This is a land of stone. Old houses are invariably built of la vieille pierre (old stone). When you walk along a footpath, it’s usually bordered by ancient stone walls. If you want to plant a tree or shrub, you will dig several planting holes before you find one that isn’t obstructed by a boulder. When the farmers plough the fields, they reap a fresh crop of them, which they place in pyramids prior to removing them.
Stone used for constructing buildings has been quarried and dressed and is valued for its durable properties. The walls of our barn are still as straight as a die, even after nearly 300 years, more so than the house walls. The stone around here is limestone of a pale colour that is set off by the sun. Towards Najac, it’s darker with pinky-brown tones and I find it very appealing.
Dry stone walls and smaller constructions, such as shepherd’s huts (gariottes), were built with the spoil that the farmers turned up in the fields. Today, they discard it. A century ago, they put it to use. Since it was often stone of inferior quality that split or cracked in the frost, the walls needed regular repair. But there was no shortage of this elementary building material.
We bought our barn in 2003 as a defensive purchase, since it was too close to our house for us to tolerate another residence there. It came with a field and some woodland, bordered by disintegrating stone walls, a crumbling well and a decrepit citerne. The purchase also included a heap of stones, all that was left, sadly, of a former house.
The SF threw himself into the task of repairing all this. He had no knowledge of dry stone walling, but he did train as an engineer, so this was an intellectual as well as a physical challenge. First, he rebuilt the walls of the well and re-roofed it. Then he turned his attention to the 85 metre-long wall between our field and wood and the communal track.
This wall was in poor condition. Parts of it had collapsed, while others were in danger of it. He had to demolish sections in order to rebuild them. Fortunately, the mound from the former house provided an extensive source of material. Much of it was rubble, which provided packing for the interior of the wall, but some of it was decent stone.
Dry stone walling takes more skill than you might think. It’s not just a question of piling stones on top of each other. The ones at the bottom need to be larger to support the weight of the wall, while those on top have to stay in place without mortar. In fact, we spent more time hunting for exactly the right size and shape of stones than positioning them on the wall.
This labour of love took three years, countless wheelbarrow loads of stone, which had to be pushed uphill, and various crushed limbs. But at last it was done and we believe that, like the Great Wall of China, it can probably be identified from Outer Space.
Ever the statistician, the SF calculated the wall’s volume (32 m3) and weight (70 metric tonnes – the weight of around 1,000 men).
The citerne was next. But the pièce de résistance was the round wall encircling what was left of the stone heap and the ash tree that had grown in the middle of it. We didn’t want to remove the whole mound in case it was propping up the tree. Solution: make it a decorative feature, fill it with soil and create a flower bed.
Various other stone features around the garden are a testament to the SF’s resourcefulness – and to just how much stone we had in that heap. This was even with the removal of eight truckloads of useless rubble.
You might also like:
Copyright © 2016 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved