Life as a drystone waller may sound dreamy. Days spent on rolling farmland with terrific views across hills, fields and woodland, but the truth is that this is a highly skilled and physically demanding vocation that requires great strength, meticulous attention to detail, plenty of patience and even more stamina.
There are however some wallers that have all these quality in spades and one such gentleman is Shipley’s Lee Jones. The Yorkshire Post last caught up with Mr Jones in June 2015 to reflect on how he had been named the Country Land and Business Association’s (CLA) Yorkshire drystone walling champion 2014 for his remarkable job of constructing a 4.5ft corner section on a steep slope at Keith Willis’ Beacon House Farm on top of Otley Chevin.
One of his next challenges, back then, was an extraordinary one: to build a wall around the curve of a mysterious sunken bowl on the same farm, a landscape feature thought to have once been part of a small quarry.
Fast-forward two years and Mr Jones, who has been working on walling projects at Beacon House since 2010, has completed the tricky section around the crater - and to such a high standard that the 43-year-old’s graft has this month seen him named the CLA’s champion drystone waller in Yorkshire for a second time.
The biennial competition is run in association with the Yorkshire Dry Stone Walling Guild and is believed to be unique in Britain as it judges new or rebuilt walls in the countryside, and not temporary short stretches at agricultural shows.
To build the continuous 44-metre stretch of wall that skirts the circular crater, Mr Jones only accessed it from one side and did not use string lines to guide him.
The project took eight weeks, a feat that is all the more remarkable because a severe tooth infection caused Mr Jones to suffer three heart attacks during its construction. Ordered to rest up for 12 weeks, instead he got to work just a week after being in hospital.
Mr Jones said: “No pun intended, but I would have climbed walls being stuck inside for that period of time. Being a waller is physically hard work, and necessity dictates that you can’t really be off work for too long. On the plus side, my heart is exceptionally strong according to the cardiologist, all thanks to being a waller.”
On winning the award, he added: “It is a great honour to be judged winner of this prestigious award for a second time, and good to see that the CLA recognises traditional rural skills and crafts.”
Runner-up was Michael Coggins of Ingleton, who restored 16.5m section of roadside wall made from irregular shaped stones which had been demolished by a lorry carrying 20 tons of lime.
A 1988 survey recorded over 5,000 miles of drystone walls in the Yorkshire Dales.
Some walls date back to the Bronze Age and, built well, they easily last for over a century.
Lee Jones is a member of the Otley and Yorkshire Dales branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association, a group shortlisted for Community Group of the Year in The Yorkshire Post’s 2017 Rural Awards.