One step forward, several steps back…

To all who have commented on our colour query, I send our deepest thanks.  Pale gravel is definitely the most popular choice at the moment, and I will let you know if this should change.

Tonight, I will start with the non-stairs news:

I have been mostly in the cafe for the last week or so, given that we have been pleasingly busy over the August Bank Holiday period.  In quieter periods, I have been sewing seeds, in preparation for the autumn growing season that I hope will produce many young perennial plants for me to nurture before planting out next spring.  Mike has made four further planters to grace the outside of the building.  After carefully studying the frontage last week whilst discussing colour, we have decided on the appropriate plants to enhance this gorgeous building and so have created further planters into which these can be placed and start to grow into the larger mature plants that we will need.  He has also been stripping paint from barge boards at the rear of the building.  Oh, and he put together two high chairs for use in the cafe.

Tim has been with us and has been hugely helpful as we cleared up the floor 2 rooms today, preparing for the next scheduled works.



…and after our clean up session today.

After we had cleared out the room (and several others on the same floor) Mike was able to put his hands on plywood to protect the newly installed windows from any sparks when the external fire escape and platform are removed, we hope, later this week.  Meanwhile, Bill had arrived to continue his fantastic work on the grounds.

Grounds at the top of the hill, ready for attention
Bill managed to remove several large rhodo stumps today


We have had a bonfire today to get rid of wood removed from inside the house, as well as rhodo waste, and things are looking somewhat tidier tonight as a result.  We look forward to continuing to progress.

Then we come to the stairs news.  Last Saturday I began to put knotting onto the stairs provided for the ground to first floor, in preparation for painting with our highly technical and very expensive fire-resistant paint.  On Sunday morning, Mike finally committed himself to cutting the base of the stairs to size, ready to fit the first flight.

We agonized and measured I don’t know how many times before we could commit to the cutting!

So having trimmed the end, and ensured the newel post fitted and we knew its relative position, we stood the run of stairs up and offered them to the trimmer.

We found that they don’t fit!!

When we stood them up, we noticed that the bottom of the run of stairs stuck significantly out into the corridor.  As we know the plans show the base of the stairs roughly flush with the edge of the slate pillar shown, we checked the stairs against the plan, and found that the ‘treads’ which should have been 250mm deep were over 300mm deep.  Oh joy, oh rapture.  And because we were working during a Bank Holiday weekend, we knew we couldn’t even ask how this could have happened until two days time!

When we did manage to speak to someone yesterday, it looks like we have found out why it has happened and, more importantly, agreed that the stairs will be remade as soon as possible in accordance with the plans (as they should have been in the first place).

Oh well, that’s three disasters (surely tiny hiccups?) now regarding the stairs – here’s hoping fourth time might be lucky!






3 shades of grey

A very quick update on our previous post for those of you struggling to imagine the different colour possibilities.

We have painted three small areas on the back of the white extension, so that we can test a few colours that happen to be available on site without trying to purchase match pots (which I am not aware that they do for masonry paint).

3 colours for checking…


This picture was taken at approx 7.30pm this evening, so the light is beginning to fade, but we hope you can see the important blocks of colour.

We haven’t bothered painting a new square of white as we hope you can imagine this in your mind’s eye.  The large sand coloured block to the left is where Mike has rendered the space that used to be a door, so please ignore this.  Next right is our colour ‘pale gravel’; to the right, at the top, is ‘magnolia’ and below right is full intensity ‘gravel’.  Please evaluate as you wish, noting that the scuzzy boarding on the gable end will be a glorious gloss black in a couple of weeks’ time.  There will be more news in a day or two, but despite it being only 8pm, I’m now off to bed to get over the rigours of the day!

Winnowing the windows…

We have been very busy this past week but, sadly, much of it – being work in the cafe- is not remotely photogenic, so I will gloss over that for tonight!

Last weekend we were visited by a group of car enthusiasts who paused here by for lunch and a drink, and parked their lovely vehicles in front of the building for a moment or two.


Fancy a new old car anyone?


