How to build a Cornish stile

Height, that’s the most important thing. The taller the better. After all, just because nobody’s ever seen a cow jump, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Start with a field hedge – that’s a large pile of earth, stones, and grass or plants, preferably about 4 or 5 foot tall – then build the stile on top of it so that people have to look up to see how to get over it. You can always put some steps up, but make sure that they don’t start anywhere below thigh level. If you do have steps, make sure that they are both narrow and slippery, or else broken. Preferably, arrange them so that the person crossing the stile has to cross their feet over both going up and coming down. It’s a fun touch to remove one of the steps on one side of the stile – just watch their faces when they find out!

Then make sure you make the top of the stile as complicated and difficult to negotiate as possible. The best way to do this is to put a large piece of slate across the stile, about thigh-high, so that anyone getting over the stile has to bring their foot up to about armpit height – better yet, have two pieces of slate, at an angle, then you can watch and laugh while people try to work out whether to climb over or try to do a giant step. Other favoured methods include chicken wire, large metal barriers, or random pieces of wood held on by string that walkers will have to lift up and get under whilst simultaneously pivoting on one foot getting over the stile. Make sure you also attach some officious and pointless notice, like ‘Dogs must be on leads’. Never mind that no dog is going to be able to get over the stile unless it is being carried, that’s not the point. You’re really looking for an obstacle which will make a really tired walker want to give up even before they try clambering over it.

Once you have your stile in place, it’s time to think about the window dressing. It’s important to make the approach to the stile as difficult to negotiate as possible. Best practice is to wrap both uprights of the stile in barbed or razor wire, so that there’s nothing to hold onto. Some practitioners also favour carefully selected planting, including nettles, sea holly and gorse, in strategic places both before and after the stile. Traditional methods also include putting a ditch just before the stile, covering both steps and stile in vegetation, or the ‘water jump’, a large muddy puddle which should cover about 2 feet both before and after the stile. Rotten and wobbly supports are favoured by some, although others see these methods as outdated. Don’t forget to remove any signs which would indicate that the stile is part of a footpath, or where the footpath goes after the person has crossed the stile. We don’t want to make it too easy, do we?

Once you’ve followed all these steps, your stile is ready to use – sit back and enjoy!



4 thoughts on “How to build a Cornish stile

  1. This is the first time ever I feel moved to write Lol! Because it’s actually true! Please, please, please keep walking and blogging – you are bringing cheer to my life. Thank you 🙂

    Ps maybe you should carry a stepladder or else hire a Nepalese porter to carry you over the vertiginous stiles 😉

  2. Hilarious. (Sorry. I sense that it wasn’t hilarity that inspired this post.) Do I detect just a little bit of stile-weariness?! And have you yet walked through any fields only to find a sign saying “Bull in field” as you clamber over the stile at far end?!

    You’re doing a superb job; keep going! X

  3. Very funny observations, Leonie. Perhaps you haven’t yet reached the stair steps built into the trail by the Cornish giants. Pasties must be loaded with growth hormones.

  4. Dear Leonie, I haven’t commented so far as I have been speechless with envy at you amongst the sea-pinks. I hope the style of stile improves once you get to Devon, but I’m sure you conquer each one with panache. Give my love to the SWCP and I hope the skies remain blue for you! Hxx

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