The Cotswolds is limestone country, part of a Jurassic belt which stretches across the country from Dorset to Yorkshire.
Stone has been quarried here for centuries and for a variety of uses - everything from small farm buildings to the magnificent wool churches. Its texture enabled masons to produce interesting and intricate architectural details such as mullions, gargoyles and churchyard crosses. Such gems can still be discovered today.
Some limestone occurs in thin layers, making it easy to split into roof tiles: these ‘slates’ are graded on most roofs, the largest tiles nearest the eaves, the smaller toward the ridge. In this way the character of a Cotswold building is formed – stone used for walls, floors and roof.
The colour of Cotswold stone varies, from the honey colouring of the north and north east of the region, through the golden stone of the central area down to the pearly white stone associated with Bath. Good masons could tell the source of the stone they used.
Although still an important local industry, only a relatively small amount of stone is extracted from the several quarries still working. Their products, however, continue to add a special freshness to new buildings, which will weather and harden over time to eventually look like all the other Cotswold stone buildings, rich with the patina of age.
With stone readily available, it was cheaper to enclose Cotswold fields with stone walls than to plant hedges. There have been stone walls here since neolithic times. Much of what we see today is much later, mostly of the 18th and 19th centuries when large tracts of the open downland were enclosed.
These walls now represent an important historical landscape and a major conservation feature. Their construction is a matter of skill, as there is no mortar in a true drystone wall. The stones are carefully chosen for shape and size and laid so that the rainwater will drain through the wall naturally. To see a waller at work is a rare treat – methodical work undertaken in all weathers, carrying on a tradition which seems timeless.