MORE than five years of hard work paid off as volunteers completed a dry stone wall restoration project in a historic area of south Dorset.

More than 100 pairs of hands have helped build sections of the 300-metre long wall on Corton Down, near Martinstown, over the past five and a half years.

The wall is alongside a public bridleway that runs along the south Dorset Ridgeway route.

There has been a regular team of around 20 volunteers, including 10 who have seen the whole project through from start to finish.

The build has taken almost 900 volunteer days, spread over 68 visits to the site including three training weekends for other organisations.

The volunteers were guided throughout their long labour of love by Sally Fielding from the Dorset Branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association, who praised their achievement. 

“We now have a broad base of volunteers who are capable of restoring dry stone walls,” she said.

“Some of those involved have become so addicted to it that they have joined the local branch of DSWA and come out on other sessions working on other walls in the county. One volunteer has taken her instructors’ qualification and two more were inspired to go on to take their level 1 certification.”

Work started on the 300-metre long, 1.4m high wall in 2011, organised by local supporters of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. When this organisation closed its Dorset office, the team re-formed under the umbrella of the European Conservation Action Network (EuCAN).

Funding for the project came from the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the landowner, Mr Jim Bryce of Rylands Farm.

Several lorry loads of Purbeck stone have been driven to the site from local quarries, and the total weight of the stone laid in place by the volunteers is around 600 tonnes.

The EuCAN volunteers’ team leader, Dave Searle, said: “The Dorset mid-week volunteers have grown and developed because of the friendly and positive attitude of everybody involved. It’s a great example of how an unlikely mix of people from a huge range of backgrounds can work together. Our team includes retired professionals, the unemployed, people with learning difficulties and those with special needs. One of our most dedicated members is William Parmiter, who co-writes the Echo’s “Our View” column on Tuesdays.”

Walkers and riders on the bridleway, which runs from the Hardy Monument westwards towards Bincombe Hill, have stopped to watch the volunteers at work over the years. 

The last stones have just been laid at a “topping out” ceremony, with a final large piece marking the year of completion, specially carved by one of the volunteers, Wendy Manning.

But there’s no time to rest for the EuCAN volunteers. There’s another dry stone wall, further along the Ridgeway, that’s in the process of being restored – and it could be several more years before that one is finished.