topstones) to finish it off, mean that the heave of frost/thaw action and the inconsiderate rambler, who climbs over the wall rather than using a stile, are the two main reasons for one to fall down. Over time these walls developed features to accommodate the sheep that they enclose. The sheep-hole (or "creep") through the wall allows shepherds to move animals or give them access to adjoining fields. Small "folds", like the one shown in the photograph, ease the gathering in of sheep. And stiles with steps built into the wall aids the passage of those walking the footpaths that criss-cross these attractive uplands. The increasing cost of maintenance and the changing pattern of land use has resulted in walls being less well maintained than formerly. However, grants have been available to farmers to maintain the appearance of this unique landscape.

I took my photograph near the hamlet of Feizor whilst standing on a stile. The angular curl of the nearby wall, and the way it linked with the other walls snaking across the fields was only apparent from height, and these qualities combined with the deeper shadows suggested a photograph might work. I used a wide zoom lens at 26mm (35mm equivalent), and emphasised the detail of the scene by using a contrast mask in post processing.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen