on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Full Circle

Border Stells

Simon Butterworth

Simon Butterworth is a photographer and musician who lives in the Scottish Borders.


Sheepfolds occur in all areas of upland Britain. They are known locally by different names and vary in construction from region to region. The type that have inspired me, known as stells, are common in the Border and Southern Upland areas of Scotland and are mostly circular, though I have come across square, and more unusually five- six- and even seven sided examples. The only other regions where I have seen circular folds are Perthshire, Sutherland and what appears to be a suspiciously stell-like structure on St Kilda.



Border stells were constructed from the early 1800s when a rising demand for fresh food was fuelled by the burgeoning urban population of the industrial revolution. In the economic climate of the times, sheep production was found to be the most profitable use of the remote hills and glens. A shortage of local timber meant stells had to be constructed from stone in the form of a 'drystane' dyke or wall. They were used to isolate sheep for various treatments without the inconvenience of having to transport them often long distances back to the valley farms. Once inside the stell, they would be safe from straying and could be easily caught for further examination. Nowadays, stells are used only at lambing time and are largely redundant, with many falling into disrepair.

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