Sad news from Pont y Pant about Jasper

With apologies to anyone logging in for an update on our restoration work, but those who have been here to the cafe or who know us at Plas Penaeldroch may want to know what follows.

We hate to have to say this but our faithful old dog, Jasper, succumbed to old age and liver disease yesterday.

Jasper was always very accommodating if others wanted to sleep in his bed…even if it is the cat…
Look, I’m enjoying the sun, so could you please keep the noise down over these…


RIP old friend.

We can see clearly now the floors have gone

We have been working on the stairs this weekend, when not working in the cafe.  As we cleared down the stairs, we used hazard tape on the newel posts to remind us that there are currently no balustrades in place.  Here we are looking at stairs running from floor 2 to 3…

The stairs between floors 2 and 3 with hazard tape accessories

…and here between floors 1 and 2, where we removed the remainder of the floor and then the props which had supported the floors.

The prop supporting stairs between floors 1 and 2

Once the prop had been removed Mike was able to descend the stairs without bowing too deeply to avoid the props.  (Only joking – I think he is sweeping the stairs here).

Mike just checks the stairs one last time…

This shot from floor 3 may give you more of a sense of a complete stairwell now being in place, even though it is hard to see the bottom…

Looking down from floor 3…

…but here we can see floor 0 looking to floor 1, where a large chunk of floor is still blocking access.

Now to tackle the stairs between floors 0 and 1

We removed the old two-level floor (and the vast quantities of builders sand which had been sandwiched between the two levels as a sound proof layer) and then started removing the old joists…

Ready to remove the joists

…until all that remained was the mains electrical cables serving the cafe and all floors above.  Mike has engaged a local electrician to start moving these cables which should be in the next ten days.

…and now with joists removed.

So, as of this afternoon, we can now walk up all 8 flights of stairs from floor 0 to floor 3, providing you don’t mind walking under and then over the mains cables.  Job (nearly) done!

In between jobs, we have made several layers of wedding cake for our daughter and her fiance’s wedding next month.  And today, Carrie took the afternoon off to wander around Bodnant garden with a friend from UEA in glorious sunshine – what a chore!  Whatever will we find to do next…?


Finding our way step by step

Sorry for the slight delay in updating this blog – but the cafe was very pleasantly busy last weekend, and we have also been busy on the building side.

You may recall last week that Mike had plastered the ceiling over where the stairs emerge on floor 3.  You can see below that he then plastered one wall adjacent to the stairs…

Left hand wall drying…

and then plastered the wall behind them, whilst I continued to reorganise the tools.  This is not an activity which photographs well, but when the cry goes up for a Mole wrench or a gidjy for plumbing work, we now have a much higher chance of being able to locate it.

…and now it almost looks like a room.

Whilst the walls were drying we moved on to ripping up the floor.  First we removed the temporary platform over the stairs on which we had been working…

Look – no platform…

…and then started taking back the floorboards and removing the old fibreglass insulation which is either (a) hideously dirty or (b) infused with the subtle odour of rodent.

…and now we start removing the floor

We then marked and trimmed back the joists as we must have a minimum 2 metre headroom over the stairs at all points.  We also want to leave a landing on floor 3 so that we can walk to a storage cupboard we will build into the space left when we block off the corridor that currently runs into the old Manor house.

Mike begins to trim back the joists

You cannot see from this shot but, in between the joists farthest from Mike lies a set of 4 water pipes which need to be re-routed (as the stairwell walls must be un-broken).  They had been drained some time ago but I carried a bucket to catch the drips that would obviously come from the last dregs of water lying in the pipes.  Most of the pipes had the decency to dribble obligingly into the bucket when cut, but one spouted really rather energetically so Mike and his hacksaw beat a hasty retreat whilst I gathered most of the effluent.

I’m not sure that this was quite the shower I had in mind…

It didn’t take long to cut and drain the pipes, which Mike then capped on the feed end, and he allowed me (!?!) to cut through the pipes several metres away so that I could remove the section which ran through the line of the new wall.

..but now the pipes have all been cut and removed or capped

Having removed the pipes, we were free to start removing the redundant joists.  We started with the one closest to the camera, and then removed the central one next…

…which means we can start removing the unwanted joists

…which was then carried ceremonially off the property.

The second joist being heroically carried away

Once these had been removed, it becomes easier to see that we have built a new flight of stairs.  we still need to remove most of the remaining joists which Mike is lovingly caressing once we are sure just how large a platform we wish to create.

Oh look, the stairs are emerging from their hiding places

We then turned our attention to floor 2.  Over Mike’s head in the shot below you can see the landing we have left to access the storage cupboard, but this bowed rather alarmingly when I trod on it, after Mike had removed the Acro prop.  We therefore pulled down all of the ceiling plaster and found that the joists were moving rather freely within the joist hangers, which each had only 2 nails securing the joist.  So we unleashed Mike and his trusty drill in power-screwdriver mode and many screws later the landing is rather more rigid.  We still have some work to do in order to be completely satisfied with the landing, but we will probably move on now and return to this later,

The landing on floor 3 just needed a little adjustment…

As evening approached today, we both admitted to being rather weary (probably because Mike had to drive to Leeds yesterday evening to collect Tom who is staying with us for a few days, but they didn’t get here until almost midnight which is way past our usual bedtime) so I left Mike to finish whilst I took over from Jane in the cafe.  Before I left, though, it was my job to cut the uprights that Mike fitted in place whilst I attached the hazard tape so that we can hopefully avoid plummeting down a floor or two.

