All play and no work makes for a new style of posting

What a marvellous weekend we have had.  Really wonderful.  The weather has been spectacularly sunny and warm, with just enough breeze to keep us from completely overheating – which is super given we are still in May.  Trees are now in full leaf (while two weeks ago may were far from clothed) and the greenery is really coming on apace.

We have been busy socially.  On Saturday we entertained a party of nine horse riders and on Sunday we catered for a further four.  Today (Monday) I had a lovely chat with a couple who had travelled from the West Midlands and dropped by because they had had heard at home that Plas was closed and who – after I explained our plans and the timetable – promised to come and check us out next year.  Sadly, the family visitors we were expecting had to drop out due to ill health, but we did entertain a secondary school friend of mine who I haven’t seen since the early 1980’s and her husband (Annapurna and Julian), and friend Gill from Bristol is here now until Thursday.  This has meant a lot of discussion of our plans and, more importantly, a great deal of useful feedback and ideas on what we might wish to include in our plans alongside a good deal of gentle ribbing as to whether or not we will be ready in time / will ever finish the project / have bitten off more than is sensible / need to see a mental health specialist.

We spent much of this weekend walking the very local paths with our visitors – thus avoiding the Bank Holiday rushes in the towns and villages – which this afternoon meant a visit to the local alpacas.  Oh, if only we had thought to take a camera or phone with us!  And the only ‘progress’ made this weekend was 4 hours of wallpaper stripping on Saturday and further baby steps towards a new garden bed from me, and the cutting of veneer components for some inlaid fans from Mike.  We plan to return to work tomorrow, reinvigorated from our long weekend, fuelled by our weekend vegetarian diet, and ready to really move things along.

It’s Friday night, so it must be blog o’clock

Yesterday we had a couple of appointments first thing.  Mike met with someone to discuss septic tanks, which has become something of a saga here, and I met with a vacuum cleaner salesman who Mike had met back in January and suggested he call back when we were nearer to opening.  I am not sure which of us had most fun but suffice to say since then I have been checking the availability of quality vacuum cleaners on ebay, and Mike has opened discussions with another potential supplier of effluent handling systems.

Mike then finished the guttering over the bar whilst I made an emergency dash to the shops since we had run out of bananas which, as some of you will know, brings this house to a standstill.  We then did the bravest thing we have done for a while.  We spent the evening listing the jobs necessary before we open the restaurant, and calculating a revised schedule so we could check our estimated opening time.  This required a very steady nerve, and the ability not to mutter one word out of turn which could have set either one of us off into a prolonged sulk.  Luckily, we think it should still be possible to open in July, but now definitely likely to be the closing half of the month.

Today saw us check our new schedule against actual performance.  I worked with Adrian to undercoat the outside of the new windows in the restaurant.  Meanwhile Mike moved the wood burner away from the wall, and began work on repairing the plastered wall which had been badly singed due to the burner being incorrectly sited, and then researching options for a new chimney flue, fire doors and other consumables we need to order, like, yesterday.

Honest guv, only quality products here





And after all this, I turned my hand to a little light gardening as relaxation, as we have several guests this weekend, and I wouldn’t want them to think we have just be lying around the place doing nothing.

Talk of gardens and other things

The past couple of days have seen more steady progress.  Mike has taken a couple of days out of his busy schedule to render the parapet walls above the snug.  Normally, I would have been cracking the whip to get him to undertake jobs in the order they appear on the master schedule (controlling administrator, moi?) but on this occasion, I  agreed with him that the water seeping into the brick work due to lack of render must take priority over minor issues like installing electrics in the kitchen.  They can afford to wait (but not much longer, I hear you cry) and there’s not much point putting electrics in if the rooms will be damp due to rainwater seepage…

So where was I?  Oh yes, Mike has been getting plastered (sorry) and I have been painting.  Having installed new glazing units last week we have a lot of bare wood that now needs priming.  Clearly this is not quite from the bang, crash, wallop school of restoration that we most enjoy, but it appears on the schedule so someone must do it, and as I am the more rules driven of the two of us, my name has ended up on the sheet.  Other recent excitements include:

Yesterday, we had a trip around a local garden that turned out to be absolutely stunning: created in a fold in the hillside so part protected from the winds, and with a stream running through as it descends the valley, it was a wonder to behold.   Rhodos, azaleas, iris, rodgersia, gunnera and other plants I have never been able to grow before in abundance: I am still stunned by and slightly in awe of the sights that unfolded.

