Highs and lows of a wet drystone waller

Drystone walls which adorn the Dales
Drystone walls which adorn the Dales
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Well it has certainly been damp enough over the so called summer and conditions have been far from ideal for dry stone wallers.

The most recent spell of incessant rain has tested my waterproof gear to the limit and I have lost all faith in the coats and leggings with labels making outstanding claims as to the garments ability to cast off water. There have been a few evenings when I have returned from a day’s walling as wet as a walrus’s armpit. I am sure this applies to all outside workers who spend eight to ten hours in the rain.

Getting a severe soaking early in the morning makes for an unpleasant day after the water has seeped through the shoulders of your coat before tracking down your back whereas it is not such an issue if the deluge arrives close to going home time. On the other hand an accurate local weather forecast may indicate heavy rain in a certain area fading by mid-morning in which case a delayed start increases the chance of a more comfortable day.

Having said that, there have not been many days this summer where I have been rained off completely and I still have memories of actually wearing a sun hat and applying factor 20 this year! Working as a drystone waller I probably appreciate the inconsistency of the seasonal weather more so than an office/inside worker. Perhaps it has rained more at the weekends and therefore this is noticed more by the majority of people?

Although not ideal, it is still feasible to build a dry stone wall in the wet (no pun intended). Assuming you can keep dry, the other drawbacks are the restrictions on movement imposed by the extra layers of clothing, the slippery nature of the ground, and the extra effort needed to remove stones and wellies from glutinous mud. Some days I look more like a coal miner when I have finished a gap. Still, I suppose it is just a trade-off from the enjoyable, warmer, cloud-free days when they do arrive. Anyway, the bills still need paying no matter what the weather.

The other day I was thinking back to a job I did last winter near Pateley Bridge repairing a wall separating a newly felled pine plantation from the moorland above. The trees had damaged the wall and it was to be repaired prior to the planting of native woodland species. Moorland sheep and newly planted trees should be kept within their own boundaries, at least from the trees’ point of view. There was a river to ford and a good ten minutes hike up a steep muddy track to the wall but on a sunny frosty morning it compensated tenfold for the bad days. The views were outstanding and the red kites appeared most days while we breakfasted on tea and sandwiches.

Perhaps I was looking through rose-tinted spectacles for a while. Now as I think back more realistically I can remember the bad building stone in the wall, 50 years’ worth of pine needles blowing in faces, down boots and in sandwich boxes.

Thinking a bit harder I can also remember dinner times spent hiding behind the wall with hoods up to escape the rain and cold, struggling to remove wet gloves to open a flask. Some days it is good when it gets too dark to work at quarter past four and you can go home!

Luckily for us our lasting memories tend to be of the good days. Remember all those long sunny days you enjoyed as a child? It hardly ever rained!