A tale of a man and his dog

I would so love to be writing to let you know of the huge progress we have made this week but, sadly, it’s just not going not happen.  That’s not to say we haven’t made progress, but this project is turning out not to be photogenic, is taking far longer than we anticipated, and is unlikely to have you marvelling at our technical skills or speed of execution.  Yes –  we are still trying to sort out the flat roof over part of the bar, which also serves as a balcony for one room on the first floor.   By end of play yesterday we had all joists in place; we had the slope packed so that the roof not only drains away from the house, but the roof over the snug drains centrally and then water will run onto the balcony. [If this isn’t making sense, just remind us to show you when you next visit us as I haven’t taken the class in how to post diagrams yet!]   We have put all but 3 pieces of the sterling board flooring in place and will then be ready to fit the trim.  Currently we have an array of tarpaulins trying to keep the area dry, with mixed success, so are looking for at least two dry days after fitting the trim before we can complete this task – one for everything to dry out, and the second to lay the fibreglass mat and topcoat and then have a celebratory dance.

Underside of new roof on snug
Underside of new roof on snug

So instead, I will tell you about other things.

As you may know our dog, Jasper, is getting on a bit and needs tablets for his arthritis.  Our new vet wanted to check his health before prescribing more tablets, so Mike had to collect a urine sample: we really should have sold tickets to this spectacle.  Armed with his pot-on-a-stick, Mike tried to surprise the very reluctant dog into obliging, but instead he managed to remain continent for an impressive distance on his morning walk.  Eventually, after several false starts, about a tablespoon full was collected.  While the tablespoon full was being decanted, Jasper spotted his opportunity and watered everything in reach! I don’t think Mike cares: he is too busy being triumphant that Jasper has lost a further 0.7 kilos on his strict (but surprisingly indulgent) diet.  Mind you, he did also meet a couple of working dogs whose obedience to their owners impressed him (but not overly, you understand – that might imply his dog was somehow faulty).

On Thursday, I attended a marketing masterclass in Carmarthen.  For those with limited geographical knowledge of Wales (like me) this required a journey due South, whilst most main roads seem to run East/West.  I spent 3 hours enjoying a winding journey through the delights of West Wales; a few hours learning about changing demographics and how these and social media advertising will affect hospitality businesses, and then 3.5 hours travelling back on a slightly more Easterly but nonetheless winding route which was also very beautiful.  The weather was kind – I drove through wind, rain, hail and snow but managed at all times to remember my lot was better than Mike’s since he was working on the roof.

In the interests of having a story linked to a reasonable photo, we send our congratulations to Philly who has submitted her dissertation several hours ahead of the deadline but was rash enough to send us the evidence.  Other offspring, please feel free to send us your photos and I will incorporate these if possible.

Philly proudly displaying her finished work in the rain (is she also living in Wales?)
Philly proudly displaying her finished work in the rain (is she also living in Wales?)

Following on from Mike’s bee keeping course, and following a slight initial scare about bees making unpleasant honey from rhododendrons (to reassure you, apparently the bees will consume any such honey since rhodos flower in May, but we won’t collect honey till August), Mike has now placed his order for 2 nucs (a nucleus hive which is a queen and some worker bees that need to be placed in the wooden hive).  All I need to do is hope that he actually arranges for the physical hives to arrive before the bees do.

To find out the next instalment in this thrilling saga, tune in next week, same time, same channel….

 

 

Joist another day

Its a bit steady eddy here at the moment – slow progress as necessary.

On Monday, we were very blessed.  We had no sooner finished taking 12 rooted ‘babies’ from the blackcurrant bush delivered on Sunday and planting these out than we received a delivery of bare root native trees.  The trees have tested our gardening skills since the soil here is so shallow: we managed to plant the trees out, but most of them into positions that could not support a stake so we will have to hope they can work out the best angle to grow for themselves.

Mike has now spent three further days replacing rotten joists and refitting the wedges that create the appropriate rain water fall from the flat roof, and fitting the new sterling board floor / roof ready for fibre-glassing.   Of course, we need a full day without rain (and with lots of energy and nerve) to do the fibre-glassing and, looking at the current weather forecasts, we will need to ensure the tarpaulin is well secured in place for a while to come.

