Gardening weather has returned

The weather has improved significantly since I last wrote, so I have the energy for a very brief update before the weekend.
Mike has continued to work on the third floor bathroom. He has now finished putting in the plasterboard and, as of this evening, has plastered all walls. It is very difficult to get a good photo of this, though, so am including some library shots (as I am too weary / lazy to go and photograph it right now…)

Mike has been plastering again

…and installing plaster board.

Mike’s work has been very fiddly recently – a few minutes on this, an hour or so on that… so I have been keeping out from under his feet. You may recall last time I showed you a pile of rhodo stems left to die last year. Here you can see the gap left when they had all been moved (although I note most of the leaves remain)…

This is where the Rhodo stems were left to die last autumn

…and you can see them here, drying, waiting for the wind to change direction so we can burn them without bothering the bees.
… and this is where we have dragged them all, to dry out, before burning.

We have put up the scaffold tower again. It is now positioned ready for Alex and I to chip off the remaining old paint, stabilise, and repaint in our new livery – once the paint has been delivered.
The building didn’t feel right without some scaffolding!

With the improved weather, I have started to weed the various beds that have been put in this year. Given the dry weather earlier, we have had a few losses, so am gap filling with the young plants I have been raising, so all is beginning to look a little bit perkier. So, not too much going on here at the moment – we hope things are going well for you.

Is a bird on the stand worth anything?

Jane is back at work, on cafe duties today, so we are – theoretically – able to return to the refurbishment tasks. On the other hand, as we also haven’t had a day off in weeks, we both decided to take it easy today.
My version of taking it easy was, now that the old fire escape slope has been removed, to begin dragging the soil and leafage which had previously been trapped under the slope down the hill.

The view from the cafe window this morning

…and the view this afternoon

Whilst pulling things through with a trusty rake, I uncovered a sprawling rhodo stump which I removed with surgical precision – via several whacks with an axe and a considerable degree of ‘lift and twist’ followed by a solid yank.

One fewer (less?) rhodo stump for this slope

Between you and me, Lola was hilarious with the rake. She has previously barked at many mechanical objects – the chain saw, the hoover, the milk frother – but today she excelled herself, barking like a loon at the rake. Even when not in motion. Even if I laid it on the grass and tried to show her what a very friendly rake it was. Perhaps I am just not very good at explaining things?

slowly removing the rubbish

As we continue to clear junk off the site, it is gratifying to see the flora and fauna return to what we assume might pass as normal around here. We now have several pairs of swifts nesting in the eaves of the old building, and we have recently noticed a buzzard visiting relatively frequently. We are hoping that her/his sentinel pose on top of our post (designed for holding an advertisement board, but lets not get into semantics) indicates s/he might be looking to make this his/her spot.

Our buzzard (or at least we hope s/he stays locally)

This afternoon, Mike went to check his other ladies. He had given his bees something of a wide berth during the very hot weather, but after the weather broke he has been rather heavily committed. Today he was pleased to report they all look well, if a little hemmed in by an impressive volume of honey. His next step requires one of us to nip to the Bodnant bee supplies, so more of this in the next blog or two. In case you are interested, the weather has broken to the extent that I am sitting here on 28th August – that is AUGUST – in two jumpers, with a duvet wrapped around my legs, and with finger-less gloves on my hands which are really too cold to type.

Whilst Mike checked his bees, I started my next task. Yes, this is me taking it easy…

We have finally worked out what to do with this lower level area, so I am trying to clear the area on the right hand side…

My next project…

…which we will then cover in topsoil and seed it to lawn. In the meantime, I need to move last years rhodo growth, which had been stored at the far end to die back, to the front end where it can be burned without bothering the bees, so that will be a lot of lugging things from one area to another.

…have just begun

Still, all of the recent hard work with Alex has meant that I was able to re-site the strawberry plants into two clean raised beds last week, and over the weekend I have sowed seeds into a further 3 beds. Here’s hoping I don’t run out of raised bed space between now and sowing the winter crops…

Removing our slippery slope…

We continue to work in the cafe most days – or, more specifically, I work in the cafe and Mike drifts around with various tools in hand, trying to convince me that they were worth purchasing.  To be fair, I think I have drawn the longer straw since I get to chat with some lovely people, like the couple from France who had a quick tour of the building.  Mike and his shorter straw have been lagging the new water pipes that he has just finished installing.  He did very bravely turn all the water on after making the final connection and checked all the joints he had been angsting about – and yes, they were all actually watertight and, to everyone’s surprise, no drips!  So he will now move on to replacing the floorboards after completing the lagging…


The new pipes have been lagged


as have these.

…which should mean guests have hot water delivered to their hot taps, and cold to the cold.  One would perhaps expect this anyway, but in our bathroom we currently get lukewarm water from our cold tap which we assume results from un-lagged hot pipes lying too close to the cold pipes.  Not a biggie, I know, but we are trying to avoid some of these minor niggles in the new build.