Here we are looking at the Mustang and Holdens from another angle…

The weather has been quite damp this week, so we have largely ignored the grounds in favour of the building, with specific reference to those parts accessible from the new scaffolding.  The eagle eyed among you may notice that on the second floor, a window on the left hand side has been removed and the void bricked up.  This is necessary because the window space will be within the new stairwell which (being fire rated) cannot include ‘normal’ windows.  To give you a flavour of our actual activities, I will let you know that Mike and I have been laboriously removing the glazed panels before removing the frames as our ‘normal’ method of work.  Uncle Tim (who is being wonderfully helpful during his stay this week) decided to help us by reminding us that ‘during the war’ they taped windows so that, should they get shattered through bomb damage, the glass would break but would stay in place courtesy of the tape.  Being generous and obliging souls, obviously we gave him free rein to try this technique but, when a large piece of glass happily leapt to freedom and plummeted two floors down bouncing off occasional bits of scaffolding before shattering on the rock at ground floor, we regretted not reminding him that he was dealing with double glazed panels and thus it was necessary to tape both the outside and inside pieces of glass…

As we have more windows to remove and re-glaze, and as no-one but us can access the affected space, I will leave sweeping up (probably vacuuming up) the fragments for a day or two…


Missing windows… left hand now blocked up, and the centre one without the old frame.

Today we had one or two (!) horses and their riders pay us a visit, and since the sun was shining (which is quite unusual here at the moment) we share this picture of our rural idyll with you.

A lovely day in North Wales

But today’s main work was the window below.  As you can see, Mike has put the new frame in place (in the left hand side of the void, as we look at it) and tied it in.

The old window frame has been taken out, and the new window frame is on its way in and (below) shown from the outside of the building.


He (Mike) then spent much of the afternoon, with Tim, blocking out the right hand side, so that when the new staircase is in place, the walls will not bisect any windows.

Frame now fixed in place, with the ‘surplus’ blocked in

The rest of today was spent discussing colour themes for the exterior of the building.  Currently, we have the grey/green slate of the old manor house, and a white painted render on the newer extension.  Once we have finished faffing with the windows, we will start painting the exterior reached from the scaffolding, so we needed to agree on the colour to use.  My preference, for ease, was to over-paint the white with more white paint, whilst Mike (and others) have argued to paint over the white with a grey/green colour to better tie the two parts of the building together.  To remind you in full of the question:

here is a photo of the building when we moved in 18 months ago.

If you wish to voice an opinion, please drop us a comment to let us know your view: should the extension on the left hand side be overpainted (a) white (b) grey/ green to tie with the ‘manor’ element on the right hand side or (c) some other colour?  Please don’t worry about offending anyone by disagreeing with their pet answer: we promise not to take anything personally.  After all, I only have to over-paint all the white I repainted last year if the decision goes with grey/green, or some other colour,,,, but I don’t mind….

Clearly, we would love to hear from you and will value your opinions, but not necessarily act on them!

More than 3 steps to heaven

It has been a very progressive few days since last I wrote.

On Wednesday, we declared a day off for me so that I could entertain our guest, Gill, for the day.  We visited Bodnant gardens – always worth a trip-  and I had a very restrained visit to the garden shop, buying only 6 plants, and then visited the Fairy Glen before returning with some shopping from the wholesalers to help Mike.  Mike had spent the day working with Jane (in the cafe); with Bill (in the garden) and with Adrian (mowing some of the grounds).  So Wednesday was a rather quiet day, which was lucky because…

On Thursday, Gill and her motorhome drove off for pastures new, whilst Mike had a morning appointment in Llanrwst, which may or may not have been linked to South Wales having a particularly hard line with regard to speeding in built up areas.  This all left me and Jane in charge of Plas.  So obviously we had a delivery of stairs from a local joinery firm, who had managed to slip them into their scheduled work earlier than expected…

Some of the stair runs as received and waiting in the main stairwell

then had a delivery of a window ready for floor 2, and the carrier came to collect the duplicate battery drill received when Mike ordered one over the internet

and shorty afterwards the scaffolders arrived…


We need to remove an old fire escape from the back of the building, partly because we plan to reuse the stairs, but mostly because the areas where the stairs are fixed to the building leak and we need to make these places watertight.  This arrangement of poles will persist until Mike has rendered a few spots; then we can call in the team to remove the stairs; then we ask the scaffolders to return and subtly reorganise the scaffolding, at which point we can paint the top of the eaves (which can’t be reached from this configuration).

and now ready for us to climb up and complete various tasks


Friday saw us both in the cafe, having a sporadically busy day, and then Mike gave blood but I couldn’t as I have had a routine procedure in hospital so temporarily escape the attentions of the blood letters.  Today, with Jane holding the fort and her son, Jack, doing front of house, we were able to spring Mike to return to the building work.  Having the building so full of runs of stairs that they constitute a definite trip hazard does rather concentrate the mind, so Mike spent the day fitting the trimmers to the back wall…

Mike adding the trimmers to the back wall

and then hanging the joists to support the platforms, a.k.a. stairs 6 and 9.

