The wet and wind hasn’t floored us…

OK – I think it had better be confession time.  We don’t appear to have many photos from the last four days, and I realise this is because I have got a bit side tracked.  Next weekend, we have a party of Dutch friends and some family coming over to stay, and the Dutch friends have yet to see our project in the flesh.  Given that we have lived here for two and a half years now, as I looked around to consider all the places we will be showing them, I thought it was time for something of a tidy up.  It seems we have a house where the waves wash items to the edge of rooms, or desks, or cabinets, where they become seriously becalmed unless I bring the Spring cleaning mode into play.  Here’s hoping they don’t notice and just think we normally live in our newly ordered manner.

As you can guess, this cleaning is not an activity deserving of photographs, so I hope you will take it as read that I have been busy on unmentionable duties.  Meanwhile Mike has continued with the rebuild and below you can see the second bathroom on floor 3 ready for fitting out.

Before we began…

Mike started by finishing the chipboard floor, and then laying the 12mm plywood floor over this.

Putting in the second floor to support the tiles

Once in place, he mixed the cement and began laying the tiles which I was carefully passing to him, just out of shot.

…Mike laying the tiles…

Then whilst I nipped out to a committee meeting of the local tourism association, Mike continued to lay the awkward tiles around the edge.

I really must get this man a new belt…

Once the tiles were all laid, Mike grouted the floor and then couldn’t work on it for hours….

Ready for the porcelain to be fitted…

Yesterday I made my first test batch of teacakes.  I tried two different recipes and invited customers to trial them.  The feedback was very encouraging and helpful, and I will be trying the amended recipes in a day or so.  As it happens, we had additional customers yesterday as the strong winds brought down a tree across the A470 which brought a few people into the cafe whilst they waited for operatives with chainsaws to clear the road.  Today was very windy and also very wet – we had a party of cyclists in for lunch, and you should have seen the colour of the water after we wiped down the chairs!

Today I nipped to the wholesalers and then returned to fit insulation whilst Mike fitted the loo and sink into the bathroom.  Tomorrow Mike will be having a well deserved day off, whilst I return to Welsh classes.  I know I want to go; I know I enjoy learning the language; but there is something about the summer break and the rustiness this brings on which makes it particularly difficult to return to classes in September without feeling that your brain has atrophied over the summer…


Let’s hear it for the Mountember eventers

In our exhausting world, both Mike and I need to learn to take more down time.  The main problem is, every time we agree to do so, we still find something irresistibly interesting about doing the next task, whatever it might be.  I am delighted to report that Lola obviously doesn’t share our problem…

Someone seems to have made themselves at home

Last Thursday and Friday, I have spent a little more time in the garden, weeding beds I laid out last year.  I have been sort of avoiding them, as we planted lots out in April, at a distance from the building that made it impractical to try to water them during the 6 very hot, dry weeks we had in June and July.  It is great to find that far more of these plants have survived than I had hoped, but I’m not going to share any photos with you at this stage – I still need to do a lot more weeding before I am ready to be that rash!

One of the unexpected pleasures of our current lifestyle is that we get to meet some really interesting people in the cafe.  Today, we cooked breakfast for 10 wonderful people, all of whom are ‘walking for stroke survivors’.

Mike in his knitting-pattern-modelling stance (circa 1974)

As you can see below, they have a pressing /punishing schedule.  We hope that the Penaeldroch breakfast fuelled them all the way up Snowdon (assuming the weather permitted this, as it has been a bit wet here today).  We packed them off with a selection of Jane’s yummy flapjacks as our contribution to their selfless endeavour, and hope that they filled a gap after all that walking.

Even the dog is walking off in disgust due to this stance…

On the refurbishment front, the second bathroom is coming on apace.  Whilst I spent yesterday gardening and then off to a meeting followed by shopping in Porthmadoc, Mike made a start on plastering the bathroom. Tomorrow he hopes to continue with the plastering whilst I find something else to occupy me.  I say this as, although I would love to continue with the gardening, the weather forecast makes it look like I would be blown into the river if I tried, so perhaps I will look for an indoor job.

The ceiling, one wall, and the window reveals have been plastered

We have also had a couple of visits from friends of long standing this week (noting most are younger than we are).  Firstly Jeanine and Lucy from Newmarket popped by during their stay in Ruthin, and yesterday Sally and Trevor who we know via UEA dropped by as they returned from Ireland.  It was such a shame that I had to dash off, but it is really good to be able to keep in touch in this way, and we look forward to anyone else who fancies dropping by to visit.

The other thing I need to move on is the front facade.  We finished pressure-washing the old, flaky paint off on Friday, but now need to wait for the render to dry out.  Unfortunately, it is not ready yet, and as it is likely to get very rained on on Tuesday, it may be another week before we can finish this off.

The front face…

Fortunately, I usually find there are one or two things to keep me busy, whatever weather conditions we are enjoying.  Here’s hoping some of them are worthy of photographs.

Water, water everywhere… but the drip is cured.