On the domestic front, I attended my first ever Easter Vestry meeting yesterday and despite planning to keep a low profile have managed to return with a job – but what with that and finding my name on the church Electoral Roll on Sunday, am beginning to feel at home.  Today I have been reading up on Health and Safety management and creating necessary documents this afternoon as I needed a break after the excitement of this morning.  Following several months of asking certain people to repeat themselves, and receiving rather grumpy responses that perhaps I should get my ears checked, I visited Llandudno General Hospital for my hearing test.  Modesty prevents me from publishing the results but it would seem that certain people might like to consider whether they do mumble after all….

To Bee Or Not To Bee

So the remainder of this week has been spent removing the old flat roof. Mike has chopped away and repaired most of the rotten joist ends, and then placed a very large tarpaulin over the roof in case of rain, whilst I shoveled the remaining debris into the skip. Meanwhile Adrian and I continued to pressure-wash much of the remaining drive, to remove the evidence that until recently it was buried under hardcore.

Yesterday I ‘stained’ the fence, but I am rather reluctant to mention this since your votes on the colours to use (or not) were, shall we say, rather mixed? We received 2 votes for white; 1 for deep green or blue; 2 for neutral / natural effect; 1 for anything but white; and 1 for a stain rather than a paint. And one of these respondents was prepared to march to get their point across! So we applied a stain called autumn glow or honey blush or similar- but I’m not going to photograph it for a day or two to allow the slightly strident colour a chance to mellow… And today I read lots of paperwork regarding visitor days and spend in Wales, and hotel star grading systems, ready for us to start ordering furniture and so on. Oh, and took delivery of a superb blackcurrant bush looking to relocate – many thanks to the generous donor.

Mike meanwhile trundled off to Bangor University’s farm for his 2-day Bee-keeping course which he has clearly thoroughly enjoyed and has returned with huge enthusiasm for a hive or two in the woodland in due course. Sorry for the blog title, but this is only a day after Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary celebrations!

Step forward everyone with two thumbs up and a bee suit
Step forward everyone with two thumbs up and a bee suit

Interesting moment of the week for me was a visit from the Diagio rep (selling Guinness and Gordon’s Gin among others). We explained that the old bar is no more and that the restaurant will be fully licensed and supply local beers and the kind of drinks a walker might want after a great day in the hills. He gave me a sample of ‘Pimms Cider Cup’ which I hadn’t previously heard of and which I plan to test early next week: here’s hoping it is as delicious as a regular Pimms.

The Best Office In The Country

We are having a bit of a ‘steady’ time at the moment. Since my last posting:

• We have had a couple of days of really nice weather – sunshine and only light winds -and the view in the sunshine truly reminds us how lucky we are in our current choice of office.
• Tom and I have cleaned the moss off some of the steep steps leading down to the river, but unfortunately that has exposed the large proportion of these steps that are not slate and so we will need to undertake some remedial work in the next year or so to shore these up.
• Today Adrian and I started jet-washing the asphalt at the front of the hotel which was exposed after the slabs were lifted.
• We have sown a few more seeds and planted up a couple of planters with sweet peas, ready for the summer.
• Tom has now travelled to North Devon to his new job which should last until his plans for this autumn kick in.
• and mostly, Mike and I have spent three days trying to remove a flat roof over part of the old bar.

We already knew that this leaked as the ‘snug’ below part of the roof had been dripping with water last summer. What we had not expected to find was a layer of original roof; a layer of concrete covering this; a layer of saturated insulation and a second, thicker, concrete layer; a final layer of gunk and paint; and a considerable volume of water trapped somewhere between these which gushed out when Mike drilled a test hole in an attempt to check the thickness.

Mike is making heroic inroads into all this along with his friend the Titan concrete breaker, whilst I wait for a lull in activities and then shovel the rubble into sacks and from there into the skip. Such things as dreams are made of.

What a flash new roof!

Last Friday we finished the porch roof through our first effort at laying lead flashing.  Those Youtube videos were brilliant and, as far as we can tell, have enabled us to create a sound roof.  Smug photo follows:

Smug photo with lead flashing
Smug photo with lead flashing

Given that this is a fairly light news day, I will finish bringing you up to speed with other items.

Firstly, attached is a photo of the river at ‘we haven’t had heavy rain for a day or two’ level.