Now the joists have been added between the two lines of trimmers


I suspect tonight will find us watching YouTube videos to check we haven’t missed anything, but as we will be running the cafe tomorrow and Monday, there will now be a brief pause in the building works.

I have not been able to get into the grounds for the last few days since the weather has been rather damp recently… but I have managed to order a lot of seeds, ready to raise plants for next year. So once I hit the ‘publish’ button tonight, I will be in the poly tunnel, trying to make room for the next set of seed trays!




Tales from the riverbank…

Last time, I left you with a not-quite plaster boarded stairwell.  I can now confirm that Mike has boarded up the remaining wall, so all is ready for the skim coat.


The right hand wall now plaster-boarded

Whilst Mike has been doing that, I have been slightly distracted by the landscaping.  We met someone a couple of weeks ago in the cafe, who commented that when they stayed here 25 years ago, they were able to see the river.  We had been planning for a while to pollard the trees obscuring the view, but now we know these trees have arrived during a period of neglect, we felt better able to take a robust approach to their height reduction.

The view of the river at the start of the week

If you keep your eyes focused on the ‘scrub’ on our side, to the right of the bridge, you will see we have removed a conifer along with some vegetation on the green area, whilst also pollarding the trees standing much closer to the river

and the view as of this evening

so that you can now see the river surface if you stand on the grass outside the cafe.  If you zoom in on the photo above, you may be able to see the water, but I recognise that you might be distracted by the vast heap of trimmings which we have left to dry out a tad on the lower path, before we heap them up to burn later this summer.  We then walked over to the road side, and noticed that the piece we had worked on (towards the middle of this picture) looked rather scrappy, so Gill (a friend of mine from my Bristol days) and I raked and primped this area which we hope will soon look rather more kempt.


The view from the A470, whilst we are part way through the work on the riverside


We have also had a visit from Dick and friend in Dick’s pride and joy

which, fortunately, arrived just before we started piling up the rubbish.

In the cafe, things are going pretty smoothly.  We continue to meet fascinating folk and enjoy chatting about many things, including the progress of our project.  We thought you might to see this poem, written by a youngster and left behind as their party quit the cafe


Fan mail for Jasper

And so to today.  We were delighted to welcome Bill and Carrie C. who very kindly came to help with the garden.  Between the four of us, we have made great strides towards identifying the edge  that separates the land behind the cafe from the precipitous drop to the lower level.

The grounds above the cafe continue to be ‘revealed’

This picture shows the area we continue to work on but, unfortunately, does not show the details, so

We (or in this case Carrie C.) continues to clear the nuisance rhodos

Above you can see where Carrie C has weeded and cleared the area at the base of the hill

whilst Gill and I cut down rhodos sitting to the top left hand edge of the slope., and Bill continued to operate the block and tackle to remove stumps.  We hope in the next weeks that he will be able to pull out further stumps, enabling us to safely walk further down the cliff edge to explore the paths that we believe we are slowly revealing as we remove the scrub growth.

Meanwhile, Mike spent today putting the skim coat of plaster up in the stairwell.

Here over the area that used to house the walk through reception desk

here on the walls behind what will be steps 8-15


and here the area behind steps 1 to 8.

So, just a few things since I last wrote on Friday then!  What will we do next?  To find out, tune in next week, same time, same channel…

One step backwards followed by plenty forwards

I don’t want anyone to worry, so I will say right from the start that all is well here.  But in the interests of full disclosure, I share with you that the last few days have not been without stress.  Specifically, after I last blogged, I suspect my little grey cells were reflecting on what I had written without conscious input and, as we were preparing for bed, the thought occurred to me that we had just installed the trimmer (which supports the stairs) at the same height that the stair tread will be.  My mouth then operated long before my tact had a chance to kick in, and I asked Mike how we had selected the height for the trimmer.  After a brief discussion, one of us (that will be me) went on to have a decent night’s sleep whilst the other one (step forward Mike) spent the night tossing and turning and, presumably, wondered what on earth possessed me to ask such a stupid question just before bed time.