We met the new person in post whose job is to try to increase use of the train from Llandudno to Blaenau Ffestiniog which runs through Betws-y-Coed and Pont-y-Pant station (approx 250m walk from here).  We talked of us possibly funding a poster in the station advertising our restaurant among other things.

And we went to a very interesting community meeting in Dolwyddelan (currently rather hush hush – will tell you more in a month or two) and then to coffee with some friends who very kindly gave us a Welsh slate fire surround surplus to their requirements but which we believe we can fit in the main house when we get around to revamping it.

Oh, and yesterday we had a visit from a colleague from UEA and her husband.  It was good to catch up on some of the news, although the slightly surprised look on their faces at certain times remind us once again that we have perhaps taken on more here than might have been sensible.  Oh well, tomorrow is another day, and it will be my turn for undercoating – super.


Some reflections from Wales

I don’t know about you, but I had a quiet weekend.  Lots of sitting around to give my muscles a rest.  To avoid total boredom setting in, I finished the months accounts on Saturday, and then drafted a food stock list for the kitchen to discuss with Jane next time we see her.  I rather suspect it may be awarded ‘6/10 must try harder’, but I look forward to then working towards the better version together with stock levels that we can accommodate in the new store.  Mike however worked like a trooper.

Today I had something of a gardening day. Mike had made another couple of planters over the weekend, so today I filled these with pelargoniums that we have been growing from tiny plugs.  I filled other pots with Agapanthus that we transported from Norfolk, and filled one of the remaining planters with shade tolerant plants since this will sit in half shade (a) as a vision of loveliness and (b) to prevent people tripping over the random door step beneath it.  Meanwhile Mike blocked up the old cellar door to enable us to install a clean run of work surface in the kitchen in due course, and then installed most of the guttering below the balcony / above the emergency exit to the restaurant.   Adrian returned to help us, and told us how much he had enjoyed his recent holiday in Norfolk.

Meanwhile, Phil felt like doing some painting, so we have let her loose on the ground floor sash window surrounds.  We decided against sanding first, once we found we were pretty sure that even light pressure may encourage the window frames to self-destruct, but we are hoping that a quick lick of paint will make the main house look slightly less unkempt.  It looks like a full reconstruction will be necessary in a few years time, when we get around to it.  I’m not sure if the photos below give a proper sense of how much better they look now they are re-painted, but thought you might like to see the photo of Philly taking the first photo, and how nicely she has trimmed the hydrangea in the second.

Windows before Phil's ministrations
Windows before Phil’s ministrations

To give a sense of the task in hand.

To give a sense of the task in hand.

and now they have been repainted
and now they have been repainted


It’s Mike’s turn…


As Carrie is taking her ease, being fed peeled grapes on the sofa, I’ve been given the honour of doing today’s blog.

Not too much to report on the building works – we’re still tidying up from replacing the windows around the end of the (soon to be) restaurant, rubbing paintwork down, repairing and filling doors, putting up gutters and the like.  Friday saw blocks and sand delivered ready for the blocking up of doorways ready for the embryonic kitchen to take shape…more of that next week.

The rhododendrons are starting to flower in the valley, and they are a riot of reds, yellows and purples

One of our neighbour's rhododendrons
One of our neighbour’s rhododendrons

So, as it’s a bit quiet on the news front, I thought today would be a good time to start my occasional series of horses with moustaches.  The tally to date is two, one is Woody who lives in the field next door, and the other is a horse from the local riding stables – both rather distinguished. I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for more, so keep watching this space.

