Dry Stone Walling: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Tuesday 28th April was an exciting day because, along with my friend and fellow Full Time Volunteer Zoe Caals, I got to try my hand at dry stone walling. We had been invited along by Heddon Valley Ranger (and resident dry stone walling expert) Dan Cameron to join his Working Holiday group (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays/working-holidays/), and I really couldn’t wait.

Now, you could be forgiven for not sharing my enthusiasm – I understand that patiently aligning broken rocks, as if some giant puzzle that had long lost its guiding picture, is not everybody’s cuppa! But it is something that I had wanted to learn more about for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, it is a traditional method of building walls without cement or mortar, which dates back at least three and a half millennia (according to the Dry Stone Walling Association http://www.dswa.org.uk/about-the-dswa.asp) – and I do enjoy a bit of tradition.

But secondly, it’s a pretty sustainable method of building, which uses materials from within the local vicinity and (if done well) can last for many hundreds of years. Consequently, I was really intrigued to understand how the National Trust is engaging with such practices to help maintain the health of local landscapes.

So, with shovel and mattock in hand off we hi-ho’ed – volunteers on a mission to reinforce tradition and develop sustainable practice within the North Devon countryside!

Yes readers, you have guessed it correctly… I started my journey with a totally romanticised and pretty unrealistic (although I am assured quite normal) ideal of dry stone- walling, which was very soon to change…

To give you some idea, this is what we were met with…


Just a muddy bank… No artistically aligning stones in the sun whilst bunny rabbits skipped merrily around our feet… just lots of digging!


And some more digging… In fact a whole morning of digging, until we had removed all the earth that had caused the wall to collapse and uncovered the massive foundation rocks. I never thought I would love the sight of a foundation rock so much in all my life!

The members of the working holiday (some of whom were old stone walling hands) were very encouraging and provided us with lots of support, and by lunchtime Zoe and I had managed to dig back, level with the rest of the wall…


So that afternoon we were in a position to begin the giant stone puzzle, slowly building up our courses (or rows of rock) – rebuilding the wall.


Dan – who has the patience of a Saint – helped us out with our first two courses and then let us loose on the third. It took us nearly an hour, balancing and cajoling, selecting and placing and then replacing… until: “Dan, Dan come and check it out”. We were so proud of our third course, expectantly buzzing around our mentor for approval… but his silence and the slightly amused expression on his face said it all… maybe a little more practice needed before our wall stands for the next 100 years!

Exhausted by the end, I had a really fantastic day. It’s a method of building that I hope to get more experienced at in the future, and for anybody who wants a taster of this kind of work the National Trust holidays are a great experience. Sadly, though I wasn’t able to help finish off our section of wall, but my intrepid partner Zoe limbered up for day two and shares with us her experience and the finished article…

I returned to West Lyn on Thursday with the working holiday group to complete the walling that we had started earlier in the week. I was paired up with Richard who had quite a bit of stone-walling experience prior to the holiday which gave me some confidence.

First, we finished off the section of wall that he had been working on before. It quickly took shape and we found some large rocks to use as cap-stones to finish it off. Hopefully this will give it sufficient stability to stay put and cope with any disturbance from animals. We also replaced some of the turf on top of the wall which should also help to hold it together.

We then picked up where Josey and I had left off on Tuesday. It still needed several courses and we were starting to use up our ‘good’ stones. We collected stones which had been left over from other completed sections, and got to work piecing it all together.


Some of the key things to remember were to line up each course with the one below and to have the front edges of the stones sloping down so that you aren’t accidentally creating footholds in the wall for animals. We found it also helped to stand back regularly to check that the course is straight and that the stones look well aligned. Perhaps the most important thing is to have patience as it’s a slow process (especially for beginners!).

Stone by stone we rebuilt the wall, packing the gaps with earth as we finished each course. Our huge heap of soil from the initial digging on day 1 didn’t seem to diminish though and there was plenty left over! It was satisfying to complete the wall and we then had the chance to go and admire everyone else’s work. Dan calculated that between us we had done 36 metres of walling – good work, team!