See the hazard tape…


Getting plastered again . . . for Eurovision

I hope what follows will make sense, but I am writing with at least one eye on the TV enjoying the weird spectacle which is Eurovision.

The stairs have remained securely in place since Monday, and now it is time to do the fiddly bits that we have ignored to date.  Below you see a shot of floor 3 of the extension leading into a corridor into the old manor.  We removed the plasterboard over the studs last year to find out what was behind it, and we discovered a space that was open to the eaves and completely un-insulated, so not particularly weatherproof and no wonder this floor was cold!

So this is where we think some wildlife got in last year…

To make it rather more satisfactory for guests, we have insulated this well before covering it with plaster board.  By the way, and in case it isn’t obvious, we still have to decide how much of the facing wall to dismantle which explains why it has a rather dishevelled look.

…now insulated, which should make this floor more comfortable

Back to the main back wall behind the stairs, where Mike is inserting plaster board so that the wall is all one level, ready for plastering.

So the door to the fire exit used to be somewhere here

Mike used a pretty strong adhesive to glue the board into place so we hope it holds well.  We then left all to dry overnight, and yesterday Mike de-nibbed the Artex finish on the ceiling to make it easier to plaster, and I followed through with a weak solution of PVA glue to make the ceiling less porous.  We added a tad of food colouring, as recommended on t’internet, so we could see where we had been.  When finished we had a jolly good clean up.

Proof that I am still in the team

Here you can see the cleared space we began with this morning – cleared as Mike is inclined to drop the odd spot of plaster or two when working with plaster over his head.

The space now prepared for plastering

He started strongly…

Mike began plastering after the plaster was delivered at 11am…

… but was well tired when he finished, as it took 3 separate coats to cover the old Artex to his satisfaction.  He is currently sitting very quietly in a chair watching Norway’s contribution – quite catchy, he thinks.

…and had finished by about 4.30pm


Tomorrow being Sunday, we will both be on cafe duties but hope to be able to spare Mike on Monday to plaster the walls so that they can begin to dry ready for us to remove the floor.  Oh yes, progress is being made!

They are now stairing us in the face!

What a fantastic weekend!  I don’t know about you but here, from Saturday morning through to Monday evening, we had the most glorious weather.  We know we live in a beautiful part of the world but we still enjoy seeing how fab it looks when you can see clearly, without a veil of rain between us and the view…

Enough with the padding.  I know that what you really want to know is – how are the stairs progressing?  So without further ado…

on Friday, I studied Welsh for the morning (specifically the past perfect- wedi) whilst Mike mowed the lawn – so that all would look at its best in the sunshine – and then fit plywood to the third floor wall of the staircase.  After lunch, Dick arrived and between us we hauled the new trimmer into position…

Trimmer in place, still wearing the moving strap

Siting the trimmer was quite tricky as one end had to be fitted into a joist hanger that was situate below some copper pipes which could only be flexed an inch or two.  We fed the trimmer below the pipes but the far end had to be raised several feet during installation as the trimmer was only 20mm shorter than the space between the two walls between which it sits.  You can imagine the tension as we worked to feed the trimmer under the pipes whilst gently ‘lifting’ the copper pipes to enable us to feed the far end of the trimmer into position – but after a few minutes of ‘to you… to me’ hilarity we were delighted when it suddenly dropped perfectly into the joist hanger at one end, and cleared the wall to sit on its rest at the other end.

Checking it is level…

Here we see Mike and Dick looking admiringly at their handiwork and adjusting the precise position of the trimmer to ensure it is exactly where it needs to be to accept the stairs.

Stairs finally on their destination floor

Now, with trimmer fixed, we need to fit the stairs.  They had previously rested on floor 2 so first task was to haul them up through the gap you see above onto floor 3.  Each time we have done this, it has been my job to anchor the rope whilst Dick and Mike manhandled the stairs into position – which is why my image doesn’t get recorded…it’s fine, I don’t mind that no-one knows I am a part of the build team… that is ever the lot of the deputy apprentice trainee junior under-builder…

Back to the plot.  Next we fit the top newel post as this will sit tight against the trimmer.  We stood and chatted whilst the PVA glue dried, and then…

Newel post attached

…I was back in position at the end of the rope to take the weight of the stairs whilst Dick eased them forwards until the bottom stair gently descended to its final location…

Stairs now ready to be lowered into position

…and met Mike who had returned to floor 2 to receive the stairs and ease the lug at the end into the slot on the higher of the two newel posts you see below.

