Still working on our stairway to heaven

When I left you last time, it was with pictures of a corridor-to-be on floor 3 which was looking a little sad and neglected.  For the avoidance of any tension, I should let you know it still does.  Instead of addressing that directly, this week we have installed the banister rails to the stairs.  After months of negotiating these with nothing more than hazard tape to keep us in place, we bit the bullet on Tuesday and started work.

First, fixing the bottom rail in place…

My secondary job was to use the chop saw to cut the rails and spindles to length, and Mike’s was to fit everything together into a recognisable form (which is why the thrilling action shots all show him, not me).  Below you can see our first banister and spindle combo.  This seems a good photo to mention my primary role, which was to do the maths.  At this stage, it was simple enough.  Take the width between newel posts and divide by 130mm (being the width of one spindle and one standard spacer) to calculate roughly how many spindles will fit.  Once you know this number, accurately divide the width by ‘that number minus one’ times 130mm; add 32mm (for the last spindle) and divide the remainder by two, so that the spindles are evenly spaced between the newel posts.  This calculates the horizontal spacing, which must be not more than 100mm apart, noting the heights are defined on the drawings.  Still with me?  OK, let’s move on then…

…a few spindles and a top rail later.

We used the same mathematical logic for the remaining horizontal banisters…

Then the next section…

…and now have a much better sense of the corridor paces we still need to finish – but can now work on them with rather more robust safety rails in place.

…and the next


Is this a better view?

Then we started on the sloping banisters.  With the enthusiasm of the novice, we launched straight into this and quickly discovered that my maths abilities had temporarily failed the task.  I managed to measure the sloping length and the horizontal length, and correctly calculated the number of spindles necessary, but completely forgot to increase the length of the spacers that are placed between the spindles, so our first installation looked more like close packed prison bars than a staircase.  Fortunately, this was spotted by Mike after about 5 spindles, so we were able to rescue and replace most of the materials (as you can see) and then add the banister top rail.

Now we begin to descend the stairs…


..and then the next flight of stairs

After three straight runs and two sloping runs, we realised we hadn’t done our normal check of our methods against YouTube postings, so Wednesday night found Mike and I huddled around the computer to check our technique.

Attempting an arty shot…

On Thursday and Friday we used a modified technique on the sloping rails, whereby we fitted the bottom and top rails, and then cut and fit the spindles, but for straight runs we continued to use our original methodology.

Just look at that furious concentration

By late this afternoon, we had reached the bottom of our staircase.  We still have some areas to complete, such as a couple of interesting junctions that will need creative solutions, and a banister across a long section on the floor 1 landing for which it is not clear where the three additional newel posts need to go – but otherwise we are nearly ready for me to start painting the fire-resistant paint onto all of this new woodwork.  It feels just like Christmas has nearly arrived.

And finally we reach the ground floor…


…and can look back at all our hard work!

I can’t believe I nearly forgot to show you the change to the external appearance, so below is a shot taken tonight as the light was beginning to fade.  We hope you may agree with us that this will be a better appearance than the old brilliant white facade.  This snap was taken at about 4.30pm – makes me realise that the clocks will go back this weekend and usher in the darker evenings in front of a roaring fire…

The extension in its new livery

SO who knows what we will do next?  Probably a couple of days in the cafe, and then…

Securing floor 3

Our refurbishment continues apace.

On Friday, we finished painting the window surrounds on the front face of the four storey building.  Sadly, we have not remembered to take a photo, so that will have to follow in my next post.

We have managed less refurbishment than usual this weekend because Jane has enjoyed a long weekend away, leaving Mike and I to run the cafe – and a busy weekend it was too  On Saturday, we were so busy that neither of us managed to have any lunch, which was wonderful!  It helped renew our faith that the crazy idea we had had to create a cafe in the middle of nowhere might actually not be so crazy.  On Sunday, to ensure this couldn’t happen again, we sat down for lunch at 11.30.  A couple of customers arrived…then another two…then more, so I left Mike to finish his lunch whilst I served the customers, and finished my lunch around 3.30pm.  We are both feeling very buoyed by this increased footfall!

