2. Cotswold stone – The Distinctive Charactor of the Cotswolds

The single thing that gives the Cotswolds its distinctive character is the Jurassic oolitic limestone 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 various uses – everything from small farm buildings to the magnificent wool churches. Its texture enabled stone masons to produce exciting 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, with the most giant tiles nearest the eaves and the smaller toward the ridge. In this way, the character of a Cotswold building is formed – stone is 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 significant conservation feature.

The construction of a dry stone wall is a testament to human skill and ingenuity. Without the use of mortar, the stones are meticulously chosen for their shape and size, and laid in a way that allows rainwater to naturally drain through. Witnessing a dry stone waller at work is a rare privilege, a methodical practice carried out in all weathers, preserving a tradition that seems to defy time.