Words by Josey and Zoe; Photographs by Zoe

Have a Coast Adventure this Half Term

North Devonshire is a place of dramatic coastlines, rolling hills, wooded valleys and sunny glades. The best bits of the “Shire” are sometimes hidden in plain sight, right beneath the noses of the thousands of visitors who search for their own slice of this special countryside.


A fascinating mix of creatures inhabit the Shire, and the best of them live on the coast at Baggy Point. Some have eight legs, some have four. Some are covered in thick curly wool, others have hard shells. Some have two legs and slippery rubbery skin, living in the place between the sand and the sea, riding the breaking waves.

Blck sheep paintingcrab painting

You can discover them for yourself this half term at Baggy Point, Croyde. Park at the Baggy car park and ask in the kiosk for your free adventure map. It will lead you on a path of discovery in the Shire, showing you all the fascinating residents and where they live.

Baggy kiosk

The winter is an interesting time for the National Trust Rangers in North Devon. Often stormbound in their offices and workshops they let their imaginations run   wild. The product of this last winter in Woolacombe and Mortehoe is just being unveiled at Baggy Point. It is a new family trail, leading people around the Point in search of its residents who live behind little wooden doors. The trail guides are free, and we hope the beautifully crafted trail markers will inspire people to explore the wild side of Baggy Point.See you there.20150518_140418

7 Coast Questions

National Trust South West kindly nominated us to answer the 7 Questions Coastal tag they’ve got going on. It’s all to do with celebrating our coast this summer. It’s also a lovely way to collect anecdotes and stories from the people who live and work on the North Devon coast.

Here’s our response – from Andy Bramwell, Visitor Services Officer. Find out who we nominate below:

7 questions tag

1. What’s Your Favourite Beach? It’s got to be Combesgate beach in Woolacombe. It’s the first beach I ever visited and surfed in North Devon over 6 years ago. I remember coming down in my campervan from Wales with the intention of exploring all North Devon and Cornwall and I didn’t move it from Combesgate for a week.

2.Sea or Sand? Swim in it, dive in it, surf in it. It has to the sea. It’s energy, mood and colours change on a daily basis. You never get bored of it.

3.Tell a Memory of being by the Sea? Swimming with seals and puffins in Pembrokeshire last year was amazing.

4.What’s your favourite seaside food? Self-caught, self-smoked mackerel is the best.

5.Favourite Ice Cream flavour? Anything based on clotted cream.

6. Have you lived by the Sea? I’m lucky enough to live in Woolacombe, right on the beach.

7. Favourite place on the coast? I really like Constantine Bay in Cornwall, the Dyfi estuary in mid Wales and Trentishoe in Exmoor.

We nominate: @ExmoorNP @WoolacombeTIC @LoveMarineLife @WTSWW @explorethecoast @JonesintheWild

Faecal Finds: The Quest for Exmoor’s Otters


Exmoor volunteers Kate and Zoe go in search of poo.

Originally posted on Wicked and wild, it's a nature blog:

An iconic animal that teetered on the brink of disaster, instantly recognisable but rarely seen, and an indicator of the health of our rivers and streams. Yes, the Otter (Lutra lutra) is one of our celebrated success stories, a much loved mammal and a creature of great ecological importance. For these reasons they are one of the species that I am surveying as part of the National Trust West Exmoor wildlife monitoring project that I am heading up, and as part of the West Somerset Otter groups long standing surveying project with the assistance of Exmoor National Park. It’s all about partnerships people!

Otter by David Merrigan via Flickr Otter by David Merrigan via Flickr   

The story of the otter is well known; back in the 1950s and 60s our rivers were in a dire state, full of pesticides and chemicals. The wildlife took a serious beating and the otter noticeably so, they were driven…

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The Next Step….


After 6 months as a Volunteer Ranger Kate tells us about her next big adventure.

Originally posted on Wicked and wild, it's a nature blog:

Well I have come to the end of my six month volunteering placement with the National Trust in West Exmoor and what a time I’ve had. Fantastic experiences, wonderful opportunities, great people and the chance to live in a truly breath-taking part of the world. I’ve learnt a lot; the rangers taught me how to identify trees by their bark in the winter, the Lead Ranger taught me how to identify wildflowers by their leaves, I know how to fell a tree and hang a gate. Most of all I know that I am doing what I really want to be doing. And in my final couple of weeks there was still time to learn a lot more.