Here's Woody
Here’s Woody
This one is not Woody
This one is not Woody

How are the mighty fallen

For two days we have been replacing windows.  Two whole days of my life scraping out old putty; pulling out teeny weeny nails; levering out old glazing panels; and finally scraping out even more putty to leave a cleansed aperture.  Mike then swans in with his new glass and new beading and silicone gunk to fix the new pane in place whilst I carry on scraping out old putty.  Of course it wasn’t really that dull: occasionally I got to make coffee too!  Or even hold things whilst Mike routed them.  Oh, and I held the door whilst Mike cut out and then filled part of it to mend a break which looks to have been in place for several years.  Perhaps one day I might be worthy of promotion from builders mate….

On the plus side, we have finished replacing glass – for the time being.  The bay window end of the bar/restaurant is now re-glazed, and looking much better for this, and the remaining glass in the restaurant and corridor will have to wait for another time.

Our other exciting news is that some of our trees, which have been overhanging the 11,000 volt power lines, were removed yesterday.  You may recall that I posted a couple of pictures of the woodland.  One of these showed how a couple of conifers on our land which the fellers estimated to be around 25 metres tall had substantial branches over the lines.  We have had many meetings this year with folk from Scottish Power (responsible for these power lines), from the felling company; and from the National Park (who need to approve any such felling within the Park) to agree their plan of action, which initially involved just taking down two of our trees, and a number from both of our neighbours.  In the event, they removed four of our trees which you can see lying on the ground in the pictures below.  It looks like we will have enough firewood for the next couple of winters, which will be very welcome – but first we have to work out how to get the logs from where they have fallen back over very hilly ground to our house.  Well, you know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention – I feel sure we will be able to construct some Heath Robinson affair to solve this in due course.

It was quite exciting though – they brought their own generator, as they had to take the power lines down (for Health and Safety reasons, you understand), and we couldn’t believe that even though there were four blokes with six chainsaws between them working only about 150 paces away from us, presumably because they were over the brow of the rocky hill, we couldn’t hear a thing!  Here’s hoping all of this activity and temporary power loss didn’t disturb anyone else unduly.

Notice the space cleared around the power lines
Notice the space now cleared around the power lines


To give you a sense of scale
To give you a sense of scale
The trunks, ready for chopping - one of these days
Some of the trunks, ready for chopping – one of these days

Love, peace, and the importance of measure-twice-cut-once

How exciting: our guilty pleasure this year was even more fun than usual.  Not only was the scoring system amended for the Eurovision Song Contest which kept us all on the edges of our seats until ridiculously late on Saturday night, but also the interval song was the best parody on the ‘Love, Peace’ song style I have heard in a long time. Since I have no desire to run a political blog, I will side step the question of whether it was fair that Ukraine won given that Russia had been a favourite and it was the public vote with its much more visible input this year which upset the apple cart (although someone in the house was seen voting for an eastern European country…)

On Sunday we had intended to have a quiet day.  I pottered in the polytunnel potting on a few seedlings whilst Mike unpacked more of his ‘economy’ (i.e. build-it-yourself) bee hive.  By lunchtime, I had been co-opted to assemble some of the supers.  Let me paint the picture for you: the two of us, at our certain age, sitting outside at a table in the continuing sunshine, occasional conversation, occasional cuppas, working together to a make a home for wild animals. Ahhhhh, or as our children might say, hurl. One hive now complete.

