By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg
An extract from the book - Daft Laddies. Farming Tales of North Tyne and Rede 50 years on (2003) By Clive Dalton and Donald Clegg. If you would like a copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A typical gap where someone has decided to leave the repair till later! The old gate and wire netting has been there for a while and could last some years yet!
One of the skills expected of a North Tyne and Rede hind, heord or Daft Laddie was to be able “te dyke” or build or repair a stone wall. The Daft Laddie’s orly attempts were always under the close scrutiny of the hind to ensure the job looked fairly canny incase the boss had a bit leuk at the finished job. It was on the hind’s heed if the dyke fell doon again, and he didn’t want that news gitten roond the district.
The worst possible repair job to do was always a roadside dyke – wide open for public scrutiny from the bus. The quality or your work was assessed daily and reported far beyond Houxty bank top.
Roadside dykes collapsed because of age, the resting of the roadman’s arse end, or bullocks loupin them on the way to the mart. Roadside dykes up the Tyne also fell over on Saturday nights for some mysterious reason, but it never owt te de wi Norman Fox’s bus we hasten to add.
In the cold light of day, starting to fettle a gap needed a lot of initial contemplation and weighing up of options. It often needed a complete pipe clean, blaa oot, scrape, refill, light up and a canny few draas and spits afore deein’ owt. It was here that the hind had to restrain the Daft Laddie who wanted to wade in and taek far ower many staens off the dyke at either side of the gap, extending a day’s job into a week’s work or mare.
The main secret is to get the big staenes in the bottom of the dyke and then two layers of through-stones or thruffs at the right height. These large binding stones keep the whole structure together and are great hernia producers. Gan up to Kielder dam theday and you’ll see those lovely new walls with nee thruffs stickin oot. And they’re starting to have problems alriddy as the cement filling hasn’t done the same job. Stop the car and hear the old Forestry Commission dykers like the late Will Elliott turning in their graves in disgust.
“Keep the middle full, man” is etched in wor heeds (the same for a dyke as a stack remember) “and divn’t brek up geud waallin’ steans with the knapping hammors te maeke fillors for the middle.”
The other mantra was “always put one stean on top o’ two, and two on top o’ one” so the joints between stones are always split. You cannot hide this fault in a wall. Taper the sides in nice and canny, (called the batter of a wall) so when you get to the last layer, the caep or coping stone fits nicely across the top and binds it all together.
Now, all the time you are building you have to keep an eye open to identify caeps lying in the grass and not use them for building the sides. There’s nowt would get the hind chowing his pipe shank more that to get near the finish and find that “we’re gannin to be buggored for caeps”. A dyke with missing caeps is like a gob with missin’ teeth – you just cannot disguise it. The caeps are the wall’s crowning glory.
Suggesting to your dyking mentor to pinch a few caeps from here and there further along a good bit of dyke was a not a wise move. Caeps have got to be found, as they hold the top of the wall firmly in place and they need to be tightly placed. Test this out on the next wall you climb over, unless it’s been built by a Daft Laddie.
Now keep this te yorsel, but if you need a bit of extra height and are in a hurry te git lowsed, put a layer of sods (grass side doon) on the dyke top under the caeps. Mind you, only try this if your’e at the back of the fell where it won’t be seen! And divn’t tell anybody we tellt ye.
The other technique, if you were pushed for time, was to “rickle” the gap. This was where you built the stones up loosely in a single layer to fill the gap as fast as you could. It was solely an emergency job with the intention that you’d be back later to build it properly. But on many occasions you never got back and there are rickles in both valleys to prove that a well-built rickle will last for half a century if not touched.
It’s also a great criticism you hear of a farm up to let – “Oh it’s not a bad plaece but, oh man, the dykes is just rickles”. So check the structure afore you lowp any dykes.
A muckle ugly rickle - that will probably last for another 100 years, but never risk climbing over walls like this.