Myself and Harry spent a few days in Combe Park woods with one of the National Trust’s volunteers from a few years ago, Paul. Paul is a local lad who has an…

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North Devon needs you!

North Devon National Trust is looking for volunteers at all of our sites. We need people from Hartland to Croyde, from Mortehoe to Heddon Valley and from Watersmeet to Countisbury. Our volunteers help with everything from wildlife surveys, events, office admin and making sure our members and visitors have had a great time.

You can find out more at our volunteering drop-in day on Thursday 30th April at Baggy Point, Croyde from 11am to 3pm. If you can’t make it then email or call Nicola Jackson on 01598 763306 nicola.jackson@nationaltrust.org.uk


You could help at a Bucks Mills Cabin Open Day

One of the privileges of working at the National Trust is the astonishing range and enthusiasm of people who volunteer their time to help us achieve our goals. As a charity we depend very much on our volunteers, whether they can offer us a day a week or a week a month.

Wildlife surveys are an important part of our volunteer roles

Wildlife surveys are an important part of our volunteer roles

The specific roles we are looking for include:

Gardeners to look after the tea-garden at Watersmeet.
Teams to carry out environmental and wildlife surveys at Woolacombe/Mortehoe, Bideford Bay and Hartland and at West Exmoor based from Heddon Valley.
Admin support at Woolacombe and Brownsham, near Hartland.
Visitor Welcome Officers across North Devon including Baggy Point, Morte Point and Heddon Valley
Car Park volunteers at Baggy Point
Accessibility Champion responsible for the Tramper mobility scooter  – Heddon
Photo journalist across North Devon
We also have some administration roles that after training could be carried out in our office or from home including:
. Bringing order to our photo archive
. Helping with digital/social media admin

Chough Watch

The piercing cries of chough returned to the South West after a 28 year absence. The emblematic bird of Cornwall returned in 2002 to nest on the Lizard after changes in habitat management on the coast by the National Trust.

But the coast of North Devon is also prime chough habitat, with many secluded cliffs and caves providing potential nesting sites. National Trust North Devon is appealing to all walkers, birdwatchers, runners, kayakers, dog walkers, horseriders, farmers and sunset photo snappers to keep their eyes open and report any chough sightings to us.


Pyrrhocorax – the fire crow.

Chough are the rarest member of the crow family in Britain. They have loud screeching “cheow” calls, and are very acrobatic, making the most of ledges and cliffs to launch themselves into the wind, often flying upside down and performing rolls and loops.

The Celtic coasts of Scotland, Wales and the South West provided the right habitat for them as they enjoy grazed cliffs and heathland. In past centuries, sheep, cattle and ponies would have grazed the cliffs year round, keeping vegetation short and providing perfect conditions for choughs to find a supply of insects, such as dung beetles and ants.

Chough often feed in fields with livestock.

Chough often feed in fields with livestock.

However changes to farming practices and persecution meant that by 1910, the chough had disappeared from all southern coastal counties with the exception of Cornwall. Their numbers declined steadily over the century and they vanished completely in the 1970s.

Chough held out in Pembrokeshire, and due to National Trust habitat management they have re-colonised the Gower peninsular which is just across the Bristol Channel from North Devon. We hope that those birds will venture south and start breeding territories here in Devon.

Chough may also re-colonise from the south, either from the re-established Cornish population or from further afield. A French chough, ringed in Bretton, Northern France decided Baggy Point was a great place for a holiday (isn’t it just), spending ten days here in March 2014. Interestingly this bird was the first confirmed sighting of a French ringed chough in Britain. More recently a chough was seen at Brownsham near Hartland on 6th April 2015.

We have big coastline to cover to find out if chough are moving to North Devon, which is why we need your help to spot them. April is a good time to spot nest building activities so keep your eyes open.

Please report any sightings to Jonathan Fairhurst, Woolacombe and Mortehoe Lead Ranger

jonathan.fairhurst@nationaltrust.org.uk 01271 870555