Speaking of which, you may recall the building used to have an external fire escape, part of which can be seen below.  Because we have installed a new fire-rated staircase, we no longer need the external escape, so have been slowly dismantling it.  I had hoped to remove the slope months ago but, when the scaffolding was installed, we noticed they used the slope during the construction, so we left it in place for use during the dismantling.  Today I gave Mike the go-ahead to nip out with the chainsaw and take this away.

The fire escape slope is going…

The lower level was pretty rotten, but the wood removed from the higher sections will be appearing in our wood burner over the next winter.


It is frustrating to have found, given how flakey some of the modern work is around Plas, that the brick pillar supporting this slope appears to be extremely robust.  Mike has had a go at it with hand tools, but will have to go back with a bit more momentum behind his blows next time.


You can just about see the pillar hiding behind a shrub in the centre of this shot – but I promise to take more photos when it starts succumbing to gravity tomorrow.


Still laying the groundwork

OK – so, time for a brief recap.  We continue to both work in the cafe each day so have less time available for the refurbishments.  Last week, as often as possible, Mike was released to continue with the plumbing on floor 3 but this was not easy on our busier days!  Being positive, having both of us on hand in the cafe meant we could take the opportunity to clean out the extractor housing one day – Mike definitely drew the short straw on that one – whilst I managed to make several batches of marmalade.

The extractor hood above the cooker

Our new ‘baby’ continues to be both a challenge and a delight.  Lola is pretty reliably coming to call, sometimes in the face of serious temptations, and she and Mike enjoy particularly long and energetic walks each morning and evening.  As you can see, she is occasionally content to have a quick nap…

Me? On the sofa? Surely not…

She loves to be out and about greeting all comers, but we still have to work on discouraging the front paws from coming up onto visitors’ chest.  Its great that she is so enthusiastic to say hi, but we just need it to be in a format that everyone is happy with.

… but give me a ball to play with and I’ll be happy!

The other big project has been a new flower bed.  We had already planted the shrubs about 2 months ago, but these had become completely overwhelmed by weeds whilst our backs were turned.  So I spent last week putting weed-proof matting onto the bed; cutting holes and feeding the plants through them; pegging it down; fitting the edge strip of bricks (which I used to secure the edge of the matting); and topping off with slate waste to hold it all down.  When we have finished adding the slate waste, we will put wood chippings on top, to make it look more in keeping with the surroundings.  It just so happens we have a large pile of these somewhere, after last autumn’s site clearance works.

Matting for new bed in place.  The blob slightly to the left of centre is a wheelbarrow, in case you need a sense of scale.

This is phase one of the plan for this area.  Once the bed is finished, and after we have moved the remaining slate waste (just visible in centre front above) to a smaller storage pile, we will be taking delivery of top soil to create a grassed area here.  In the fullness of time, we will also be adding a fence (and a couple of sturdy fence posts, naturally) to that the area we reclaim as garden can be properly contained as a garden.  We have also finally cleared the raised beds of nursery plants so any day now I can start checking the seed stores for something to plant which I hope we can enjoy eating in a few months.  It seems much more than two and a half years since we had our productive garden in Norfolk but hope it won’t be much longer before we have moved it to here.


A roaring good week…

The cafe has kept us reasonably busy over the past few days but the refurbishment continues also.

This is the ‘before’ shot from one of the third floor bathrooms…

I took this shot so that I would be able to spot the progress Mike makes as he works on the plumbing for the two bathrooms on floor 3.

I visited the Betws y Coed church fete on Sunday with son Tom and managed to acquire a fine collection of dinosaur models.  I shall keep their purpose secret for a while, to try to build some tension into our story, but if anyone knows of any dinosaurs surplus to requirements and looking for a new home, do please think of us.

Your starter for 10 regarding a project in the planning phase

Lola is still charming customers and guests alike.  She is certainly getting Mike out of bed earlier than he is used to, but it’s not as if we haven’t got things to do once we are up.

Someone is finding her feet – and her strength

My project this week is to continue work on the lower garden.  This is currently rather a junk yard, but I am trying to pick areas off, one at a time, for improvements.  Earlier this year we finished the raised beds; now it is the turn of the rough grass nearest the river bridge (i.e. roughly the area in the centre of this photo).

The lower garden, taken on Monday morning

Meanwhile, we are delighted to report that the scaffolding chaps arrived and removed all the pipes on Monday.

The scaffolding was taken down on Monday

It may have answered one question for us.  I have often wondered whether scaffolding a business premises affects trade.  We had thought things had been surprisingly quiet since the summer holidays started.  Yesterday was busier than we expected, and today was much busier than recently.  So not definitive yet – we need to wait a few more days to check this isn’t just a blip – but on current showing, we think the scaffolding definitely puts people off!

I hope you would all agree that it looks a little better now… we are hoping that the grey colour helps the original manor and the hotel extension blend together rather more.  Yes, I know there is a section on the front still needing some t.l.c.   Part of the front of the building was obstructed by the ‘bridge’ used by the scaffolders to avoid putting any weight onto the flat roof and risk damaging it.  Now the scaffolding is gone, we will put up our scaffolding tower and upgrade this section in a trice (assuming a trice is about 3 weeks).

