Trainees keep ancient art alive

FIFTEEN trainees spent two days at Gorse Hall, Stalybridge, learning the craft of drystone walling.

The Lancashire branch of the Drystone Walling Association put on the training course, one of five they stage annually in Tameside and Saddleworth.

“The courses have become very popular and we could have filled the one at Gorse Hall twice over,” explained branch secretary Paul Clayton, 52, from Denshaw.

Four of the trainees, who each paid £75 for the two-day course, were from the Tameside Countryside Ranger Service.

Paul, an architect who designs leisure centres including the new one in Oldham, described the appeal of the course.

“People want to get out more into the countryside and, though it is hard work, it is also relaxing,” he said.

The wall at Gorse Hall was built in 2000 and this was the third year they have spent repairing it.

Paul added most of the instructors are of retirement age so it is important to attract the next generation of wallers.

Peter Taft, from Dobcross, is semi-retired from his job at the Royal Oldham Hospital and was introduced to walling three years ago when he did a course at Hartshead Pike.

“I started as a volunteer with Tameside Greenspace and through them came on one of the walling courses,” he said.

Peter continued: “I have always been interested in the landscape and it is nice to build something that will last 100 years.

“I have a job that is inside and is pressurised, but this is my office and walling is very therapeutic in terms of mental health.”

Chairman Chris Bolshaw, instructor on the Gorse Hall course, explained the Lancashire branch was reformed 30 years ago by the late Bryan Hough from Grasscroft.

It has about 45 members, though not all are active. There are three levels of training – initial, intermediate and advanced.

Chris, who is from Grasscroft, said: “One of the problems is passing on the skills – I am aged 71.

“It probably takes three or four years to go from scratch to a standard where you can make a living, and a modest one at that.”

There are around 22 drystone walling branches nationally.

The Lancashire branch, Saddleworth based, has a Tuesday club that meets weekly to carry out smaller jobs.

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