The next morning, after a brief discussion over breakfast, we corrected our mistakes from the previous day.  I am sure you will all be relieved to know that it only took a couple of hours to undo much of the previous days’ work and lower the trimmer by 18mm both ends.  Down side, loss of about half a days forward momentum.  Up side, I suspect we won’t be making that mistake on any of the other three floors!  No photos of this, though, as  there was nothing remotely exciting to see.

On Wednesday, we had a day of meetings and faffing around with all manner of things in preparation for Thursday.  On Thursday, we turned our attention to the door on floor 3 which leads onto the (condemned) fire escape. When the new fire-rated staircase has been installed, we will no longer require an external fire escape.   We plan to keep the platforms outside rooms on floors 1 and 2, but we will be removing the steel staircase that leads to floor 3, and (we hope) re-using the staircase elsewhere in the grounds.  We are blocking up the doorway that opens onto the fire escape now, as we need to plaster and paint externally before the guys arrive to remove the externals stairs in the next couple of weeks.

As you can see, the weather was glorious here on Thursday:

The door frame as seen from the outside before we started work on it…


..and how it looked from the inside of the building.


Mike removing the old frame…


…and, a few minutes later, the void was part way to being filled.


Has Carrie completely lost patience with Mike and taken desperate measures?


Sadly, no…and Mike is now bricking up the outside.  (Just so you know, Mike built the internal wall and Carrie built the external one, but Mike is a good 6″ taller than Carrie so always has the privilege of finishing the higher level work – and he tends to forget to pick up the camera during the working day!)

Today, Friday, we needed to find something else to do whilst we ensured that the render dried.  The obvious ‘else’ was the stairwell.

After our corrective works on Tuesday, the building inspector approved what he saw on Wednesday, as seen below.  The structure is plywood with fire-graded plasterboard, lined with insulating mat, held in place with chicken wire, and the trimmers as shown.

Stairwell, as approved by the inspector!

Today’s task was to put in the plywood layer,

As it looked about 12 noon today

followed by the fire-graded plasterboard layer.

and how the stairwell looked at knocking off time tonight.

Tomorrow we need to complete these works, both on the elements you see here, and on the blocked doorway and window (behind the camera) which will form part of the stairwell.

I look forward to sharing photos with you early next week to show we have (we hope) completed the ground floor of the stairwell.  Whilst I appreciate that you may not consider this a totally thrilling weekend activity, we feel we should hurry along since the  joinery firm making the stairs tell us they have started work on them!  This is marvellous news as he had been warned of a 6 week lead time for the stairs, but we agree that we need to crack on now or we may become the proud owners of new stairs and have nowhere ready to house them.  The irony is not lost on us….

Great strides from little steps

Over the weekend, we had a great evening of music with Jabberwocky, and you can see that

…we were moved to dance by Jabberwocky’s excellent music

We are still feeling particularly up beat at present as we can fully restart our labours.  When I last blogged, we anticipated getting the green light for the staircase and I can confirm that this arrived yesterday.  We had to phone our architectural designer for a translation of the ‘builder’s speak’ in the email, but she confirmed that we can now proceed and even re-sent the approved plans to all parties so we are all working to the same diagrams.

For those who have lives to lead in between checking our progress, I offer a brief recap.  We have been waiting since January for the detailed drawings for the new staircase.  The first time they arrived, we began the demolition work and discovered that some of the stud walls on floors 1, 2 and 3 were partly structural, so the plans had to go back for revision.  When version 2 plans were received, Mike and I marked up the position of the stairs in the stairwell and discovered that the space available for the stairs was 40mm less than shown on the plans.  Fortunately, we found this out before the joiners had started to build the stairs, so all work could be halted whilst the professionals consulted over a solution acceptable to all.  We are now totally committed to the concept of the third time being the lucky one!

So earlier today we read and re-read the plans to ensure we got the dimensions right!

