P1070036Dry stone walls (pierres seches) are one of the iconic features of the French countryside. “Dry” means no mortar. (The French use “dry” in many circumstances which have nothing to do with “not wet.” For example, a soup can be “dry” if it doesn’t have enough fat–quite aside from a powdered mix. Go figure. To me, soup = wet, therefore not dry. “Dry soup” is one of those phenomenon that make my head explode.)

The walls look as if they were thrown together by teen boys in a hurry to finish so they could do something else, undoubtedly more fun. How else to account for the horizontal/vertical/nonsensical design? Yet, these walls are hundred(s) of years old, a testament to the skill of those who built them. I can point you to several retaining walls and houses of recent vintage that have moved with the earth and bowed or cracked dangerously. Around here, old means strong.P1070319P1060922This is going to be a photo-heavy post, because I can’t resist the patterns, the way they wave as the terrain has moved, the colors of the lichen, the impossibility of their continued existence. I’ve never met a stone wall I didn’t want to photograph.P1070317P1060920P1070033The walls are home to many creatures: little lizards mostly, but also snakes, spiders and other things that make me scream. Think twice about sitting on them. Not comfortable anyway.P1070035P1070315P1070034P1070320Just now, it’s hot hot hot out. The nights are deliciously cool, and during restless breaks in sleep I migrate toward an open window to let the chill breeze wash over me. During the day, we move slowly and snap at each other quickly. We aren’t yet used to the heat.

The stones are ironic. Our house’s two-foot-thick stone walls keeps the inside fairly cool during the day, without air conditioning. The apartments are even cooler. But similar stone walls, out along the edges of fields or in improbably remote spots in the garrigue, soak up the sunshine and spew it out, like retailers with their doors open in winter, heating the street. Passing a sun-baked wall is like passing an open oven.P1070032P1070306P1060921P1070325Our house was built after World War II (just old enough to be in the strong category), and had never even been a house before we bought it. It had a big parking lot. UGLY. We wanted to give it un coup de vieux (a hit of age), and found people who wanted to get rid of stones. Can you imagine getting RID of these? I guess if you have a falling-down grange and you want to build something neat and modern, then the stones have to go. The proverbial millstone around one’s neck.

Some low walls, with mortar (fewer spiders and snakes, though there are plenty of adorable lizards), made a huge difference in the charm factor. You can tell they came from two different places.P1080034P1080041P1080036


14 thoughts on “Dry Wall

  1. I love rocks and stones. On our island there are some very talented stone masons who build dry stone walls that are like pieces of art…no they are art. I have a huge rock garden with massive boulders incorporated into the natural rock. I always bring home a small stone from wherever we travel. All my coats have special small stones from France in the pockets…..like a worry bead. That was probably way too much information…..

    Looking forward to seeing you…


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  2. Those walls are amazing. I especially like the use of vertical stones. I live in New England and we have loads of similar stone walls (though none vertical.) Are you familiar with the work of Andy Goldsworthy? His work is sublime.

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  3. Those that know me know I have an abiding love of walls that borders on the obsessive. And of course I love the dry stone walls that litter France. As I do the dry stone walls that litter Britain. In fact, one of my retirement projects will be to learn how to do it (my cousin and his Belgian wife who live in le Vosges and Brussels have successfully mastered the art – if they can, so can we!). Your little article and beautiful photos have my heart singing. Thank you

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    1. My husband helped with the restoration of an old windmill nearby, including putting up some low stone walls around it. He said it involved a lot of heaving and not much calculation.
      Years ago, when Mugabe was just a newly minted dictator, I went to Zimbabwe, which means “stone house,” after the amazing ruins of Great Zimbabwe. It was fantastic.

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  4. I am passionate about dry stone walls and we are lucky to be surrounded by them here in the Charente Maritime. Our family farm, at home in England, is also full of dry stone walls, but many were starting to fall into disrepair. A few years ago, a team of volunteers, sponsored by the National Trust, came in to restore them all, they were led by a couple of experts who taught them the art of dry stone walling, for it is indeed an art.

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  5. I have a sloping backyard and a sloping front yard and for almost 20 years, I built stone walls including two staircases. It is hard work but there is a rather zen-like mode you get into if you are lucky so that the hand picks the stone the eye hasn’t seen yet. I live in Kansas and our clay soil isn’t kind to many things including mortared stone walls. I have learned the secret is gravel! I’m almost 70 and now spend more of my time looking at my stone walls than building. I really can’t believe that I have done all of this. My husband is lucky: I did most of the work and he has no grass to mow!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You description of the hand picking the stone that the eye hasn’t yet seen is so poetic.
      I didn’t realize the soil in Kansas was clay; that’s what we have here, too. It really swells and shrinks with the wet and dry seasons.


  6. These stones are stunning. My first impression, looking at one of your uppermost closeups, is that the colors and patterns would make a gorgeous textile. And of course, and abstract work of art. Naturally, we draw from nature in our art and design, and these are beautiful examples of what a textured neutral palate can deliver. ( I want to reach out and touch. )

    I have recently relocated to a region of the US that has meandering stone walls in the nearby countryside. This is something that my New England heart very much missed, all the years I was living in a city in the deep South.

    Liked by 1 person

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