Well, Carrie’s not feeling too good today, so for the second time in history it’s Mike on the other end of the blog!

Along with the rest of the country we woke up to a glorious sight of a snow covered Welsh countryside.  Friends Julie and Yvonne are staying with us at the moment, so after tucking Carrie up with a fresh hot water bottle we hit the snow and shovelled the hill and drive clear.  Suitably invigorated we then got on with the building work, which today is getting on with the stairwell – first floor.

Back wall for staircase between floors 1 and 2 being plaster boarded

The plan for today is to cover the studwork with ply and fireboard, firstly along the back wall (see above picture) then cut the joists (to the left on the above picture)

A prop for the joist as we cut through it…


Mike cutting a joist


so back wall plaster boarded; side wall being prepared for completion

Then once that’s done, tomorrow the end wall will be covered in ply and then we’ll be thinking about trimmers!

Mike, during path clearing duties

I don’t know how to put this picture at the top!

Yvonne testing out her new screw-driving capabilities


and Julie taking a well earned rest


A quick glimpse at our snow status today

Now I’m hoping Carrie’s feeling better soon, and the blog will be back in safe hands next time!

Big steps in the right direction…

Such a lot can happen in four days!

On Tuesday, Mike finished with the plywood and plaster board around the fire door from the new stairwell into the cafe lobby, but stopped short of skimming as we had a big group using the cafe on Tuesday evening and we didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty.

Doorway, fully plaster boarded, ready for skimming… and someone loitering in front of it

So on Wednesday, Mike skimmed this wall which we then left alone so that it could be dry by Friday.

..now skimmed

On Thursday, Mike and I trimmed some timber to size, and Mike then bolted two pieces together and we put the resulting trimmer into place, ready to be moved to its final position tomorrow.  I, meanwhile, returned to my real task this week, which was squeezing various citrus fruits (including lemons, Seville oranges and pink grapefruits) and then cutting the peel into strips, ready for making marmalade this weekend.

Friday lunch time, after my return from Welsh lessons, Mike and Dick prepared for this momentous day…

Mike and Dick, reporting for duty

We hauled the third section of the stairs up through the gap in the first floor, and slowly lowered the bottom part into position – where a tongue fitted into a groove in a newel post.  We lowered the rest of the stairs roughly into position (see below) to check location, and then had to take the lower tongue out of the grove for minor adjustments.  My apologies for the quality of the photo below, but it was taken as I held a camera phone one-handed, whilst also anchoring the stairs in place by hauling on the rope.

Funny thing – no sooner had we got the stairs roughly in place and vaguely balanced, but the building inspector arrived, unannounced.  There followed a brief pause in proceedings whilst Mike showed him around, and Dick and I whistled and kicked a few tyres…

The third flight of stairs, suspended ready for fitting…

With the stairs now roughly accurately in place, we had to lower the trimmer into place.  This went rather more easily than we had feared but, sadly, we found the newel post shown below exactly lined up with the head on the bolt in the trimmer, which threw everything slightly out of true.  After a short session of head scratching (or, in Dick’s case, chin-rubbing), we used an Acrow to prop up the stairs and then raise the trimmer slightly, so that Mike could trim the trimmer a tad which then allowed us to re-position it with the bolt heads now out of harms way.

…with stairs in place, the trimmer is being moved into position…

Once this has happened, we removed the Acrows, gently released the tension on the rope, and carefully dropped the stairs into position.  There followed a little more head and/or chin rubbing when we found that although the stair treads were level side-to-side and front-to-back, the top part of the stair sides was not square to the trimmer.  Long story short – we eventually thought to measure whether the trimmer was square to the back wall of the old manor (which will form the back wall of the stairwell) and found it was significantly on the wonk (please forgive the technical terminology).  One swift and strategically placed engineer’s tap with Mike’s boot solved that issue…

…trimmers in place, stairs ready to be tweaked into place…

…so we all retired downstairs for some confirmatory measuring and perhaps a little bit of gloating before we had a well deserved cuppa.

Mike just checking the stairs are square in their final location

Tomorrow Mike will do some faffing about such as fitting the missing risers and treads that complete this flight of stairs, and prepare to to fit the landing at the top of the stairs whilst I relax at my Theology for Life seminar in Criccieth before shopping in Porthmadog.  After a weekend in the cafe, we will I am sure both be very much looking forward to returning to building work on Tuesday, when we plan to start working on the flight of stairs between floor 1 and floor 2.

Moving in the right direction…

As you know, we are working to refurbish an old manor, with extensions, in a stunning location within Snowdonia.  Since I last wrote, the refurbishment crew has spent three days cooking in the cafe, including making marmalade when time allowed, and I then spent two days in Cowbridge (near Cardiff) with our eldest daughter on a mission to buy a mother-of-the-bride outfit, so building progress has been modest, to put it mildly!

I can report thought that we have taken delivery of three pallets of baths and bath fitments – courtesy of Mike’s very generous brother – which we had to move one by one under cover, so that accounts for about half a day…

Bathroom fittings have arrived….
… along with two pallets of baths

These baths are all white, which we hope will make a nice change from the current avocado suites.