Bottom of the stairs now in position, and Mike busy locking the lug on the stairs into the newel post

Once this was fixed we jiggled the stairs until the top sat firmly against the trimmer and then (whisper it quietly) Mike walked up the stairs and screwed them into position.

…and his name was Bingo!

So, pause here for a moment.  This is the completion of many months of effort.  We see here stairs that now travel from floor 0 just outside the cafe all the way up to floor 3.  Fair enough it is not a comfortable exercise to climb them at the moment: many bits of floor have been left in place for us to use over the next few weeks, so the headroom is only about 30cm in some places – but they are at last all in place!!!  On Friday evening we had a minor celebration (a really nice hot cup of tea) to remind ourselves that there may still be much to do, but an important milestone has now been reached.

Now the wall of studs above the stairs have been covered in plywood and fire-resistant plaster board (the Karabina in shot was the fixing through which the rope passed when we raised the stairs).

On Saturday Mike put the plasterboard over the plywood so middle of next week we should be ready to skim this wall.  I meanwhile was front of house in the cafe on a very pleasantly busy day.

Mike and I staffed the cafe on Sunday and Monday when, as ever, we met some lovely people travelling through the area, and today, as a break from building work (and before the forecast rain arrives) we finished removing the building rubble from the front flower bed and replanted it.  Obviously this meant many of the seeds and cuttings I had propagated last autumn were included in the planting, so I had even more plant pots to wash and dry…

The front flower bed has been completely ‘refreshed’

Tomorrow we plan to return to the building works, but I hope that the smugness from having installed all of the stairs will remain for several days to come.


Going to pot…

Our refurbishment works continue apace.  Or at least that’s what I try to tell myself…

Proud father with eldest daughter on Pont y Pair bridge, Betws y Coed

Since I last wrote, our daughter and her fiance came to stay for the weekend so obviously we had to entertain them rather than get our hands grubby.  You might notice from the shot above that Mike even had his passport stamped to travel off site, whilst I remained on site to help Jane if needed.

Standing in the stairwell, trying to work out if enough joists have been removed above him…

On Monday and Tuesday I ran the cafe whilst Mike removed three joists on floor 3 to create the space into which the last flight of stairs will sit.  Oh yes, it’s so close now we can almost taste the excitement.  We had a long-ish lunch on Monday as Toni and family were visiting.  They own a piece of adjoining land and had brought lots of family photos, including many of Toni’s mum who was born in Plas Penaeldroch.

Tuesday is normally a quiet day in the cafe, so I decided to clean the freezer only to find, as luck would have it, that I was kept pretty busy all day.  Mike meanwhile made a gantry to stand on…

Gantry in place

and then plastered the portion of wall which will be behind the last flight of stairs.  Closer still….

The wall that needed plastering


Wall covered in plywood and plasterboard, ready for plastering


…and now it has been skimmed and is drying

We had planned to spend yesterday solidly working on floor 3, but that plan had to be shelved when Jane called up stairs that the local Environmental Health Inspector had arrived with the Licensing Officer to check that we are running the cafe as we should.  Anyone who knows me will be confident (I hope!) that the paperwork was in place, and the meeting went well, other than that I was then one and a half hours behind schedule on my building duties.  Meanwhile, Mike had continued his plastering endeavour after which we finalised the preparation of a space for the trimmer to sit.


Here we see the gap ready for the trimmer…

In between bouts of helping Mike,  I moved the items that had become becalmed on floor 3 and needed to be returned to various locations around the building to give us plenty of room to work.  I presume this happens in other places, not just ours – how tools and materials which had been moved to be close to the builder but, when the building task moves on and they remain unused, don’t seem to have read the memo about how they should return whence they came without troubling the builder.

…which is being prepared ready for fitting.  Remember, Mike is holding just one of the timbers which need to be bolted together and moved into place by us.  I feel weary just thinking about it.

So here we are, on Thursday.  After a quick trip to Llandudno for shopping, I returned to help with the trimmer.  I was trusted to measure and cut them today (!?!) – two lengths of 9″ x 4″ wood at 3.440 metres long each.  That bit was easy.  Watching Mike and I try to manoeuvre them through the building and up to the third floor would probably have made a reasonably amusing documentary.  Twice with the first one we had to carry it back down so that we could have another go at feeding the timber on the other side of props so that we could get the best angle from which to move higher.  Oh, how we laughed when we found we were boxed in!

But the important news is that we now have a detailed schedule for tomorrow afternoon (acos dw i dysgy Cymraeg yn y bore) when we should (a) put the enormous trimmer into place and then (b) install the eighth flight of stairs.  Can you bear the tension?  Here’s hoping this is a sufficient cliffhanger on which to leave tale.


My latest hobby

Just to show we are not all work and no play here, I want to show you my plant pot towers.  In Norfolk, I used to wash out the ‘dirty’ pots each summer and leave them on the lawn to dry.  Here we have experienced problems waiting for a sufficiently long gap between showers, but also for a day when the pots would not be blown out of the county long before they were dry.  So I washed them in the old catering sink and left walls of them around the house to dry, much to Mike’s frustration.