Quiet river
Quiet river

Secondly, we summarise progress made in weeks 11-17:

  • We lifted further blocks and reached the point where we were happy to create temporary concrete slopes to mark an end of the excavations for this phase; and then we levelled an area on which we spread topsoil and grass seed to create a seating area outside the restaurant
Start of non-slippery slope
Start of non-slippery slope
The grass will soon be greener...
The grass will soon be greener…
  • We continued to work on the rainwater drainage, most specifically at the rear of the bar where we still have a reservoir of water standing adjacent to the house that does not appear to have a suitable drain point, and I put in my first ever land drain, which was not difficult since a couple of weeks before hand I am not sure I realised such things existed!
  • We emptied the bar (through Philly’s lacrosse team mates for the majority of the alcohol) and then completely dismantled the wooden bar feature to leave an empty, rather damp, shell of a room
Anyone for a pint?
Anyone for a pint?
  • We fitted a tarpaulin to the turret roof on the bar, and removed all of the internal wood panelling on the walls and ceiling. We are still half expecting the rotten roof joists/rafters to fall through any day now
  • We have replaced approximately one third of the white boundary fence to the front of the property, and created a mixed border in front of the house

 

 

Watch out Bodnant Gardens - competition is on the way!
Watch out Bodnant Gardens – competition is on the way!
  • We lagged the hot water tank and large copper pipes after we received our first electricity bill, which was a monster of epic proportions
  • Mike felled a rotten tree stump which had previously been used to support the electric lights festooning the front aspect

 

 

 

Man subduing nature
Man subduing nature
Nature subdued
Nature subdued

 
 
 
 

  • And we located and cleared the septic tank. We are told that it is rather odorous each summer so will be replacing it as soon as we can find a supplier with a system that can cope with widely fluctuating loads

No wonder we feel a little weary!  On Sunday we had some guests arriving on horseback but otherwise we are had a quiet weekend since this week we hope to strip and fit the flat roof over the bar – including replacing the joists/rafters over the bar turret.  Only about 2 months before we hope to have the restaurant open, and just one or two things still to do…

Yesterday, Hand Tools. Today, A Roof!

Are Usain I can't Bolt on a new roof?
Are Usain I can’t Bolt on a new roof?

Today, we built a roof! This was our first slate roof, which we are happy to report was a good deal more difficult than our only previous attempt in this field, the Norfolk pantile effort of 2006.

Yesterday we practised trimming slates with the time-served hand tools of yore, which obviously require a very delicate touch and precision application of pressure, and then decided that the failure rate was too high and let an electric angle grinder with diamond disc cutter take over. We then agonised over the complex mathematics necessary to calculate the optimal spacing of the slates – or rather we watched a couple of brilliant ‘fix my roof’ videos on Youtube and did just what they said.

Catching Up – Weeks 1 – 10

Mike and I continue to work on the entrance porch roof, but this project is a little dull so I struggle to believe anyone will wish to read about it. Very briefly, yesterday we stripped off the old batons and felt; adjusted the angle of the roof by nailing tapered wedges to the joists; re-felted and re-batoned. Today Mike fitted the new bargeboard, stabilised the old paintwork, fitted the guttering and cut a groove for the lead flashing before painting the wall above the porch roof. Meanwhile, I almost dismantled the chalet kitchen and then primed the bargeboard before doing some cliff top gardening with Tom.

See, told you it was dull -and so not photogenic. So today I return to the early days of our project to let you know what we achieved in the first ten weeks. You may wish to know that it rained for at least part of 31 of the first 35 days and our neighbouring valley had over 1 metre of rainfall in December alone!

We started by securely locking the property since it had previously been a bail hostel and many keys were still in circulation. The first weekend we experienced a rainstorm almost biblical in ferocity and duration we bought more buckets to catch the many drips and pinpointed where emergency repairs were necessary to staunch the floods. We cleaned thoroughly and threw out personal items left by previous occupants, and we vacuumed and washed (or threw out) all the carpets and soft furnishings to get rid of the appalling all-pervasive aroma. We also had a visit from the Environmental Health Officer regarding the commercial kitchen.

Weeks two and three were principally spent unpacking, whilst Tom began the long job of painting over the puce, electric blue and vivid purple colours on the downstairs walls. We took a break for Christmas to enjoy time with all four children and other family and friends who visited, including services in our nearest church in Dolwyddelan, conducted jointly in English and Welsh. We went for (dog) walks in the very narrow windows of opportunity when the rain stopped, and during wet spells we began to organise our important documentation for this project…

Week four saw us finally connected to the internet! Until this time, we had been using 3G mobiles and a Myfi box, but as mobile reception here is extremely patchy, this was a stressful time. We began removing the hundreds of paintings on all walls; trying to rationalise the vast number of unlabelled keys; and sorting out furniture and household items surplus to requirements.