In addition, Mike has been puzzling away how we need to finesse the wall over the fire door, avoiding the pipes and the trimmer (yet to be fitted) but completing sufficient plywood and plasterboard that Mike can plaster (skim) the wall in order that we can fit the trimmer and then fit the third flight of stairs.  (I hope this is all clear to all.)  Current situation is shown below:

Progress on the wall is steady

We also wanted to share with you our new logo.  We asked for a logo that would reflect the roof line of the manor; hint at the nearness of the river; and be ‘friendly’.  We hope that you will agree that the logo below has achieved all of these aims and more.  We look forward to incorporating it on the web pages, business cards and so forth over the next few months.  Our huge thanks to the person who did this for us – we hope you know just how much we believe this will help us establish this business in future years.

Our new logo

Tomorrow we may have to take a bye on building as we have a lot of people visiting for an evening meeting, so don’t want them to be pushing past wet plaster,  but plan to return to proper building progress as soon as possible.


A Happy Birthday for Mike

My last posting left you with the obstructing water pipes having been moved, but before we put in the trimmer for the stairs, we wanted to check everything would fit (as the margin for error is about 25mm in about 2 metres!)

So on Friday we roped up the third flight of stairs and (with the help of Dick) raised them into position and took some measurements – and we are delighted to report all should fit once we are ready to put them finally into position.

Flying staircase, anyone?

So Friday night saw Mike sitting quietly as the day had been quite a physically active one.  Unbeknown to him, three of our children were wending their way to North Wales as a birthday surprise.  They had correctly guessed that some help from them would be a wonderful present.  It was also really timely as on Saturday we set up a human chain to move 8 foot by 4 foot insulation boards from the loading bay (a.k.a. the library) to the long corridor (see below)

Tom and Will giving a hand

where Tom and Will passed the board up through the gap where the pipes used to be to Charley and Damien who received it, and immediately passed it up to Mike and I on floor 2.  We made a temporary pile of these

Up a bit, left a bit…

after which Mike cut a hole in the ceiling of floor 2 so that the boards could be passed to floor 3, where they were required.

A hole in the ceiling, ready to post the boards through

Once all 20 boards had been passed up, we began to fit them in place.  We had already insulated between the roof joists; this board will be placed in front of that insulation and believe me, in these rooms some insultation is needed as the wind howls around them.  Below you can see a trigonometry lesson in progress (the teacher being Tom, the NQT holding the yellow gadget)

Whilst the men argue about how to proceed…

whilst Charley and I decided to take a more chilled approach to working out what to do next.

…the women consider the issue in their own way

Damien has now been fully integrated into White family life as he trims the angled ends onto the insulation board

Damien gets stuck in to the DIY

and then we began to fit the boards.

The insulation on floor 3 is beginning to look like it will work

Whilst we had all these hands available, we then completed a series of little jobs that had been on the ‘to do’ list for a while.  One example is moving the chair (seen below) from its temporary home for the last year into its final position.  But it did take four strong people and several thick pieces of wood to move the chair, and even more strength to move the slate on which it now sits (to stop it sinking too far into the grass).

Time for a well earned rest

Mike tells me he had a lovely birthday treat, so thanks kids – a brilliant idea.  We will get back to ‘normal’ work once they have all gone home.

OMG – look, no pipes!

On Sunday and Monday, Mike and I were on duty in the cafe, so we restarted the marmalade production line.  Not only are we now back in stock of our traditional Seville orange marmalade along with a thick cut version, but we are also experimenting this year with an Oxford marmalade – delicious (even if I say so myself!)

Marmalade production is in full swing!

Now, back to the rebuilding work.  Last week, we moved one pipe so were down to three blocking the space needed for the stair trimmer (see below)…

Three pipes are our mission…

Mike nipped up into the crawl space under the roof over the long corridor to cut through the pipes, with the smallest hacksaw we could find…

Cutting the pipes

before returning to the stairwell to clip the new pipe into place, well away from the trimmer space.

Two pipes now moved, two to go

Now, every good story needs a little drama, and I am delighted to let you know that we created a little drama just to serve this need.  When Mike turned the valve to shut off the water supply to the two remaining pipes, he inadvertently over-tightened the valve and broke it.  No biggie – I was sent to the builders merchant in Blaenau Ffestiniog  for a replacement stop cock.  When this was handed over, I realised it was not what I had expected to see, and the kind man explained to me the difference between a stop cock (which in our case we did not want) and a Gate valve (which it turns out is what we had broken).  By the time I got home, Mike had turned off some other valves, and frozen the pipe in the appropriate place, so we could rapidly replace the gate valve and carry on.  Phew, crisis averted.

One broken gatevalve

Here you can see the more delicate hand of the trainee deputy under-builder who, having completed the full plumbing course, has been given permission to cut through pipe number three…

One small cut for womankind…

And now three pipes have been moved, and only one remains in the wrong place…

One pipe left, and the bucket still in place to catch drops still draining from this last (now cut) pipe.

