All About Stone

Typical stone of the region
Typical stone of the region

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.

Boulder removed during the planting of the climbing hydrangea behind
Boulder removed during the planting of the climbing hydrangea behind

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.

Gariotte - shepherd's hut
Gariotte – shepherd’s hut

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.

Behind the barn - before
Behind the barn – before

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.

The work begins on the wall
The work begins on the wall

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.

Former house with tree growing out of it
Former house with tree growing out of it

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.

Wall in progress - looking down the track, up which we had to carry the stone
Wall in progress – looking down the track, up which we had to carry the stone

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.

Finished wall
Finished wall

Ever the statistician, the SF calculated the wall’s volume (32 m3) and weight (70 metric tonnes – the weight of around 1,000 men).

Citerne - before
Citerne – before

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.

Finished wall around the former heap
Finished wall around the former heap

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.

Behind the barn - after
Behind the barn – after

You might also like:

French Cultural Heritage on our Doorstep
A Typical Quercy Farmhouse (and an Anniversary)
French Country Life a Century Ago
A French Country Upbringing

Copyright © 2016 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Wonderful work – the way you have been able to re-use all that stone and make something beautiful out of it! The wall looks like it’s been there for ever!! I love the stone walls in and around our village, there are so many of them, and people are still re-building the ones which crumble. I always cringe when I see some people repair them with concrete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope that whoever comes after us will look after it. These walls do need maintaining, since the frost cracks the stones or they fall off. Another problem is ivy taking root on them, which doesn’t help. But it’s a very satisfying feeling to have repaired a piece of patrimoine. Like you, I feel it spoils them when they are repaired with concrete.


  2. The nothern part of Spain is all stone as in most of Europe. Our family casera, is quite old now and on the preservation list. The topgraphy and climate is much like S.F.Ca. where i reside, for now.
    As always, all your posts are extremly enjoyed. Brings memories back to mind of my sorely missed

    Liked by 1 person

    • Do you ever visit Spain? It sounds as if you miss it a lot.

      Interestingly, it’s not all stone in our region. Within about 30 km of here towards the flat plain around Montauban, the prevailing building material is brick – as it is in Toulouse and Albi. It would have cost too much to transport the stone.


        • I hope you get back to the Pyrénées sometimes – but that perhaps makes the nostalgia worse when you return to the States. I’m always pleased to go back to the UK, but I don’t really miss it. In any case, it’s easier for me to get there than it is for you to get to France.


    • We can’t claim a lot of foresight, I’m afraid. The barn had been for sale for years but in the early 2000s the market picked up and suddenly people were interested in it, so we had to act fast. The SF is very proud of his wall so thank you for your kind comment about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a quiet obsession with walls and it is on my personal bucket list to build a dry stone wall. I have nothing but respect to the SF for achieving what he has and share your love of stone …. a really lovely post which I will read a gain later 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a big task. I don’t think he’d want to take it on now. But he has run out of stone projects, so we’ll have to find something else for him to exercise his engineering skills on!


  4. Congratulations, Life on la Lune ! Building dry stone walls is an art and you have done it well ! The dry stone shelters are known as “bories” in the south-east of France. In the Lubéron, around Apt, there are hundreds of them, with defined styles, sizes … Some are really beautiful !

    Liked by 1 person

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