Mike measuring once…


…whilst Jane shows off her tan on her return to the cafe


Mike was anxious to get the measurements right as the trimmer timber was really rather expensive…

Mike preparing to cut – a nerve-wracking time!

but you will see that he was successful first time.  The stairwell now has two large pieces of timber ready to support the stairs, at the height to support the platform which is stair number 6.

The trimmers are in place…


… and Adrian helped installing the bolts to keep everything rigid

So, the right hand platform at stair 6 can be supported but we also need to support the stair 9 platform, so an additional trimmer needs to be created:

Now adding the section to support the platform at stair 9…


Carrie drilling the guide holes for the next bolts to go in

After we had done this, we needed to add noggins in certain places to ensure the edge of individual stairs can be supported when they have been installed.

Trimmer in place and ready for inspection

Well, that feels better – it’s good to know we can get on with our project timetable.  No doubt Mike will let me know tomorrow what he has planned for the next few days, and I shall continue to sneak out into the garden every chance I get!


Our block and tackle masterclass

This week we have majored in continuing to run the cafe whilst Jane finishes her summer holiday.

If I say so myself, Mike has become a very talented short order cook who manages to cope regardless of the variation to menu that customers request.  I try to manage the front of house tasks as effectively as Mike manages the kitchen and am not sure how well this is achieved at present, but I think we are both having a ball meeting the fascinating people who rock up here and (when requested) telling them all about the project and/or showing them around the building.  Yesterday we had a new experience for us.  On a very wet morning (and I use the words ‘very’ and ‘wet’ advisedly) a couple arrived in a car with a passenger window that wouldn’t close properly.  On arrival, we were asked for a couple of hot drinks, and whatever we might have to hand to warm someone up.  Mike considered jumpers (of which we have many, given that one of us is a compulsive knitter) but settled on offering the fleecy throws that we bought to cover our shivering limbs as we hunch in front of our winter fires (I can hear your violins playing even from here) and they did the trick.

Given the need to keep pretty clean so that I could rush into the cafe when it got busy, I have spent as much time as possible in the grounds when the rain held off.  As a result, the current project of clearing down a rock we are trying to clean and expose has progress well.  Major progress was made on Tuesday when Carrie and Bill very kindly popped over to give us a hand.  Carrie did sterling work clearing the scrub whilst we had a little light gossip, but Bill’s work was an eye opener for me.  I know the theory about using a block and tackle for some tasks, but have never actually employed one myself.  Having seen how effortlessly Bill was able to pull rhodo stumps off the rock, I am now a total convert.

A miracle in the making…


Adrian very kindly took these snaps, showing Bill with the band (which was anchored around an old oak stump not visible in these pictures) around the stump and then a little magic with the metal chain and hey presto, the stumps popped up off the rocks.

This was followed by quite a few wet days, but earlier today I managed to move the raised stumps and trimmed top growth off the rock, and you can see below that the area is clearing up nicely.


Before Carrie and Bill…


….and after them…

…and now, with most vegetation removed by Adrian and me, and we just need to brush away the soil. Notice the dividing ‘edge’ that I have started on the right, to match the existing grass/bed boundary not quite visible on the far right.

We have written up the circular walk from here to Betws y Coed and back over the old Roman road (Sarn Helen) into a pair of printed leaflets (available in both English and Welsh) which Mike has distributed locally and which we hope will increase the footfall in the cafe in due course.

And I have spent a couple of days up on floor 3 continuing the demolition work.  It now looks a frightful mess as stud walls have been pulled out, plasterboard removed and the original insulation (2 inches of expanded polystyrene, don’t you know) removed ready for us to rebuild as soon as we get the go ahead on the stairwell.  we also made an interesting discovery.  when I removed a plasterboard wall in a corridor on floor 3, we were surprised to find the outside world looking at us:

Plaster board removed, and behind it is a roof detail that is open to the world so we can only imagine how draughty this corridor might have been!

Oh, yes, and I guess we should let you know…  Having waited for the go ahead on the stairs since Christmas, we may have the latest baby step forward.  Earlier this afternoon, we saw an email confirming that the Building Inspector is content with the Architectural Designers revised plans for the stairwell.  All we need know is the Building Engineer’s details for the strength of various fittings, and we may even nearly have the green light to go ahead with the stairs.  Which is good news, as the number of displacement activities we can undertaking whilst waiting for these is getting fewer by the hour!