Today Dick, from Llan Ffestiniog, popped over to give us a hand with the larger bore pipe…

Dick at work

…and tonight I can proudly show you that there are now no pipes in the way!!!!

Look – no pipes (in the space which will be occupied by the stringer)

And, even better, we have now cut away the joist which was also in the way (but which had been supporting the original pipes).

… and now, no joist in the way either!

So we now have a beautiful void, ready for us to insert a trimmer, against which we will be able to lean the stairs…..oh, the excitement!  Obviously there are many other little bits and bobs we need to finish before the stairs can be fitted, but here’s hoping on next writing I may have some news.  Meanwhile, Mike and I are off for a celebratory sit down now that a major impediment to progress has been successfully removed.

Progress of a sort – really big progress!

I worry sometimes that my blog may give the impression that I am not always 100% behind Mike’s mad endeavours here at Plas.  To counter this, at least in part, I am including a shot of him admiring our handiwork on the top rock behind the building.  You may notice that although you can clearly see we haven’t raked up all the rubbish yet, there is rather less Rhododendron ponticum in the picture than was evident last week.

Proof that Mike is still at work here (of a sort)

The shot below shows that, having cleared most of the ‘top’ land, we are beginning to make inroads on the slope down to the river.  (In the shot below, if you look really really hard, you can see the river about one third down on the very left hand side.)  When we first arrived, we were advised by Rhydian from the National Park forestry division to clear the top first, and then work down hill, so it is a major success story as far as I am concerned that we are now entering phase 2!  However, clearing from the top down does mean we have to cut and then throw clippings up hill, so we may adapt to clearing strips from the bottom up, if you see what I mean, enabling us to throw the combustible waste downhill.

Now we are starting to clear the front bank, from the top (not wildly successful)

Now, this week marks a very important turning point for us.  I am sure Mike won’t mind my saying this (not least as he will proof-read this before it is published)!  It was clear last autumn that he really did not want to realign the pipework for the extension, as this is (a) quite a major task and (b) has the potential to upset the cafe operations if not done in a timely fashion.  Yes, he is happy to do plumbing work, but this particular plumbing feeds water to and from the cafe, and so will need to be operated on, ideally, out of cafe hours and it is this time constraint that was the step too far.

However, the Universe has intervened by not providing us with a plumber for over 3 months now.

So yes, finally, Mike has decided to own this task and take it on….

Huge progress (even if it may not look like that to you)

You can see in the shot above that the ‘old’ pipes are still supported by wooden cross pieces, whilst Mike’s shiny new pipe is fixed just to the left of the joist, on shiny new brass clips.

Notice the new pipe on the right hand side…

To confirm, we have a new pipe fitted to the left of the joist (slightly to the left of the light fitting).  This has been cut to size, and will need to be soldered together next week, before Mike cuts and drains the existing pipework and rejoins those pipes to his shiny new ones, which will be about 2 feet to the left of their current position and thus will not be in the way when we go to fit the trimmer for the stairs and floor 1 landing.

The loading bay a.k.a. the library

Whilst Mike has been sucking through his teeth, and working with just the tip of his tongue showing (a sure sign of total concentration), we have also been taking delivery of insulation board and pipes, stored pro tem in the library.  I have also been cleaning out the shed which the previous owner used for his chicken coop, but that was so grim that I haven’t taken any photos.  I cleared out the old straw and we moved the chicken ‘hutches’ only to find that the roof is leaking, the floor is rotten in places under where the coops used to be, and so my plan to rescue this place for storage looks to have bitten the dust.  No worries – I found plenty to keep me occupied, putting insulation mat into various internal walls.

We will be in the cafe for the next two days, making more marmalade from the Seville oranges we purchased last Tuesday, so perhaps by middle next week we will have more building progress to report.

Same old…but nearing the end in this area

We have spent two days this week on Rhodo bashing since the weather has been relatively fine, for January.  Yvonne and Julie, friends from Norfolk, are here and very kindly giving us a hand, and the four of us have been able to make quite a dent in the Rhododendron infestation.

See how dense the garden grows

This time we have been working at the far end of the problem where we suspected there was an area that we might be able to make into a pond, or at least a bog garden.  But first, we needed to clear a way to the pond…

Can you see the pond yet?

We did find a pair of trees with a cargo net between them, but looking at the state of the cargo net think this might have been here for a good few years since it was last used.

Still working a way through

But here it is – and with most of the problem greenery cleared away.

At last, a pond…

We also found this little area that looks remarkably like a little hideaway

…and a little cave?

We made a lot of use of the loppers, and when things got too tough, Mike had a go with the chainsaw.

Just a little work with the loppers


Beginning to see the light

We declared a pause after two days, as I think we all needed a change in task.  We will go back to stem inject the roots in a day or two, and need to keep a very careful eye on the area for the next few years to root out any seedlings or layerings that appear, but otherwise we are pleased with the progress to date.

with just a hint of bonfire smoke

It looks like the weather is turning today, so tomorrow will see us making a start on this year’s supply of Seville orange marmalade, since it will be our day in the cafe.