Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Riding down a Kentucky country road, I spotted this tubular metal object going up and over a wire fence. I stopped and looked it over and on closer inspection realized it was a stile. A stile for sure. It met the definition -- a device that allows folks to cross over a fence or low wall without letting animals to go through. In this case it was a metal type ladder stile.

It reminded me of a story, Old Woman and Her Pig, that many children hear and enjoy when they are young. It's an English tale that begins with an old women that finds a sixpence and decides to go to the market and buy a pig. She buys the pig and on her way home she comes to a stile and says:
Please pig, get over the stile
But the pig would not
The story continues on with how the pig finally gets over the stile. A fun tale for children.

When I was young I was always fascinated with this tale and wondered what the heck a stile was. No one seemed to explain it clearly. As an adult, I learned exactly what a stile was but had never actually seen a working one. That is why I was surprised to actually see a real one that day on the country road.

Why the tale of the Old Woman and Her Pig mentions a stile is that it was the custom in Great Britain to have them over fenced or low walled areas. Country land was used commonly. Meaning that folks were allowed to walk the land to get to where they were going, using any path that they wanted to follow even if it meant walking over private land. It was customary to do so. As I understand, it is still customary. No need to open any gates, which might be left open allowing animals to roam outside the property, just use the stiles to get over the fence or low wall.

I researched stiles online and came up with several interesting examples in Great Britain. None in the U.S.


Stiles come in all different designs. Some very decorative and some very plain. There have been some that are very elaborate with dates and initials.


The photographer that took the above photo explains it as follows -- "This particular stile is equipped with a lift up dog gate. The footpath associated with the stile heads straight across the field and the way has been marked by what appears to be tractor tracks."

As far as I have been able to research stiles, I would say that the U.S. might have only a few? It seems the idea of the commons has never taken hold in this country. Here, private property means just that -- private.

We adopted many of the English customs but this one we seemed to have overlooked.

I think we missed the boat on this custom as stiles offer charm and history to an area.


  1. Hey, Barbara!
    What a neat post! There ARE stiles out West. Texas has several. And several other "range" states as well. I remember traveling out West and wondering what they were. One I remember in particular was used to access "the facilities." Stiles not only supply access for all, but save wear and tear on fences. When people go over fences, the wire bends and perhaps even breaks with their weight. It saves the farmer from having to rebuild a fence after it's been used "cruelly" over time.

    Around here, during hunting season, people simply cut fences and walk through if they happen to be after a deer they shot (probably while poaching). Maybe they'd respect a stile and use it...but I doubt it. Too much work to drag the deer corpse over it! I had suggested to MM about a year ago that we build a stile to access the pig pen so as not to have to walk clear around to get to it. We're still walking around! But stiles are cool tools. And the principle of "common license" is very interesting. Thanks for this delightful post!

  2. Elora -- I didn't know that the West was full of stiles. I imagine in Texas with large land parcels that having gates all over the property would not be financially efficient.

    Perhaps, as time moves on, I will find more of these metal stiles like the one in my post. I find once one has discovered a custom or object they seem to be more likely to discover more of the same.

    I appreciate the information that you passed on. It is always nice to hear what other people have to offer on their experiences and knowledge -- gives depth to the subject. Thanks -- barbara

  3. We used many a stile during our ten day walking tour in England (five years ago.) Such a fine idea!

    In our area of western NC, some people use 'scuttle holes' -- an zig-zag opening too narrow and crooked for a cow to pass through.

  4. Hi Vicki,

    How lucky to experience the use of stiles firsthand.

    I am familiar with the zig-zig opening through fences -- only through the Appalachian Museum in TN. They attempt to be as true as possible to the Appalachian culture so perhaps the zig-zag is an Appalachian thing. I like the term scuttle holes! I will write that term down for further reference.

    Thanks for commenting -- barbara

  5. I've never heard the term scuttle hole either, but they're not uncommon on horse farms, to let you through and not the horse. I think stiles may be more common in Britain because they are more likely to have public hiking trails across private lands. There are stiles along the Bruce Trail that runs across the Niagara Escarpment, often through private land. Here's a bit about a stile-building workshop: http://www.sydenhambrucetrail.ca/newsletter/index.html (scroll down the page).
    I love the Scottish example. Very picturesque.

  6. Hello barefootheart,

    Checked out the Bruce Trail Club in Owen Sound, Ontario. What a neat group of people! Wish we had a trail club in this area. I did scroll down the site to view the threesome building a stile. I also read the piece about the man that gave an easement for the public to cross his land. Thanks for sending the link.

    From these good stile comments,I am realizing that stiles are located in many places and other ideas such as the zig-zag or scuttle holes accomplish the same idea. Thanks -- barbara