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Recently Roland Keates from Lost Histories was interviewed by Belper News. Belper News had gotten word that Roland had a huge impact at the showing of his latest film “If Walls Could Talk” at Belper Cinema, they wanted to do a piece to find out more about why make a documentary on Derbyshire Dry Stone Walling.

After a rapturous reception at the Belper Arts Festival in May, a local filmmaker is to screen his latest work again, providing there is nothing dry about the subject of drystone walls.

Art of Drystone walling

Roland Keates, a 45, said “Drystone walling is an art, and Derbyshire is a canvas. People from all over the world visit and come away with this beautiful image of our county. “Derbyshire is so so vast and beautiful and has all these lovely, long straight lines because of the Inclosure Acts. Everyone should walk in it and appreciate the countryside and what drystone walls do for the environment.”

A lorry driver by day, Roland has earned two degrees in photography and filmmaking in recent years. He hopes to be noticed as a storyteller, producer, and director and come out of lorry driving to be a fulltime documentary film director, until then he continues to drive a lorry to earn his keep.

Running Time

Running to 40 minutes, If Walls Could Talk mixes interviews and recently shot footage, with spectacular aerial drone footage by Mike Dinsdale, who traveled all the way from Lancashire to be part of Roland crew. For all its beauty, there is also a wealth of education insight in the documentary.

Roland said “My wife and I would take long walks around the Derbyshire Countryside, and see all these beautiful drystone walls. My curiosity got the better of me.”

“Everyone thinks drystone walling is a boring subject, but I’ve learned so much. For me, filmmaking is all about learning. People should be learning all the time. I got into documentaries because I’m interested in history and I want to open up our heritage. “All of these little subjects are never told in history books. People are taught about kings and queens but I want to know about the common man and woman and bring them forward into our history.”

The human interest in Roland’s film extends from the Irish laborers who built many of Derbyshire walls, hundreds of years ago to the Duke of Devonshire talking about walls on the Chatsworth Estate and the work of sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.

Roland said, “Everybody is expecting a film about how to build a wall, but we did it in a way where the main point was the wallers themselves.”

The stars of the film are those people who are still working on the walls today, either rebuilding or building new boundary walls. “it’s a dying craft. Few and Fewer younger people are coming into it. It tends to be farmers who were born into it, or people coming towards retirement, who love the countryside and want a different perspective on it.

Drystone walls of Derbyshire

Walls For The Future

There is a programme called “Walls For the Future” headed by three Master Craftspeople – Sally Hodgson, Trevor Wragg, and Gordon Wilton which is funded by Derbyshire County Council, which is trying to bring new blood into the craft. Walls For the Future grew from the development and delivery of courses in drystone walling. This widely acclaimed project has gone from strength to strength and now offers a range of accredited, vocational and nonvocational courses at the Derbyshire Eco Centre.

“The most enjoyable part of making the documentary was talking to the wallers. the people who do this day in and day out, they love their job and that comes through as they talk so passionately on the subject.”

“There is are never two days the same, and they are working with very basic element of stone. Everybody doing it is working class, they are all willing and fun to interview.”

Hidden Objects

“There are also countless hidden figures hinted at through modern waller’s discoveries.” Superstitious past wallers would hide shoes in the walls for good luck.” One Drystone waller Emma Yates had found a couple of pairs of shoes dating back to the Victorian era. Other wallers have found live hand grenades.

Although he has developed a deeper appreciation for the walls, Roland has not yet been tempted to try building one. He said “After the film wrapped up, my wife and some of the crew members took a dry stone walling course with Trevor Wragg. Roland just watched and took photographs, but it was lovely to see the walls being taken down and rebuilt.”

“I hope the film will encourage other people to take the course with the drystone walling association and to appreciate the walls in the countryside instead of knocking them over.”



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