…to reveal a partly re-painted exterior

Alex and I have now matted a small area of the lower garden, with the new planting poking through, and a layer of slate chippings to hold it all down.  Not my first choice for topping but (a) it gets rid of a pile of chippings we happen to have lying around and (b) we will be covering this with bark chippings at the end of the week in the hope the colour will blend in better.

If you look really hard, you can see progress in the lower garden

And now back to the serious work.  Below you can see in bathroom 2 that Mike has put in the cold water feed pipe and will soon be joining it to pipes just out of the range of the top of the picture…

Some pipes…

…whereas in bathroom 2 we have the full set of hot and cold water pipes plus the pipes to feed the radiator.

…and some other pipes

Mike tried to engage me in a detailed conversation about the use of plastic joints earlier but I have to admit, my head was too full of planting details to be able to pay full attention to his concerns.  I did tell him I was happy with whatever he decides, but I suspect I might have lost a few brownie points for not giving this issue sufficient serious consideration.  There is just something about plumbing that makes me want to put my fingers in my ears and start chanting that ‘I can’t hear you’……I really must try harder!

Mike’s new ring on show…

We are moving into that summer period again when news on the refurb is likely to be a bit on the thin side, as we have to focus more on the cafe.  The last few days have been busy with preparations to ensure we had enough cakes in the freezer to cover the next three weeks.  We were also working on the final bits and bobs that required the scaffolding, from which we could see these bikes arrive and so took a quick pic to show them basking in the summer sun!

We had a few bike riders in the cafe earlier this week…

Mike has also taken advantage of changeable weather here to undertake one or two of those jobs that never quite seem to move to the top of the ‘to do’ list.  Today, he swept the chimney over the cafe wood burner and -whilst the scaffolding was in place – managed to fit the chimney fully back in place, so hopefully the fire will work more effectively this winter.  He then fitted a couple of D rings to two walls in the cafe, so that people can now constrain their best friends without needing to loop the lead under the table or chair legs…

D ring number 2, complete with model.

Our son Tom dropped in this afternoon, hoping to scrounge some redundant furniture for his new flat.  As a straightforward swap, I have asked him for as many of his model dinosaurs as he is prepared to hand over… I will explain more in about 2 months, with pictures, I hope.  But it was heartening to see Mike take a few minutes off during the day to shoot the breeze with Tom.

Son and Dad, putting the world to rights in the afternoon sunshine

We also took a break to check out Dick and Giles’ Singer, which was having an outing this afternoon.

The admiration crew for a refurbished Singer

I love the fact that they dress appropriately for the occasion.

Dick and Giles taking their leave

We are hopeful that the scaffolding will be removed early next week, which will enable us to erect the tower and repair the parts of the paintwork not accessible whilst the scaffolding is in place.  I also have plans to make-over part of the lower garden – but given that both Mike and I need to be in the cafe, it’s anyone’s guess how much progress we will be able to make.  Tune in again in about 5 days time, and I hope to be able to let you know we have managed to do some building work in addition to preparing panini lunches.

Our dog’s bananas…

This will be a blog in three parts.  The first will cover the really important news about the new puppy.  Mike took Lola back to the dogs home from which we got her early this week for her little girly op, one of the conditions of adopting dogs from the re-homing centre.

Lola in relaxed mode before the op

As you can see, she was completely relaxed about the whole thing, right up until she was put into her collar of shame to stop her picking at the stitches.  To her credit, she has been pretty good about wearing this weird contraption, but that might be at least partly related to us having discovered her new passion – bananas!

We discovered this when I was trying to finish a banana, but there was a pretty insistent request for a bit from our new housemate.

Lola in collar post op

Can dog’s eat bananas, we asked?  Tom replied yes, but they need help to peel them as they don’t have thumbs. Boom boom.

The second part is that on the work front, we have been busy on the painting.  All three walls accessible from the scaffolding have been painted grey, and today we began to paint the darker grey contrast around the windows.  Shame about the positioning of the scaffolding floors, but you can’t have everything your way!

Carrie trying her hand at painting

Here you can see the back wall coming along, which Gill and I were working on, whilst Mike addressed the cowl for the log burner in the cafe.

Two windows with newly painted surrounds

This has been inaccessible since we moved in, so Mike cleaned it and even managed to get the cowl moving earlier today.  All seems well, although we suspect a visit from a chimney sweep might be a good idea soon…

Is this a cowl I see before me?

…and here you can see the wall over the cafe has been painted, and the window surrounds finished.  We are really looking forward to having the scaffolding removed, hopefully pretty soon, so that we can show you the building in its new majestic clothing.

The wall over the cafe has been repainted

And speaking of clothing, our third item is that we have finally received a wedding shot showing Mike and I in our finery, so for those of you who didn’t know we had any non-paint stained clothes, here we are at Charley and Damien’s wedding last month!

The happy couple with a couple in their prime