Today we planned to replace the double-glazed units in 6 windows and 2 doors in the bay window which form the fire exit from the bar/restaurant.  We initially progressed really well after Mike watched a Youtube video about softening old putty with a hot-air paint stripper, so I operated the heat whilst Mike applied the brute force and soon we had removed 2 fogged windows, 1 crazed door panel and what turned out to be a single-glazed panel.  We cleared up the apertures and Mike then cut the new mouldings and applied glazing silicone sealant to one of the apertures . . . and then found to his horror that the new glass was 2mm too wide and 1mm too high! There followed lots of gnashing of teeth and Mike muttering under his breath about the accuracy of the tape measure he had wielded and the idiot who measured the windows,  but I want to reassure everyone (a) it is stunningly rare that Mike makes an error in his DIY and (b) he has worked out how to rout a larger gap in the frames so that the glass will fit.  Unfortunately, no matter how often I tell him it’s not a problem, more a learning opportunity, I’m not sure he has been able to forgive himself yet, so I guess there will be more muttering tonight. Apparently, half the glazed panels are the right size, and the other half are a new right size so it’s all about whether you are a glass half full or half empty sort of a person?

Now, in preference to posting a picture of the scuzzy windows before replacement, or the temporary solutions we currently have in place (as we are entertaining tonight, so need to stop early to cook), I am posting a picture of part of the woodland and will explain more in the next post.

A snap from our woodland
A snap taken in our woodland



See the trees, see the power lines
See the trees, see the power lines













P.S.  Does anyone need a new tape measure, lightly used, possible accuracy problem?

Sun and fun in North Wales

Well I don’t know about you, but we are feeling particularly spoilt at the moment.  The weather over the past three days has been absolutely glorious – sunny but not so warm that you feel unable to work in the heat.  The view remains spectacular, and we are currently able to watch the buildings on the other side of the river vanish day by day: as the tree canopies are opening, many of the buildings are magically disappearing, in some cases leaving only roofs showing.

View of Moel Siabod on this beautiful day of Eurovision
View of Moel Siabod on this beautiful day of Eurovision

My apologies if what follows feels a little rushed, but some of us are trying to fit a full day in, leaving sufficient time to relax and curl up in front of the TV this evening.

In reverse order, for a change:

Today has seen us both occupied with routine matters such as domestic chores and gardening, including our first real lawn mowing since we arrived.  I say lawn, but in both cases it’s really a random assemblage of weeds with some grass-type foliage thrown in, but no doubt a few applications of selective weed killer might help here.  I did have to point out to Mike that a couple of my new feature plants to highlight the view from the restaurant seem to have inexplicably leapt under his lawn mower, but I live in hope that the route will be adjusted next time!  We also had a very enjoyable interlude this afternoon when a hen party of 14 from Bristol arrived on horseback for a ‘tea and wee’ stop.  This is our fourth set of visitors from the nearby stables and, based on currently experience, we have to say that they have an extremely interesting and polite clientele.  And I then took my Level 2 Health and Safety on-line training, so I can be sure I have a vague idea what I am doing when I start writing our Risk Assessments over the next few weeks as we prepare to open the business.

On Friday, we enlarged the opening from the cellar into the restaurant, after we had removed the ‘floppy’ bits of the ceiling.  Much of the ceiling is still intact, but various sheets of plasterboard had obviously been leaked on over the past months/years and were begging to be removed.  Then I painted parts of the balcony whilst Mike slaved over his percussive chisel (that’s a Kanga hammer to you and me) to remove the dressed slate on one pillar which had clearly had a previous life in a reception area rather than a beer cellar.  We were also privileged to have a visit from Mel who visits when she can for some gardening therapy, and is making significant and very welcome inroads into our bramble nursery.

On Thursday, I primed the balcony rails and ‘Hammerite’ed the uprights, while Mike moved our laundry equipment out of the boiler room into the scullery, to make room for the new boiler which is due to be installed over the next couple of weeks.  For a bit of variety, I tried my hand at chiselling away old putty from the bay windows in the bar/restaurant because we took delivery earlier in the week of new double-glazed panels to replace the broken or misted ones currently in situ.

So to summarise: still fun; currently both of us really quite tired; but am rushing off to read the subtitles and enjoy the absurdity which is Eurovision: perhaps next year we will be able to have a themed evening in the restaurant if enough people confess to also enjoying this guilty pleasure?!


