PAUL Webley’s passion is for walls – dry stone ones in particular.
He’s one of a band of people striving to maintain them in West Yorkshire, where they form such an important part of the scenery.
Now Paul is hoping that a hands-on instruction guide to the ancient style of walling becomes a big seller in Britain.
The 90-minute DVD aims to be the definitive work on the subject and gives advice on basic techniques as well as featuring different styles of construction around the country.
Its release comes at a time when dry stone walling is undergoing a revival, especially in Canada and the USA.
The patchwork of walls in the rural landscape has evolved over many thousands of years – in fact, dry stone is so old they can’t trace its origins.
Paul, 65, from Slaithwaite, is a past chairman of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, and a dab hand at the craft.
His interest in dry stone walling began when he was a teacher at Colne Valley High School.
Leading a party of 15-year-olds out to try their hand at the craft, both he and the pupils became fascinated.
“They absolutely loved it and asked when we’d be going again,” says Paul.
“It’s a bit like a drug and the more you get involved the more you want to do it. The gratification is instant because you see immediately what you have done – it’s up there in front of you by the end of the day.”
Stretching up hill and down dale, the walls in our part of the country provide a solid and beautiful barrier. As farmers got more livestock, the higher the stones were built up the valley sides.
They are long lasting – one in Orkney is older than the Pyramids – but they do need maintenance.
It’s a sad sight for aficionados to see a tumbledown wall, stones scattered over the fields and perhaps even taken away to use elsewhere. And that’s where the new DVD comes in.
Dry Stone Walling – The Essential Guide has been produced as part of the lottery-funded Upper Colne Valley Dry Stone Walling Project.
Features include a look at a pinfold built by local expert Ken France at Tunnel End, Marsden, and a demonstration of advanced features by Bill Noble, from Shepley.
The two-year walling project has included practical sessions and the involvement of Marsden schoolchildren in a project about sheep and dry stone walls. There have also been guided walks to help people find out more about the geology and dry stone wall heritage of the area.
A survey of the dry stone walls in the Upper Colne Valley is currently under way and a way-marked trail is to be launched in May.
Keeping the pattern of walls in good shape is vitally important, says Paul.
He says: “We take them for granted as part of our rural scenery, but people who come from a distance often marvel at them, they’re such a distinct part of our landscape.
“I was on a radio interview once sitting between Paula Yates and an American dancer who had come over to join the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
“He said he couldn’t believe the walls when the plane flew over Derbyshire, they were that impressive, and he compared them in intensity to the Great Wall of China. He said they were definitely one of the architectural wonders of the world.”
Paul is active in the 40th anniversary celebrations of West Yorkshire branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association this year.
The programme starts with a beginners’ training course at South Crosland this weekend and a second course on sloping ground (for people who have previously attended a beginner course) at Meltham on the weekend of May 17 and 18.
The association is then present at Honley Show on June 14 with a grand prix walling competition and at Harden Moss Sheep Dog Trials and Horbury Show, both on June 29.
Paul likens walling to problem-solving.
“Once you’ve put one stone on, you’ve solved one problem – but then created another. Everything is different and a new challenge.
“It’s great fun and I hope it never dies out. We need it for the sake of our countryside.”
For training courses, contact Paul Webley on 01484 845219. The DVD costs £12 and is available from the Dry Stone Walling Association Office, Westmoreland County Showground, Lane Farm, Crooklands, Milnthorpe, Cumbria LA7 7NH (tel: 015395 67953)