David Craig talks to waller Steve Allen

Steve Allen was born in Kendal in 1960 and lives at Tebay in Cumbria. He has won the Grand Prix of the GB Dry Stone Walling Association five times, and became a Master Craftsman in 1990. I interviewed Steve in January during a break from his work rebuilding a wall between the road and a field on the A6 a mile north of Penrith.

The craft of drystone walling

Sheepfolds is a recipient of the Dry Stone Walling Association’s prestigious Pinnacle Award – given only to the most outstanding dry stone walling projects in recognition of the very best standards of craftsmanship, innovative design and inspirational use of stone.

DSWA Office, Westmorland County Showground, Lane Farm, Crooklands, Milnthorpe, Cumbria, LA7 7NH. Telephone 01539 567953. Email address is Website

DC: How did you come to start working with Andy Goldsworthy?
SA: Joe Smith recommended me originally. I built the fold at Mungrisdale with Joe. I thought hard about going to New York [to work on Goldsworthy's wall at the Storm King Art Centre]. It was a jump into the unknown. Most of us start from agricultural backgrounds – I was repairing walls on my father's farm. I was on agricultural wages at first, so I moved onto bigger jobs.

DC: Does Andy consult you about the walls you work on?
SA: He makes the line of the wall. We're consulted on height, and on throughs and tops. I don't want to decide. We're wallers, not artists.

DC: What do you think of the results so far?

SA: I like all his wall ideas. Well, there are some I don’t know about… those 'rain shadows' – did he really lie in Central Park for three hours? I'd be happy to work on these projects of his indefinitely. I couldn't stand repairing farm walls forever.

DC: Has the Church Brough fold and sculpture that you worked on recently worked out well?
SA: It's a nice shape. I could do it better – but then it wouldn't be a Goldsworthy cone. Some of the stones don't butt together, we could have joined them better. It's all about pinning stones together. Strength, speed and style. Some do a yard a year – that's no good. Some do ten yards a day – it's fallen down in a couple of weeks. A good waller can build four yards, a bad one will build eight.

DC: Have you a favourite stone?
SA: There's all different sorts of stone near Tebay – slate, limestone, sandstone. I liked sandstone better at first, because it was easier. It's no good demanding a stone.

DC: Do you think people understand this project? Do they like it?
SA: I've not heard many comments about 'waste of public money'. It would be boring if we couldn't afford extras.

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