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!



Bringing you up to speed, and beyond

Oh, it feels good to be back, to be able to blog at will.  I hadn’t realised how much blogging had become an established part of my week – not just sharing the experiences and (I hope) the excitement of making things better, but I now realise that whilst writing the blog I reflect on progress to date, which helps keep the whole project in perspective for me.

Talking of perspective, I think the shot below catches well how steep the area is that I am currently trying to groom.  More matted grass has been removed, and more rock exposed.  The more I clear, the closer I get to a patch of Rhododendron ponticum that needs to be removed.  Some of this is relatively easy, but some of the roots have worked their way fully into clefts in the rock and are thus very very tricky to remove.  Below we show a good example:


The clearance work continues


This root took two of us (Adrian and me) more than a few moments to shift!

I am still not sure that these photos give a proper sense of the size of these beasts, but I can assure you that this was a really man-sized root, and we had to break off huge quantities of earth before we could shift it to the bonfire site.

Clearance continues apace…

This work, along with work on the building, has been temporarily halted while Jane is away on her summer holiday, leaving Mike and I are pretty much chained to the cafe all day.  (Do I hear violins??)  When we get a chance to return to our day jobs, I will be pleased to get back here.  On the photo, the rock coloured areas are definitely cleared, whilst the ‘brown leaf’ coloured areas are pretty nearly cleared, with just a thin layer of root and leaf remaining to be removed.  Unfortunately, I have created an obstacle to progress here because back in March we deposited unwanted earth from another project to the bottom left of the photo and I now need to move it elsewhere if we wish to continue clearing down this rock.  It should only take a day or two to move the materials, but first I need to prepare a longer term home (adjacent to the bonfire site) where this soil/leaf combo can fully decompose in peace before we move it to line the ‘cleared’ bonfire site to form the basis of a new garden.

Just before we left Norfolk, some Dutch friends of our gave us some Astrantia seeds, from which we have just grown our first full flower, proudly displayed below.  Last week, the Gardener’s World programme showed how you can divide and replant perennials in summer (which books do not advise) so we are running our own trial.  If the advice on Gardener’s World was correct, we should soon have 14 healthy plants from the sub-divisions we made from our one Astrantia plant.

My ‘Dutch’ astrantia


Now all of this, along with lots of cleaning / breaking down walls / wall paper stripping / disposing of rubbish and other mundane and/or repetitive tasks brings you up to speed with our progress.  So Team White is using our enforced relative inactivity to consider next steps, and we will soon be taking on the following:


Future works 1

This is one of the few pieces of work for which we will be getting people in.  This entire ‘fire escape’ becomes redundant (strictly speaking) when our new staircase is installed, although we plan to keep the lower two levels to give convenient external access to two suites of rooms.  To optimally use space, we will block up the door you can see at the top of the staircase soon, which will make the highest level of balcony and stairs redundant.  As it happens, we have an alternative use lined up for the stairs, so in a couple of weeks this area will be scaffolded by a local firm, and then another firm will come in to cut away the top of the fire escape.

Future works 2

Future works 2 covers the windows you can see here at the back of floor 2.  These are on the wall directly beneath the fire escape being removed, so we will wait to begin work after the heavy lifting work is completed.

Future works 3

And finally (for now at least) I have had a light-bulb moment regarding a patch of rough grass on our lower level garden.  This will mostly only be seen from the higher level (partly as relatively few people park or walk on the lower level, and partly because it currently cannot be seen from the road) I realise that a colourful tapestry of flowers that can tolerate wind and wet, and which are no more than 60cm high, might make a really good view from the house.  So obviously, I now need to spend some time with my gardening books to check how Gertrude would have approached this and make plans – such a shame I need to spend time studying this!

Is this the beginning of the end…?

I love all my children equally, obviously.  But today I might just love one of them a tiny bit more as I am hoping he has found a way to resolve our IT problems.

In case it has not been painfully apparent, I have not been able to post news reliably since 9th July, since when I have occasionally been able to log on, and sometimes even compose a post, but not actually post it.  And at least one of the ’emergency’ posts that we have been able to organise in the meantime (calling in favours from various different people still able to get access) has appeared in note form which was not, I suspect, very valuable for anyone to read!  As the same server also supported our work email address, we have not been receiving these, so I send my profound apologies to anyone thinking we are deliberately ignoring them – I can assure you, this is a technological nightmare, not an episode designed to infuriate those who know us.

To keep things as smooth as possible, I will keep this first post short so as not to overtax anything, and thereafter hope to return to regular updates on our successes and trip-ups on the path to upgrading this fab building and its grounds whilst also providing delicious nosh in the cafe.  Overstating things, moi?  Yn sicr nid!

So a couple of weeks ago now, we decided to tackle a stand of about 6 larches that stood at the top of our ‘cliff’:

The cluster of larches partly obscuring the view…


… have been lightly pruned

We now have about one remaining, really quite wonky, larch and rather fewer fir trees than we did a few days ago.  This necessitated a good deal of work with the chainsaw, and some very careful footwork to ensure Mike didn’t slip 20 feet down, so I didn’t begrudge him a short rest afterwards.

…after which Mike needed a little sit down.


In the house, we have continued to dismantle the third floor, but as you have already seen lots of photos of this, I won’t bore you with them now.  I have also had a ‘moment’ whilst in the grounds.  The photo below shows the view up-hill from just outside the cafe


The rock is beginning to be more visible

and below again is a rock that I began to expose when I tried putting a fork through a tangled mat of grass roots, as I tried to tidy up the grounds.  As you can see below, it turns out that just below the weed mat there is a beautiful piece of rock, so I have spent the last week or so gradually re-exposing this (further photos to follow in next posting).

It was like pulling off old carpet.


So that’s five photos and some text.  I will try to post this now and hope all works…..


Trials and Tribulations – and not with the building!

First of all, my sincere apologies for the delay in blogs.  We have had problems logging on to our own web pages since our server was hacked a few months ago, and this last week have lost not only the ability to log onto our pages, but also have been unable to receive Penaeldroch emails.  We hope to resolve both matters soon, but please bear with us while we try to resolve these difficulties.

I will keep things brief to avoid overwhelming you with three normal blog-posts of details.  Since last I blogged, the cafe has become a lot busier, so we have spent more time in the cafe and thus have less time to spend destroying the place.  Having said that, we have still managed to:

make  our first batches of nectarine jam

From our increasing range of preserves…

take out the electrics and then stud walls on floor 3, and also removed plasterboard and insulation

Mike removing the timbers…
…in a room now largely free of internal walls
we have pulled this insulating out from the wall…
…because this time, we plan to insulate the space properly!

and then dropped the junk from a floor 2 window into the waste bin (action shot below)

Waste disposal the Penaeldroch way!

Do some planting up inc plants from Kath

finish painting the window on floor 3, then dismantle the tower

we have thinned a stand of larches back to one tree

been to the riverside and marked plants to be pollarded later in the year.

lit the bonfire, to try to clear the space for planting, but then covered it with the larch trimmings

Entertained our nephew and his friend

Today was our second busy day in a row, and Jane now on holiday. so taking our leave to ensure we have the energy for the next couple of weeks without our chef.



We apologise for the brief disruption…

Hi all!


Just a quick one for now – we’ve been experiencing some technical difficulties recently, which we’re hoping to have resolved as soon as possible. We’ll let you know when everything is back to normal, but in the meantime please just keep checking in!


There’ll be a new post just as soon as Carrie can get back online, hopefully you’ll be hearing from her soon.


All the best!