Mike left me running the- rather quieter- cafe today, whilst he and Alex started fitting the additional newel posts delivered last week to the staircase.  We need some extra newel posts as the staircase was originally designed to run to four floors, but about a year ago we decided against completing the fourth floor.  This has changed the stairwell design somewhat, leaving a small walkway that will enable us to add some storage on floor 3 as well as an access route back into the manor from the stairwell.

The third floor ‘platform’

This leaves a platform of floor which we had stiffened, but as we add the newel posts, we have bolted the tall one directly to a purlin (one of the main roof timbers) and now there is no wobble at all in this small piece of floor!

Most of the newel posts now in place

Here you can just about see how a passage is retained to get back into the manor.  There will be a fire door (to ensure the stairwell is fire rated) but the access will make servicing the rooms much easier in future.

And again from a different angle

Here you can see that all five additional newel posts are in place.  Tomorrow we can start to fit the spindles and banisters which will be a great relief as the area will then be properly secure for us to walk around.  Once it is secure, it will be easier to finish the insulation and plaster boarding on the corner you can see above.

Tales of those plucky Nor-folk

We are now 2 years and 10 months into Project Penaeldroch.  Sometimes it feels like we are making slow progress, but then I only have to have a quick look back in the blog to find how much progress has been made to date!  This week, we must extend a huge thanks to Yvonne and Julie, and also Alex, who have helped us make great strides this week.

Yvonne and Julie worked with Alex as Mike’s assistants this week as I have been tied up with other bits and bobs.  They managed to finish plywood and plaster-board lining the last of the stairwell…

The top of the stairwell wall now insulated and boarded

…and helped cut and fit the insulation board to two of the rooms on floor 2.  Below is one of the bedrooms…

First bedroom on floor 2 now insulated…

…and here we see the sitting room.

…as is the sitting room

Of course, if I look in the other direction, you can see that we still have a little bit of work to do before we are ready for guests.

Still a bit to do though

The insulation on floor 2 is mostly complete in the walls now, although there remains some to replace in the ceiling cavities (once we have recreated the cavity by fitting the plasterboard ceiling back).

The other side of the stairwell wall, showing the insulation in place

This morning, we thought we should take a souvenir photo of Team Norfolk, but Lola was quite insistent on wishing to join the party.  So you can see Yvonne and Julie, holding Foss, the true members of Team Norfolk, along with myself and Lola, the impostors from Wales.

Team Norfolk lined up for a parting shot

Today Mike and I had a day in the cafe, whilst Alex worked on a small outdoor task.  A couple of years ago, we lifted thousands of paving blocks and stacked them in piles, as you can see.  Having offered these on local websites, some have been removed to other homes, so the remaining stack had become a little . . .disorganised, shall we say, to be charitable?  I asked Alex to neaten this up a bit…

Alex’s mission, which he chose to accept

…and am delighted with his progress.  After we move the wheelbarrow to its home, and use some of the blocks visible towards the right hand end, we should have a lovely tidy heap, ready for us to offer them again to anyone who can use them.

We invite you to judge his success.

Now, if all goes to plan, and it is dry tomorrow and Friday as forecast, we hope to finish painting the front facade by the weekend.

Break, burn and build

A quick recap – on Tuesday, Plas was poised ready with match in hand to incinerate the old rhodo waste and move on to other construction matters when . . . oh no, what can have happened in Yorkshire?  Number 2 child was climbing on E2 when he took a tumble…

That’s our baby, that is…

I’m not sure why the person holding his foot is smiling, but Tom (the one with his hands over his eyes) had to be stretchered out by mountain rescue and spent several days in Harrogate hospital whilst they scanned his nasty break on many fancy devices.  Apparently it is a nasty break that will take some time to mend, and he won’t know how much it may affect his future until after an operation (possibly) in a couple of weeks.  It has definitely not been Tom’s year, where his health is concerned.  Lots of love and sympathy from North Wales.  On another hand…


the story of Plas moves on.  Above is the bonfire just before ignition…


…and here we can see it in it’s early hours.  To my intense frustration, the wind was originally firmly away from the bees, but once the fire started we had about an hour at full pitch, then 4 hours smouldering nicely followed by a couple of days before it finally expired this afternoon.  Of course, for the first hour the wind was obligingly away from the bees, but after that, the wind moved around at will in all directions, and so we will need to check the bees when the rain stops to see how they have managed to survive quite a bit of smoking.