In week five a surveyor arrived to draw detailed plans for the premises to complement the structural survey we commissioned last year and which expressed concern about the drainage. We therefore investigated the external paving and found that this breached the damp proof course (where such exists) , blocked air bricks and obscured inspection covers.

Finally, an inspection cover!
Finally, an inspection cover!

We began to dig a trench between the house and the driveway and found that the path drained towards rather than away from the house thus filling the trench with water.

Water water everywhere!
Water water everywhere!

We therefore began the long job of digging up ca. 7,000 brick pavers and the rubble bed on which they sat to a depth of between 3″-12″ revealing variously rather functional concrete works; bedrock (often rather attractive slate); or further pits filled with random hardcore.

But our greatest achievement was to replace a rather dodgy stove with a multi-fuel burner which actually threw heat into the room instead of up the chimney!

The wet weather continued into week six. Mike’s home-built digger was now a godsend as it lifted the hardcore, but we added to his tool collection a motorised wheel barrow to dump the junk. We had a very helpful visitor from Snowdonia National Park to help us identify plants in our protected woodland who importantly told us how best to eradicate the rhododendron ponticum, cherry laurel and Japanese knotweed amongst other plants that require attention.

Is that a machete I need before me?
Is that a machete I need before me?

In week seven, we cleared a path through the woodland (above) to the waterfall view and had the central heating boiler serviced which has hugely increased its efficiency. And we decided to open a café restaurant on site in our first wave of development.

Week eight saw us clearing bramble from our ‘rock face’ within the garden to a height of approx 10 feet (the top 10 feet will have to be tackled by dangling from the higher level when the wind dies down later in the year) and having the old web pages taken down.

Can you spot any plants through the brambles yet?
Can you spot any plants through the brambles yet?

In week nine we weakened, and purchased full weatherproof builders gear for both of us, as it is clear that waiting for dry days is not going to allow timely finishing of our works.

Showing the tide mark where the driveway used to sit
Showing the tide mark where the driveway used to sit

We cleared and tidied a flower bed; found the 200 steps from our woodland down to the river bank; and found a second path along the back of the woodland. And continued removal of the hardcore led to Mike presenting me with my competence certificate as digger operative.

The power!
The power!
Almost there - and almost sunk
Almost there – and almost sunk

In week 10, we unearthed a slate pathway outside the bar, cleared more bramble, dug more rubble, and walked around Moel Siabod (which we can see from our dining room) in drenching rain with some colleagues from UEA. We also met with a previous owner of this hotel who gave us some super photos which will help us understand how the house used to be organised.

In addition, we have cleared away the remains of many bonfires and bottle throwing competitions (we assume); cleared out the four storey extension ready for extensive works; demolished the bar (of which more in my next blogs) and held an open day. This was really good fun! Local people, many of whom had worked here in previous years, got to see inside the house again and reminisce, whilst we managed to speak with many people about their memories and ideas for the future.

Next post will bring us just about brings us up to date!

My Birthday Bash

On Friday, we visited Bodnant gardens as my pre-birthday treat.  The plants were wearing their spring finery and we delighted in the rhododendrons, hellebores, pulmonarias, bergenia and primulas all vying for attention.  The magnolia unfurling their leaves and the fields of daffodils were magnificent.  Better yet, we noticed some marked similarities in the architecture of Bodnant Hall and Plas, including the particular 3-colour squares used to create the leaded windows in both buildings.  Friend Jacquie, who arrived on Thursday night to spend a few days with us,  has suggested that we use these colours in our marketing strategy, so we carefully selected some plants to suit such a colour scheme. We will also ask Philly to check the archives this summer to see if she can find out who built Plas and Bodnant and whether there are any links.

 

Bodnant's master class on how to incorporate stone into planting schemes
Bodnant’s master class on how to incorporate stone into planting schemes

 

In spite of the weather forecast, we enjoyed a warm, dry day out.  I ate possibly the best Eccles cake I have ever had and, to really make the day, Mike treated me to my unlimited selection of plants as a birthday present!  Taking shameless advantage of such an offer, I stocked up on rhodos, heathers and other plants not previously in my horticultural palette due to the alkaline East Anglian soil.

 

What mystery is Mike trying to describe?
What mystery is Mike trying to describe?

