2. Cotswold stone
The single most thing that gives the Cotswolds its distinctive character is the Jurassic oolitic limestone that lies beneath the land.
The limestone, in all its various shades, is much prized as a building stone and is used extensively in buildings, towns, villages and dry stone walls throughout the Cotswolds, generating a feeling of unity between the natural and built environment.
Stone has been quarried in the Cotswolds for centuries and for a variety of uses - everything from small farm buildings to the magnificent wool churches. Its texture enabled stone masons to produce interesting and intricate architectural details such as mullions, gargoyles and churchyard crosses.
Such gems can still be discovered today. Some limestone occurs in thin layers, making it easy to split into roof tiles: these ‘slates’ are graded on most roofs, the largest tiles nearest the eaves, the smaller toward the ridge. In this way the character of a Cotswold building is formed – stone used for walls, floors and roof.
The colour of Cotswold stone varies, from the honey colouring of the north and north-east of the region, through the golden stone of the central area down to the pearly white stone associated with Bath.
Good masons could tell the source of the stone they used. Although still an important local industry, only a relatively small amount of stone is extracted from the several Cotswold quarries still in operation. Their products, however, continue to add a special freshness to new buildings, which will weather and harden over time to eventually look like all the other Cotswold stone buildings, rich with the patina of age.
There have been stone walls in the Cotswolds since Neolithic times, and with stone readily available, it was cheaper to enclose Cotswold fields with stone walls than to plant hedges. Much of the walls we see today are of much later origin, mostly of the 18th and 19th centuries when large tracts of open land were enclosed. These walls now represent an important historical landscape and a major conservation feature.
Their construction is a matter of skill, as there is no mortar in a true dry stone wall. The stones are carefully chosen for shape and size and laid so that the rainwater will drain through the wall naturally. To see a dry stone waller at work is a rare treat – methodical work undertaken in all weathers, carrying on a tradition which seems timeless.