Dry stone walling up a mountain part 2

On the first day we were not walling but walking. It was pouring down with that drenching relentless rain which makes Snowdonia so eye wateringly green. That was fine. I can do walking and I can do wet. I had got my head round the rotas for breakfast making and washing up and cooking dinner and I had slept surprisingly well. We did a bit of chatting as we walked. There were a whole range of reasons for people being there from the immediately practical (have falling down dry stone walls, want to work in conservation) through serial National Trust volunteers who had done all sorts of things to those who were along for a first time, curious to see what it involved.

Monday dawned dry. We breakfasted and each made our own lunch. I packed my rucksack and we piled into the minibus. Even so early in the week various patterns were emerging: 80s music played in the evenings from leader Simon's iPod and radio 2 was on in the van. The oldies cracked a bottle of wine in the evenings. The youngsters mostly didn't. Leader Tom was in charge of food and evening entertainment. Leader Simon produced home made cake and outdoor leadership. Some people were reliably ready to play cards or trivial pursuit, one or two reliably didn't want to. I had decided that there was no point in taking part in an essentially communal holiday and not joining in but that I would also give myself a slug of private reading time every day so i did a bit of both. People were starting to get to know each other.

We parked the van at Ogwen cottage and met the National Trust ranger who would be working with us. There was a walk in to where we were walling, which would be just below Tryfan. There were also mattocks and crowbars and spades and lump hammers to carry up the hill. Time for my first executive decision. Looking round at the youth and energy and muscle surrounding me I decided I was sufficiently handicapped by age, weight and lack of fitness to be pretty sure that any attempt to load myself down with a mattock would leave me gasping gently in the corner of the car park. This was a wise choice. Twirling their crowbars like matchsticks the youngsters galloped off up the hill. It was a stiff climb up to just short of 800 metres. I plodded doggedly on at the back. This was to be the pattern of the week. The walk in was the hardest part of the day. To be fair, the joining instructions had made it quite clear. I arrived last every time, accompanied by Simon or another super fit volunteer, courteously keeping me company. I have no idea whether the rest of them arrived ten minutes or half an hour before I did. I was pleased enough to get there on the same day.

The walls this high up are providing the boundary between one farm and the next. The land is owned by the National Trust so the farmers are tenants. Up here there are goats and a few hardy sheep, existing on sparse grass and rock. I imagine the rock is not part of the diet. It was cold and the wind blew. We were repairing a wall which included some huge stones but it soon became clear that there were jobs for everyone. I busied myself gatherings buckets of smaller stones, called hearting, which produced the centre of the wall and were essential for its stability. By Tuesday I had got the measure of what I could lift and was moving some of the walling stones too.

Both days included moments of being cold and wet and wondering what on earth I was doing there when I could be home working in my own garden or making bread in my own kitchen. Both days included moments of really enjoying myself and being very content to be there. Life gets all smoothed out and comfortable when you have material plenty, especially as you get older. It's not a bad thing to be a bit less comfortable.

Tuesday lunchtime was warm and sunny. After we finished our sandwiches the youngsters tripped off up Tryfan while the oldies lay back on the grass and snoozed.

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  1. Kudos to you! You may have noticed I list dry stone walling among the things I can do on my About page but that was a good while ago - I worked for the BTCV for a year - and despite being some years younger than you I'd not tackle it now. That said, I loved it! But it can be back breaking work. So rewarding though.

  2. I would so love to be able to do this skill, mainly because I need to be able to do it. I'm not sure I'd be happy getting wet and cold though without the luxury of a warm bubble bath to plop myself into at the end of the day. Hope your lodgings are warm and dry!

  3. Ah, the walk from Ogwen Cottage to the base of Tryfan is quite a slog. Although I always preferred going up to going down, rather contrarily. It's been a few years now since we've walked there, or climbed up Tryfan or Glyder Fawr or Fach. I have some rather-terrifying-in-retrospect memories of some of the more unusual scrambling routes we used to take - don't think I'd repeat those again now! A lovely place to be though, back to the elements, and dry stone walling would be a fascinating and useful skill to learn.

  4. Well, the rain is tipping down now and has been for the last couple of hours just a few miles away from Snowdon. Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow. Sounds as if you are getting something out of this, and hopefully not sore muscles!

  5. Elizabeth, you write about this experience so well, that I do think I can imagine the scenario, the participants and how you were able to actually have some say in how you participated. I now look forward to the next episode.


  6. Enjoying your daily journaling about your stone walling trip. I have wondered if I could endure something like this. Not sure . . .

  7. Am completely in awe of you now.....

    And thank you for posting about something that I might, in a mad moment, have thought of doing; now I can say to myself that I know all about it, and no, I don't need to give it a try after all!

  8. Elizabeth, you don't do anything by halves.
    In order to be entirely honest I have to say that I was envying you this experience until I really thought about the cold, wet, heavy and communal bits. Perhaps I have too large a helping of wimp in my make-up!


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