 

On Saturday we enjoyed a rather more relaxed day.  Jacquie and Tom radically tidied the ‘front’ rooms starting by reorganising the curtain hooks and rings so that they hang and close properly; then hung an assortment of our pictures on the walls; and generally moved on the precious items which seemed to have been becalmed when the tide of interest ran out.  Meanwhile I tidied up the house plants which were last previously tended in Wretham, then planted out some of the Bodnant treasures in the lower level garden.  we now realise that this is the place with the best depth of soil (yes, the enormously deep 12-20 inches of soil mixed with gravel and slate fragments is our best) and protection from the wind.

 

The important discovery of the day is that, following our first sunny day in occupation, we suddenly noticed that these front rooms are positioned to benefit from the suns radiance all day – by late afternoon, both rooms were actually warm!

 

In the evening the four of us went out for my birthday dinner.  We had a very delicious and filling meal in Trefrew and drove home under a slender crescent moon before taking pictures of Moel Siabod by moonlight – we hope you can see the beauty in the attached.

 

Moel Siabod by moonlight
Moel Siabod by moonlight

 

Today, after Jacquie and I went to church, we walked part of the circular path which takes you above our house (with even more spectacular views of Siabod), down through a forest walk, and then out onto the slightly damp walk by the river Lledr, then back to Plas about an hour later.  After an informal lunch on our new picnic tables, we moved some of the more unsightly items from the paved area in front of the house.  Walkers are beginning to drop by on a gratifyingly regular basis, so Jacquie suggested -quite correctly – that it was time for us to move the tools, old garden furniture, inherited planters and other items out of the line of sight from the house so that, once the skip has been uplifted, the view will be markedly improved.  I think we will all deserve our dinner and rest tonight!

The walk back to Lledr Hall and Plas Penaeldroch
The walk back to Lledr Hall and Plas Penaeldroch

 

 

Hail to the Rapids

Yesterday was a consolidating day.  We awaited a delivery from the local builders merchant, so were not able to progress some jobs until the goods arrived.  The weather was four seasonal: wet in the morning, hail showers at lunch time, cold all day and glorious bright sunshine for parts of the afternoon, which also limited our choice of tasks.

 

In the end, I elected to continue to trim back the Rhododendron ponticum which is rampant across the site and which we need to eradicate as it is a nuisance plant, spreading easily and casting dense shade which hinders the rejuvenation of the woodland undergrowth.  Many of the plants are on sheer cliff edges down to the river and we will need to employ specialists to deal with these whilst on the top of the hill or the shallower approaches we are trimming them back and will stem-inject  with chemicals later in the year.

 

Of course, we will need to burn the waste, so first I needed to move the last 15 sets of mattress springs on the old bonfire site and put these into our now full skip, to make room for the ponticum trimmings.

 

Meanwhile, Mike managed to get over his natural resistance to change and actually try out the pipe freezing kit he purchased over a week ago.  His confident that the science would not fail him had grown and, as his other options were limited due to weather and availability of stuff, he bit the bullet.  He put the jacket around the pipe, a quick squirt with the special aerosol and hey presto the water in the pipe was solid and he cut and sealed off the pipes without having to drain the system.  Ingenious, and impressive – and so is Mike!  Pretty soon we hope to be able to remove the radiators and piping, and knock through from the bar into the cellar.

 

A major plus following wet weather here is watching the river level.  Since we arrived it has been unusually high, according to neighbours, and so we have seen our fair share of kayakers testing their skills against the rapids.  This morning the hail from yesterday has made its way into the river and the rapids are living up to their name.  If I remember, I will post a shot in a few days time to show you how the river looks when peaceful.

 

Note the highly raised water level of the rapids!
Note the highly raised water level of the rapids!

 

The river Lledr rapids after yesterday's rain and hail yesterday
The river Lledr rapids after yesterday’s rain and hail yesterday

Stripping And Making Beds

I do love a decent dig – energising to take on, and very satisfying when you eventually see what your efforts have achieved.

Today I finished clearly the old bonfire site and then, with a friend, we cleared a patch of mostly couch grass to make way for what is likely to be a heather bed to give year round interest. We plan to visit Bodnant Gardens later this week to get some inspiration (and plants, naturally) so we are just letting the soil rest before returning for round two in the bed building battle.

Meanwhile Mike has been stripping the old slates from the roof over the entrance porch. On careful examination it appears that this roof had previously been modified and extended to include additional areas which may partly explain why it leaks at the back and both sides and the guttering on the front was rather wobbly. The downpipe has been fed through the roof into a drain within the entrance porch which – almost inevitably – is blocked, so water puddles on the inside of the entrance, adding to the rustic charm of the building.

Roof above the soon-to-be-cafe stripped back
Stripped and ready for action!