We’ve had a breakthrough!

Just a quick whistle-stop tour of the last few days for you….

On Monday, we fibre-glassed  the top of the walls around the snug roof, as we suspect these walls have been acting as wicks to trickle water into the snug below, followed by a little light gardening to the rear of the bar/restaurant because pretty soon we want visitors to have a beautiful landscape to view rather than a sodden rock face covered with occasional clumps of grass.

On Tuesday, we boxed in the facia board /eaves to prepare for the fitting of the gutters, and began to prime the new woodwork, which was only slightly curtailed by the arrival of rain.

On Wednesday it was 5 months to the day since we moved in.  I wanted to say we celebrated this, but perhaps it would be fairer to say we reflected on quite what we had done.  We also had our breakthrough, or two.  We created one doorway (by removing a blocked up window and low wall) from the room which was the bar cellar and will soon be the kitchen into the snug, soon to be the storeroom (do try to keep up there) and as if this wasn’t enough we then knocked a second doorway through from the cellar/kitchen into the bar/restaurant.  In case this description is not helpful, I hope the photos explain more clearly:

view from snug into cellar through newly created doorway
view from snug into cellar through newly created doorway
Photo from cellar showing doorway into snug (left) and doorway into restaurant (right)


In other news, the birds which looked like they were going to nest outside our bedroom window seem to have moved on, and they now appear to be nesting in the eaves, including the very decorative ones, along with a small army of other birds.  This will slightly upset our work schedule, since I was pencilled in to repair and repaint these eaves over the summer in an attempt to make the building look rather less ramshackle.  Quick revision: I am now hoping for a kind dry wind and an Indian summer this autumn to enable us to complete this work before the end of the year.

Stop press . . .feeling the heat in Wales

We woke to a rather wet Saturday morning, so had to alter our plans.  We were delighted to find that we could not see any water beneath the roof so it appears to be doing its job.  On top of the flat roof / balcony, there was some pooling of the water but some of this may correct as we complete the area.

Given the weather we resolved to fit the metal uprights to the edge of the roof, and then the railings to complete the safety barrier on the balcony edge.  It surprised us both how complex the mathematical discussions became when we tried to calculate exactly where each of the uprights should go, how far apart the rails should sit, and the angle at which the rails should be cut as the front railing bends to become the side railing.

Roof/balcony, now complete with railings -just a few finishing touches needed now
Roof/balcony, now complete with railings -just a few finishing touches needed

We also enjoyed the sight and sound of a local farmer working his two collie dogs as they darted like lightening around the landscape encouraging a flock of sheep to move from one field to another.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as the weather cleared, I sloped off for a little light gardening.  We think the particular area concerned is made up from building rubble and sand which have been dumped over rock to a depth of up to 25cm.  After our work here on Friday, and having reflected on what we found, I tweaked the precise position of some of the herb pots behind the bar and then added some azaleas and rhododendrons in a nearby zone.  Throughout the time I was pulling the rubble/sand mix so that it forms a pleasing gradient rather than a random chaotic series of level changes down to the back of the building.

This morning, following some very heavy rain last night, we were gratified to find that the plants and most of the soil had stayed where we put them, as I had been worried we would find a sad muddy heap at the base of the slope.  As a consequence of the fun I had yesterday, I decided to continue to exercise my green fingers today and planted up several troughs ready for them to be placed on the balcony (between the metal uprights) in a couple of months to form a blaze of colour which we hope will be visible from the road and make the house look more cared for when the restaurant opens.

Meanwhile Mike, as is his wont (which may have been long and felt), constructed the first of his two ‘economy bee hives’, working at one of the new A frame tables, in the glorious spring weather.  It made us very grateful we were having a quiet day and not, like our eldest daughter Charley, running the Leeds half marathon in blazing sunshine!

Charley, hot and bothered finishes Leeds half marathon in 20+ degrees
Charley, hot and bothered, finishes Leeds half marathon in 20+ degrees