Land Manager's Diary: Read it here>

A slight departure today as we thought we'd share details of some fascinating survey work being carried out by the Westmorland Dales Scheme team. We've had plenty of experience repairing and building drystone walls on our land at Little Asby Common and on much of our other land in Cumbria so it is fascinating for us to follow survey work underway in Asby Parish with the aim of putting the walls and the stone we tend every week into a historical context and uncovering how they reflect past land management.

For those of you that want to know more about the craft and the cultural importance of dry stone walls, the Westmorland Dales team are holding a Dry Stone Wall Study Day on Saturday 8th October at Great Asby where the results of the Asby Parish drystone wall survey will be revealed. More information and Booking available here>

It will be fascinating to hear the outcomes and to learn more about the cultural and historical significance of the dry stone walls in Asby Parish. It's also good to know that our work to repair and manage walls across our land holdings continues the story and adds to the rich history and cultural capital of our county. 

Dry Stone Wall Survey in Asby Parish
By Hannah Kingsbury, Cultural Heritage Officer with the Westmorland Dales Scheme

Over 7 days in May and June volunteers, led by Dr David Johnson, carried out a dry stone wall survey in Asby parish. In advance we held a taster and training day, to give an introduction to walls, the landscape and how to survey them. This explored questions like what is a wall and when is a wall not a wall, as well as thinking about the earliest evidence of walls, regional walling styles, and why the first walls were built. It was also an opportunity to put walls in their historic and landscape context. The training day built on this, by discussing documentary research and techniques of how to survey a wall.

Asby parish was chosen for a number of reasons including available maps and its huge variety of walls of different periods of enclosure. This included walls that were linked to Byland Abbey Grange, giving magnificent examples of late monastic walling, and the area was subject to four discrete Enclosure awards: Asby Low Intake of 1849, Asby High Intake of 1849, Asby Mask of 1855, and Asby Winderwath of 1874.

The aim of the project was as follows – to see walls in a landscape context; to put them in their historical context; examine how walls reflect past land management; examine the influence of local geology; and investigate a representative sample to build up a picture of wall evolution.

The survey gave an opportunity to learn and develop survey skills. The walls were surveyed using survey forms, which captured the following information. With each wall, we looked at age indicators, including: height of wall, width of wall (is it straight sided or battered), how the coping stones were places (flat or raked), are there throughstones and are these coursed, what shape is the stone (i.e. is it field clearance or quarried), has the stone been graded (i.e. bigger stones at the bottom and smaller ones at the top), whether the wall was straight or sinuous, whether the corners were rounded or angled, as well as what the land use was on either side of the wall.

There were also other features to look for and record, including: single or paired orthostats (an upright stone), recumbent blocks (large stones on side), whether there was a plinth at the base of the wall, as well as wall furniture for example rabbit smoots, sheep creeps, gateways, stiles, straight joints etc., and whether they were blocked. In addition to this, a profile was also drawn using a specific frame to take measurements from.

We are expecting to receive the results in late August. These will be shared at our Dry Stone Wall Study Day on Saturday 8th October. We have an exciting programme of talks organised in the morning, which will give an introduction to the history of dry stone walls, a personal perspective of the craft of dry stone walling, and results from the survey in Asby parish. In the afternoon there will be an option to join a circular walk from Great Asby, to view some of the walls and banks in the village’s surrounding landscape.

More information and Booking available here>

We are also looking at opportunities to offer dry stone walling and hedge planting training events. Once these have been organised we will make the information available on our website.