Part of the wonderful landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, and indeed around Layhead Farm Cottages, are the very impressive drystone walls. Built predominantly as boundary walls and a way to keep the farm animals in, they stretch for miles around the Dales area. A 1988 survey calculated there is approximately 5000 miles (8000 km) of dry stone walls in the Yorkshire Dales area itself.
Walls are walls, right? That they may be, but if they could talk they would have a wonderful story to tell. Some of the oldest date back to the Bronze Age (around 2300 BC) such as some found on Burton Moor, Lower Wensleydale, just a short ride from Rathmell. They now stand as low lines of stones, easily ignored by the walker. These walls have lived through massive changes not only in the landscape but of warriors, Kings and Queens, in times of war and peace.
Well built drystone walls can last up to a century with little maintenance. It is said that a good drystone waller will only pick up a stone only once to use in building a wall. They will know that is the right one to build with.
Drystone walls not only provide a boundary, they also are home to many small animals. Birds can be found nesting in the, rabbits may dig a warren near them and badgers may dig a tunnel under them so they can pass from field to field. Field mice use them as the motorways of rodents. A safe place to travel without being caught by a passing falcon. Thick moss can be seen growing on the shadier sides of walls and sometimes other plants latch themselves to the stone and grow quietly. In winter when the rain is pouring you will often see sheep sheltering close to wall sides and they provide a very welcome wind break for walkers out on the hills.
These ancient lines of stones providing a patchwork across the Dales are more than just part of the landscape. When you’re next out and about in the area, stop and take a closer look at a drystone wall and see what you can see. They may stand there silently but they do have a lot to say.
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