Tracy loves building her outdoor career

Tracy Cumberbatch
Tracy Cumberbatch

A Wigan woman is helping to keep the traditional countryside art of dry stone walling alive and hopes to act as a trailblazer for other girls.

Tracy Cumberbatch, from Platt Bridge, decided joining the select group of people who can create permanent structures without using cement would be a good way of combining her love of the outdoors with a paid job.

She completed an 18-month course welcoming new recruits to the long-established craft and is now an advanced dry stone waller working with an expert maker near Oldham.

Tracy, 38, says helping to maintain the walls which have been such an iconic feature of rural Britain for generations is extremely satisfying and she hopes her success will also help break down gender barriers as she was the only woman on the course.

She said: “I was looking for a countryside ranger-type position but I was up against people with degrees in environmental science and conservation and unfortunately I can’t afford to go to university.

“I looked into more practical skills, saw this advertised and thought it looked interesting. It had the elements of being outdoors I was looking for.

“It’s a great job. You get to go to some lovely places and it’s a nice feeling to think that these structures are hopefully going to be there in years to come and you are keeping that heritage alive.

“There’s not many female wallers and I was the only one on the course.

“Sometimes walkers going past say it’s unusual to see a female waller and strike up conversation, which is good.

“There should be no barriers at all. People have this conception it’s heavy work but there’s no reason more women shouldn’t get into it.”

Becoming a dry stone waller is quite a career shift for Tracy as she previously worked in administration and retail, though she did also spend time in an office-based conservation role in New Zealand.

Her course was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in association with the Dry Stone Walling Association on an apprenticeship basis, with experienced craftsmen and women across the North West taking on a newcomer.

Tracy was supervised by Saddleworth-based waller Carl Watson as she completed the three levels of the course, first mastering the basic principles of building walls before moving on to construction and then more complex features such as curved structures and ones with holes or gaps built into them.

She is now continuing to work with Carl and teaching her friends and family about what her current role actually entails but says she is unsure whether she will continue walling full-time.

She said: “It’s not a path I thought I would find myself on, it’s quite an unusual career. People are always interested and ask you questions about it.

“One of my friends wants to have a go and she’s really interested to know what it’s all about so I’m going to take her out one day and we will have a crack at building a wall together.

“I’m going to sub-contract to Carl for a while until I figure out what I want to do in the future.

“Now I’ve got some countryside experience I might look around for other jobs, but certainly for the next six months or so I will gain more experience and set up my own jobs in walling.”