Bathrooms continue to be our main concern this week.  In addition to what follows, we (or, more accurately, Mike) have/has been pressure washing the old paint off the front of the building.  We need to leave it to dry now, and we are keeping everything crossed that we have a dry spell next week during which we can stabilise and re-paint.  Here’s hoping for something of an Indian summer.

Below you see the ‘other’ bathroom on floor 3.  We hadn’t finished installing the insulation as we had a rogue set of wiring in the way – but we have now worked out how to work around this.  So whilst I was cutting and fitting foam insulation…

Bathroom 2 floor 3

…Mike was busy trying to resolve a leak in the new sink.  It took me a while to get my head around it, but apparently the plug fitting and the sink trap did not fit together sufficiently well, such that some water was running through the plughole but not into the sink trap.  Hope you all have a clear mental picture of this now, as a quiz will follow.  Anyhow, today, on only the fourth attempt, Mike reinstalled the old sink trap (because this is amenable to a lot of torque when tightening – as opposed to the newer, plastic-er fitting that came with the sink, which couldn’t be tightened up as far) and all is now watertight.  Phew!

Dealing with the drip…

After installing the bath, Mike has built an end wall (to enclose the foul waste plumbing) and plastered it, so that bathroom 1 is nearly in its final shape.

The end wall has been installed

Meanwhile bathroom 2 has now been insulated, and the insulated plasterboard fitted over that, so woe betide any draughts thinking of trying to get in here.

Fitting the insulation

Today we decided to split roles.  Mike continued working in bathroom 2 where the access door had to be moved.  Earlier today, the stud work you can see on the right was installed, and stud work that used to exist on the right of the shot was removed.  (This will ensure, on completion, that the various room doors do not crash into each other when people are using the apartment.

The doorway has been moved…

I, on the other hand, declared it a gardening day as it was vaguely dry and almost sunny.  Obviously the photo doesn’t do it credit, but I have weeded out vast quantities of couch grass and assorted other weedery, ready for a mulch to be put in place next week, I hope.

My gardening day is nearly over

It was lovely to be outside working on the garden though – roll on the day when this can be my major preoccupation, rather than an occasional recreation!

That sinking feeling…

Oh my goodness – it’s not often that I am this excited about posting a blog!

Charley and Boyd testing out the staircase

Charley (our eldest offspring) popped by for a visit today, partly because we are lovely parents and she couldn’t wait to see us any longer (?) and partly because she needed to return stuff we had leant to her for her wedding which we presume was taking up too much room. She had a quality moment with Boyd, who has spent the last 24 hours trying to avoid 2 Border Collies, not just one!
Charley and Cassie getting to grips with each other, through the medium of a shared (?) toy

Cassie (who normally lives in South Wales) came too, and she and Lola tried hard to be friends. Lola is usually very keen to play with any other dog, but we suspect Cassie regarded herself the senior professional and definitely took control of the proceedings. The net result:
I think Lola might be a bit weary now

one worn out collie. Lola has clearly had more of a workout than normal today. We have a few local dog owners who are happy to time their dog walk to coincide with Lola’s, resulting in two well walked dogs, but today’s experience suggests to me we might need to expand our network of dog loaners.
One mist coat down…

Anyway, we put Charley to work today on putting the base coat onto the newly plastered room 3 on floor 3… and she seems to have done a very good job. We also had Alex drop by. Alex has returned to college (totally with our approval) so could only manage today this week. But we struggled with his workload as the last of tasks was pretty much all outside work and it was a little damp…
Today has been very wet – can you tell??

…no, really, it has been hosing it down most of today (still stair-rods at 6.30pm) so we thought we would show you the river as at about 5.30pm, noting the river appeared to be all but empty when I got up at 7.30am today.
Yeah! Mike is a complete building wizard!

Anyway, all of the above has been padding so that this photo could be left until last. Mike investigated the slight leak on the sink plughole this morning, and all is now fine. We have a bath, a loo and a hand basin, all plumbed in and raring to go. Charley has approved the sample wall tile so we can get these ordered and start installing soon.
Oh joy, oh rapture – things seem to be moving in the right direction!

Mike has been laying down the (f)law here

We really know how to entertain ourselves here, don’t you know… since I last wrote, both Mike and I have spent longer picking flaking paint off a wall than either of us would freely elect to do. It does mean we should soon be able to repaint the front wall, but there really is something so dull about levering off the old paint in the hope that the new stuff will remain stuck in place.
This activity does not pretty pictures make, though, so instead I will show you the other thing Mike has done this week.

On Monday we travelled to Bangor to source some floor tiles for the bathrooms, among other things. You may recall that one of the floor 3 bathrooms had looked like this:

…and installing plaster board.

…but after Mike’s ministrations, it now looks like this:

Bathroom floor tiles, laid and grouted

and this:

Ditto, just in case this photo is clearer

We also bought a sample wall tile (as one has to order direct from the supplier) so in daylight tomorrow we will check how it looks and perhaps next time there might be more to show you.

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!