Yvonne – the tiling expert

Let’s leave that fire to burn for a bit for a while whilst we return to the refurbishments.  Above you can see Yvonne kindly taking over the tiling mantle from Mike.  She does a mean splash back for sinks…

I mean, just look at that corner…

…and an even finer bath surround.  Meanwhile, I was insulating the stud wall to the stairwell (much as I have insulated several stud walls to the stairwell to date)…

One insulated wall looks pretty much like another

…whilst Julie was removing the tiny shreds of wallpaper before the exterior walls get their internal insulation cover.

Julie busy removing the last of the wallpaper

Below you can see Yvonne’s carefully cut insulated plasterboard has been glued in place (the doors just holding everything in place as the glue goes off) with Mike’s new electric cabling poking through.

One insulated wall (that doesn’t look like the last one!)

Alex and I meanwhile plaster boarded the stud wall to one of the bathrooms… so you can see from all this that we haven’t neglected the internal work this week.

A part plaster-boarded wall

But the big success – for me, at least – is the external work.  Below the bonfire is (almost) extinguished, and we can see how the lower area is moving on.  You can just see the raised beds on the left, and the bonfire smoke to the bottom right- which has survived a night of rain- but the area visible has now been raked clear of branches and twigs; we have removed the metal / plastic / rubber waste to the appropriate bins; we have moved most of the building rubble and hardcore to a site just behind the camera where it will soon be masquerading as part of a sort-of rock garden, leaving what almost looks like a level garden area for us to seed with grass.


Those who know me will know that the gardener in me is thrilled that we have reached this stage – partly because I should be able to make this lovely and keep it so in the near future (when the rain takes a break!) and partly because the views from the upper rooms will no longer be of a rubbish tip.  We were really so lucky to enjoy Wednesday’s weather which enabled us to complete this work before the winter.  As for next week, well, you will just have to wait and see!




Hev yew gotta loight boy??

We have had something of a change of plan since I last wrote, as Mike and I have carefully studied the local weather forecast with our new volunteer crew, aka Yvonne and Julie.

As the weather was mostly dry on Monday, windy and dry today, and due to be fabulous tomorrow, we decided to work on the lower level clearance.  You may recall that we have a pretty large quantity of last year’s rhodo trimmings that are now dry and require burning – but the prevailing wind would normally take the smoke straight to the bee hives, and bees don’t like being covered in smoke.

The area beneath the rhodo had previously been (ab)used through being the target for hardcore, blocks, cans, drink bottle etc. thrown down from outside the cafe (which was then a licensed bar).  Here you can see Alex and Yvonne either raking down the rubbish so that it can be disposed of, or digging up the half buried rubble.

Only just started working…

Once we have removed the worst of the rubbish, we plan to level what passes for soil and then add a layer of topsoil before seeding to grass.

Closer view of the area being worked

Here you can see that under some of the branches we have several stack of hard core and mixed rubbish.  Our initial plan was to create one hardcore store, and to position this against the rock so that it will not be visible from the building.  Having started to do this, however, we stopped for a chat over coffee and realised we don’t believe we will need this hardcore, so we had a change of heart.

Supervisor and volunteer coordinator having a consultation

We decided to place the bigger bits of rubble at the base of the cliff to provide a steadying hand and place the smaller items above those.  We will then throw bark chippings over this (you can see a heap on the bottom right hand of the photo)  to fill up the small gaps and when that has settled, add a layer of soil.  Once that has settled, perhaps over the winter, we will plant up with ground cover plants so that in a year or two, it should appear to be a natural part of the hillside.

