From a desktop to a dry stone wall

Aimee Belmore, Saddleworth Independent Editor, gets hands on to try out an ancient tradition…

“It will be really relaxing and calming,” promised John as we set off on our drive to Norden… to build a dry stone wall.

Building the dry stone wall

Those were probably some of the last words that I would associate with the idea of digging and laying foundations, building the right structure and topping it with coping stones.

Especially not when the temperature was -1 degrees and it felt like we were up and about before everyone else in the world!

But, five hours later I had to admit I was converted and John had been right all along.

I was joining John Matthews, a talented filmmaker from Dobcross and also a qualified dry stone wall builder, for the unique experience to get a flavour of an ancient tradition.

“It dates back to medieval times,” explained John. But even today, dry stone walls are a common sight as field boundary markers across Saddleworth and Yorkshire – so I was intrigued.

Accompanied by John’s dog Buzz, we trudged through the field to the spot of wall he had saved for me. This was the conclusion of his four-month job to repair the walls around the field and I had the honour of helping with the final section.

Aimee gets hands on building the foundations

After a brief ‘lesson’ explaining the basics, we got stuck in. Wrapped up in a woolly jumper, thick coat, scarf and gloves I could barely move but soon the layers were coming off as the manual work got our blood pumping.

Sure, it was hard work taking down the stones that had made up the wall for almost 150 years.

Sure, it was hard work digging out the foundations and finding stones big enough to form a new, solid base.

Sure, it was hard rolling – not lifting –the heavy stones back into place to begin re-building the structure, stacking them tightly so no mortar is needed.

It wasn’t quite so hard filling all the gaps with the small, broken-up ‘hearting’ to keep the air and elements out.

As we worked hard, the rest of the world seemed to fall away around us, out there in the calm, empty field. The hum of traffic buzzed gently in the background but soon I couldn’t hear it. My ears were just filled with the sound of peace and quiet, and my own rhythm, soothing breathing.

John’s dog Buzz watching on

Then as we placed the coping stones on the top and secured them, I had an overwhelming sense of achievement, of having done something quite unique and special.

So, am I thinking of a career change? No. But would I recommend it to others to try Definitely!

John said: “Drystone walling is like going back in time, to a period that was slower, less stressed, more in tune with nature and the pace of the natural world.

“I meditate regularly, and I noticed when building a wall that this ancient craft can in fact be a form of meditation in itself as you build a wall and you feel very relaxed as a result.”

If you would like to join John Matthews on one of his dry stone walling courses call him on 0161 234 0099 or e-mail:, marking the e-mail DRYSTONE

Also visit his Facebook page @dogwithbone or website Course costs £195 for two days’ tuition but £175 per person if 2 or more book together.



ONE LUCKY reader can win a 50 per cent discount on a dry stone walling course courtesy of Dog with a Bone!

The two-day course usually costs £175 each for 2 people, but our winner and a friend can enjoy the course for only £75 each.

To enter, simply answer this question: what is the name of John’s dog?

Email your answer to or write to: Dry Stone Walling competition, Saddleworth Independent, Units 3-4, 45 High Street, Uppermill, Saddleworth, OL3 6HS.

The first correct entry drawn after the closing date of Friday, January 6, 2017 wins the discounted course for two. Needs to be redeemed before March 2016.


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