Controversy of the cloddiau

This article appeared in the January 2002 edition of "Natural Stone Specialist"

The new 100million A55 road across Anglesey in north Wales is lined on either side by 20 miles of stone-clad earth banks known as cloddiau (as reported in NSS in April last year). It was a major project but a missed opportunity for dry stone walling, says Sean Adcock, a specialist waller in Caernarfon and author on the subject.

Normally I am pleased to see any article about cloddiau, There is little enough publicity relating to city stone walls in general and the public seem to know even less about the stone-faced earth banks called cloddiau.
Even in the areas where cloddiau are relatively common, such as north west Wales, many people do not even know they exist. In fact, many of the old back roads are lined with what appear to be grass banks but are, in fact, overgrown stone-faced banks.
Perhaps the most extreme example of a lack of knowledge or understanding of these structures that I have come across is in Northern Skye, Here you can find occasional examples of a specific type of bank that I have seen nowhere else in Britain, although they are found in Eire. In Skye, one section of these extremely rare boundaries has been demolished to make way for a car park extension to a local heritage centre!

Unfortunately, do not feel the article in Natural stone Specialist in April last year about cloddiau built alongside the new A55 road across Anglesey in north Wales helped clarify the nature of these walls,
For example, to say they are traditionally built with two outside walls 1.8m apart is over simplistic and misleading.
They do, of course, vary and the profile always tapers. They should also be filled with a mixture of stone rubble and soil, which is compacted. They are essentially stone-faced earth banks, as stated above, It is the earth bank that is the basis of the structure and the stonework is basically just to stop this being damaged by tile climate. The final layer does not have to lie small stories, as stated. Indeed, there arc many examples where it is not.

These points may seem pedantic, hut it is such misunderstandings or misinformation coupled with Chinese whispers that often lie at the root of the wrong wall being built in the wrong place.
Planners and contractors alike sometimes have little appreciation or understanding of these structures. They cannot see the wall for the stone, so to speak.

Various forms of these banks can he found all over Britain where stone has traditionally been used for boundaries, although they are rare in west coast areas. There are many variations to their design, but the most widespread and common is that found across most of north west Wales and much of Anglesey, where the stones are set vertically on edge anti built in more or less even layers.

`Cornish hedges' mentioned in the NSS article are a specific pattern of hank found in northern Cornwall arid virtually nowhere else. They have a concave rather than flat profile with the stone set flat and random.
While this is the major pattern in Cornwall in general, in southern parts of that county the predominant pattern is again that of vertically coursed stonework.
As far as I am aware there is little evidence to suggest that the occurrence of this pattern is anything other than highly localized or sporadic on Anglesey.
While Anglesey does, perhaps, have many more of its cloddiau built to a random (rather than vertically coursed) pattern compared with cloddiau throughout the rest of north west Wales, concave profiles are extremely rare.

To say that the art of building cloddiau has been lost in north Wales, as the NSS article does, and that there is no evidence of a clawdd (the singular of cloddiau) having been built on Anglesey for 150 years is nothing short of laughable.
I, for one, have run two courses on Anglesey as part of a programme of training carried out for ATBLandbase, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and the National Trust - and they involved far more people than the eight locals mentioned as being trained during the building of the A55 cloddiau.
I have even rebuilt two sections of clawdd on the island myself and I know of two other wallers who have rebuilt a number of other sections on the island, including working under the Environmentally Sensitive Area Grant Scheme.

The idea that in five years you cannot see the wall formosses is also confusing. There might well be 150 species of moss that can be found on walls. It could even be more and I suppose over 20 miles you might conceivably find that number on very old walls, although over a few hundred metres the variety would be limited, especially in exposed locations such as Anglesey and particularly the A55.
Whatever the case, you are unlikely to see any significant by mosses in 10 or 20 years, let alone five.
These banks do become with grasses and ruderal plant species, but even then this should be a relatively slow process if the wall is well built as much of its strength relies on good stone -to-stone contact and an absence of voids in the facial stonework.

I do not want to discuss the quality of the work on the Clawdd as I have not looked closely at much of it. It also needs a few years to settle in to see what is really happening. However, some reservations must be expressed where people are effectively boasting about the speed at which the work was carried out.

I cannot be certain why locals did not undertake the project. I do know that myself and others were concerned at the rate if we were to produce work of reasonable quality and were unwilling to undertake such a large project.
I was also concerned about the suitability of the stone used, a local limestone, as I know of no real basis of historical tradition for widespread use of it in any form of stone walling on the island. It may have influenced the style of wall construction.
It seems somewhat ironic that the use of a suitable stone from less than 15 miles from the island was vetoed because it was not local enough. We have consequently ended up with a style of wall you would he unlikely to find within 300 miles of the island.

While in some respects it is good to have new stone-faced banks whatever the pattern, it is sad that in the name of promoting and maintaining local styles and heritage it can turn out so wrong because of general misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

The Dry Stone Walling Association leaflet on cloddiau is helpful in explaining this method of construction and there is a section relating to cloddiau and Cornish hedges in the BTCV`s Dry Stone Walling: a practical handbook, which provides the most comprehensive technical information currently available on these types of structure as far as I am aware - although I suppose I should declare an interest here as the author of both.

The art of building these walls ill north Wales has not been lost, but as far as promoting the local style and craft is concerned, the A55 contract is very much a missed opportunity.