Our final design for the hardcore store

As we have been clearing and raking the area, we have assembled quite a sizeable bonfire, ready for us to light tomorrow when the wind should finally be blowing away from the bees for only about the third day this summer.

The bonfire, ready for a match tomorrow

If all goes to plan, next time I should be able to share a photo with you showing this area cleaned and being prepared for grass seeding – but then again, we are expecting pretty heavy rain from Thursday onward, so don’t hold your breath!

On the refurbishment front, Mike spent today preparing a couple of rooms on floor 2 for the insulated plasterboard that should be arriving tomorrow – but that will have to wait as we plan to be all hands on deck for the rubbish clearance tomorrow.  Here’s hoping one of us has some form of ignition…



Let’s shower Mike with praise

So the floor 3 bathrooms are nearly built.  The shower enclosure is tiled and installed – after the rather scary moment when we eventually worked out that if we turned one element upside down the enclosure would fit perfectly.  Installation instructions – who reads them?!?

One tiled shower area
Back detail, showing where the plumbing is being prepared for the shower

The water has now been connected, so my job next week will be to infill the space above with insulation matting followed by plywood and plasterboard.

All connected now

This photo represents great news, because with the bath and shower fitted, it only remains to complete the insulation and plastering on a weird bit on floor 3 before we can move to floor 2 for building.   We still need to paint and outfit floor 3, but we thought it would be best if we finished all the heavy building work before we start on the twiddly bits.  So I went for a celebration walk around the front and saw this.   Tonight I will leave you with a lovely view from the car park – as the sun prepared to set today it lit up the car park magnificently.  Shame I was too late to capture it fully.

Autumn sun setting over Dolwyddelan

we now move to two days in the cafe before we get back to work next Tuesday.  It the weather is good, I plan to be in the garden as we have Rhododendron ponticum to kill off, but if the weather is poor, I can feel insulation calling me.


House guests galore

The weather held last week and stayed dry, so we continued to paint.  As you can see, the front wall had been reduced mostly to render, which we stabilised twice and now painted in new livery grey.

Yes, I do still do some of the refurbishment work…

We found this easier to do from the ladders rather than the scaffolding tower, but obviously it was easier still from terra firma (or balcony, if you want to be picky).

…which you can see much more easily here.

Mike joined in towards the end…

Nearly finished

,.. and soon we found that the job was almost over.  Which was lucky really, as our guests were due to arrive about 5pm on Friday night, and the painting was paused about 4.30pm!

The front now repainted

Our family friends arrived, along with my sister and brother-in-law, on Friday evening.  On Saturday Mike visited his girlfriends in their hive and nicked the better part of their work output for the past year.  He has left one base and one super of honey behind, but he tells me they still made a very good fist of trying to discourage him from taking anything away from them.

The proud honey midwife

Mike is thrilled.  Last year (our first year as beekeepers) we had two frames with incompetent honeycomb full of honey.    This year we reaped an entire super – that’s 10 frames – full of honey.  The exact yield has still to be ascertained, as Mike has spun the majority of the frames but we still need to filter and bottle it.

And the reason for this delay – the Bommeljes.  Long story short – below are three of the four sons of my mother’s Dutch penfriend, with their wives.  My parents and their parents became firm friends, and we are all hoping that this friendship continues to the next generation.  We had a great weekend catching up on recent (and not so recent) activities and family news…

Our house guests this weekend

…and then we introduced them to a Plas cooked breakfast which, after days of the more familiar sliced meat and cheese breakfasts, may have been a bit of a shock.

…enjoying a breakfast to set them up for the journey home

As we might have completed quite a lot of primping and tidying up before they arrived, it was good to note that Martin’s photograph from the river edge perhaps shows some progress for the hard work over the past two and a half years.  And no, it’s not on fire – the puff of smoke to the left of the building is from the real fire in the cafe.

Martin’s photo of Plas

So with the Bommelje’s departure earlier today, and Uncle Tim returning around lunchtime, we are hoping that refurbishment progress will return to normal this week!