This is Lower Littondale. It’s just above the village of Hawkswick, on Hawkswick Moor, looking back down towards Cracoe Fell and the bottom end of Wharfedale. I chose it because a lot of my work’s based round here, and it is a cracking view. Wherever you look there, we’ve worked: we’ve drystone walled, we’ve planted trees.
We make up all the walls in that area. So if a gap falls, we go to it. There’s a drystone wall, just down here near the river, that we restored. It was a 120 metre stretch that needed completely rebuilding. It’s part of an ongoing restoration programme that the local farmer’s doing. I’ve said many times that the drystone walls are like a jewel in the National Park’s crown – they’ve got to be maintained.
These walls, because they’re dry, they do move. You’ve got your dry weather and your wet weather and your frost and your snow, and unless they’re maintained, eventually they become very loose. It gets to a point when it’s easier to pull it all out and rebuild it from scratch – that’s what we did with this wall here. It took us about 22 days.
When you pull an old existing wall, you’ve got all the materials there, because it’s been built before. It’s a little bit like a jigsaw, you’ve got to have an eye for it. When you rebuild it you rebuild it in your own style, so you may put some stones in differently than the chaps before you. We often remark on how the old guys would have done it, as we’re building these walls.
These walls are dug out and then built with an A frame. You start with your big stones at the bottom – your footings – and then you slowly build up and finish with your small stones at the top. You need two or three rows of what we call throughs, which are stones that go right through and connect each side. And then, in all of it, you’ve got your filling – you pack the wall to make it strong.
I come from a farming background. It’s not just working with livestock on a Dales farm, a lot of it is building walls and hedging and fencing; that’s the part that I’ve taken on into my landscaping work.
I was taught to wall by someone, but I was often sent off on my own. I think the first wall I put up fell down, twice. And the third time I remember thinking, ‘I’m not going to go back again, this is it now’ – that was a good learning curve.
I love my work. It’s satisfying to create out of natural things. I look upon it as an extension of a lot of the skills that I learnt on the farm in Sedbergh.
There’s no place like the Yorkshire Dales anywhere in the world. When you go travelling anywhere, the best thing about it is coming back – a lot of local people tell you that. You can never beat that feeling you get when you come past Kilnsey Crag and turn into Littondale, it’s a special place.