If you’ve ever done any walking in the countryside of the UK you will probably have seen your share of dry stone walls. The use of stone laid dry to create walls and boundaries is so old that it is thought that the earliest examples in the UK were built in the Bronze Age - roughly 1600AD!
Over 3000 years later natural stone dry walls are still a very effective and attractive way to quickly create borders, manage level changes or retain soil and areas of ground. The huge benefit stone has over a material like timber railway sleepers is that it does not degrade over time. If you want a retaining wall that will be there long after all of us then stone is the way to go.
Here at Miles Stone we have a couple of types of walling stone that are suitable for this application; our York Thin Walling and Purbeck Random Walling Stone being the most suited.
Our advice in this article can be applied to either type of dry walling but we’re going to focus on Purbeck Walling Stone in this piece as it’s local to us and we’re suckers for a bit of local produce! In this piece we’re going to discuss how you can quickly build a retaining wall in your own garden without the need for foundations and show you some examples of some beautiful projects to get you inspired to try a project of your own.
How to build a natural stone retaining wall
So, you need to retain some ground and you’d like some lovely looking Purbeck Walling to be the face of this new retained area – well let’s get into how to make this happen for your project.
We always think projects like this need to start with a diagram – we’ve created the above to help with your walling plans. Refer to it throughout this guide to help you understand what’s required to make a dry stone retaining wall that will last and look fantastic too!
You Don’t Need Foundations But You’ll Need to Dig A Little
Although dry stone walls do not need foundations or mortar you will need to dig a little to get the best stability possible. Dig down enough so that you can create a base of tamped gravel that is 6 inches or so deep. Be sure to lay landscaping fabric under your gravel base (like in the diagram) to prevent the gravel from travelling into the mud or substrate. Your digging ideally needs to be deep enough to have a course or two of the Purbeck Random Walling in the ground – bear this in mind as you dig.
Sort Your Stones
After obtaining your walling stone you’ll need to sort through them so that you’re nice and organised for the building phase. Sort them into groups. The largest and flattest stones you’ll want to group together for the base and the lower parts of the wall. Many of our clients actually complain about the small pieces of walling you will receive in our deliveries but these are a vital part of the process. Group the smaller pieces together – these will be used to fill in gaps where stones don’t touch or are at the wrong angle. When building a dry stone wall you want as much contact between the stones as possible as this provides strength. Sort the medium sized stones together as they will form the upper courses of the wall. Also keep an eye out for deep/long stones as these can become your ‘deadman’ courses. You’ll also need to save some nice looking level topped stones to be your capping stones.
Roughly following the structure of the wall in the diagram start laying onto of your tamped gravel leaving room behind to back fill the wall with soil/gravel and rubble at the end. Use larger stones in the lower section and be sure to use small pieces to wedge or angle your courses. You should always be looking to create contact between the stones as you lay and try to select stones that sit tightly on one another. To aid shaping you may want to use a stone chisel. You can use this to chip sections off, create angled corners and shape the wall face in general. Every other course should contain stones that go the full depth of the wall and connect into the back-fill area – this are called Tie Stones as they tie the wall to the earth it’s retaining. Every few courses you should input deep stones that go well into the back-fill zone. These stones are referred to as the ‘deadman’. They stabilise the whole structure and give it connection to the retained earth. As you build up you should look to lean the wall back into the retained ground – this will prevent it from leaning forward and failing in future from the weight of the ground behind it. As you get to the top cap the wall off with some attractive capstones. These may have to be cut or chiselled into shape as required.
Do stone retaining walls need drainage?
You do not want trapped water behind your wall as it will put unnecessary pressure on the structure. In the backfill area you’ll need to install a perforated drainage pipe that drains into a soakaway or appropriate area away from the rear of the wall.
The final stage of the build involves you backfilling to finish your lovely new Purbeck Random retaining Wall. Back-fill the space with a mix of soil, gravel and rubble (a lot of the time people use waste from associated projects ) and encapsulate this mixture with your landscaping fabric to help it tie in with the wall structure.
Now you’re done, the only thing left to do is to put in some nice plants and enjoy!
Here are some of our favourite Purbeck Random Walls to help you get thinking of how best to create yours: