The perfect cover up…

Just e brief posting today, since this week’s progress has mostly been of the non-exciting and non-photogenic form.  We have moved lots of waste around, swept and vacuumed, and cleared space.  I have dismantled a couple of old sofas and moved them down from the attic floor – all of this to create more storage space.  And not always successfully – the second, longer sofa was stuck for a surprising length of time at the bottom of some steep steps as I had underestimated the dimensions.

Today’s work was worth a photo or two, though.  You can see below one of the en suite bathroom walls which, for some reason unknown to us, was modified at some time to look like a stencil.  This wouldn’t have mattered so much except it is a structural wall.  It is on the top floor, but even so…

Not entirely sure what was going on here…

To rescue the situation we have overlaid a new plywood layer to stiffen the building and also hide the original horror.

…but we can’t see it now…

Obviously, all my own work!  A final coat of plasterboard will then be required, before Mike fires up his plastering trowel and gets skimming.

…and even less now.

But I hope we can all agree it looks a bit more like a building site now, less like a demolition site.

Things are getting quite quiet here, for a change

The refurbishment work continues apace, so I won’t bore you with details of my trial hairstyle, ready for being mother of the bride later this month (thanks, Lee), or the training I have attended on digital marketing.  No, I will get straight to the point, once I have told you how fantastic the weather still is here, and how beautiful the landscape is looking – although I grant that it remains necessary here to make allowance for the volume of junk still lying in inaccessible (but sadly visible) areas of the grounds.  We really must try harder!

Mike has de-nibbed the ceiling and is over-plastering the old swirled ceiling plaster.  (The colour is because we have sealed the ceiling with 2 coats of PVA; the first coat was yellow-ish, the second red-ish so that we could see where we had painted).

Have you seen Mike’s new toy – his new platform is proving invaluable

Meanwhile, I was taking down some old stud walling as the doorway to the en suite bathrooms needs to be relocated.  Imagine my surprise when one decent heave with the sledgehammer moved the entire wall!  I am not sure how visible it is in the shot below, but about central to the shot is a sheet of plasterboard that has left company with its frame.

Mike and I have been insulating the stud walls which has had the undesired side effect that we now cannot talk freely to each other from room to room; we have to position the radio very carefully if we are both to hear it; and if folk call ‘hello’ from downstairs, there is only a very small chance either of us will hear them.

This acoustic insulation is marvellous stuff – we can’t hear each other talk in adjacent rooms now!
Working on the stud walling below the window…

In bedroom 2 we have almost completed the ceiling and walls ready for plastering.  The ‘short’ wall under the Velux window was installed today, leaving a space for an inspection hatch as we have completed the pipework for the radiators, but will not be able to connect this up for another few months as we complete other floors.  The inspection hatch will enable us to fully investigate any damp patches that may result when we start the system running, which given our recent experience of unintentionally flooding part of the cafe is a sensible precaution, methinks.

…now plaster boarded

We have also insulated the wall below, partly because it is ‘a good thing’, but mostly because it made it simpler for us to install the electric socket in this wall.

This internal wall has been sound insulated

To take a quick break from the internal work, I have had my chitty signed entitling me to a day or two outside to do some much needed weeding, as our beautifully reclaimed land and the associated flower beds from last year had disappeared under long grass.  These grasses have been roughly removed and raked away because tomorrow, if I play my cards right, Mike is giving me permission to remove the slope you see below.  This used to be part of the fire exit from the rooms, but as we now have the stairs in place, this has become a redundant eyesore rather than a simple eyesore.

This slope is nearing the end of its life!

I will leave our detailed plans a surprise until the photos can reveal more, but thought you might also enjoy a quick snap of the hydrangea petiolaris doing its thing on the front wall.

The climbing hydrangea doing its thing

Look forward to showing you more of our endeavours in a day or two…

Noise abatement at Plas (not a phrase many people thought they would ever see)

Hi all, the far more relaxed and mellow Carrie now writes.  The Welsh exam was actually very interesting, in that I found the written section relatively straightforward and hope that the marks will reflect that in due course.  The oral section, however, was nothing like as relaxed, mostly because I seem to be incapable of adjusting the speed of my speech to reflect my relative inexperience in Welsh, which means I wasn’t giving myself enough time to think before saying things.  Oh well, at least its all behind me now, which is a great relief, until the next time, obviously.

Back to the refurb.   We finished insulating the end walls but I haven’t included any photos as I think you have probably seen enough of those by now.  I started the week with a stud wall, plastered on one side, and with electrical socket boxes in place, and have added the insulating matting which I will need to wedge in place with some chicken wire so that it can’t slump, before the building inspector takes a look and we can then put the final section of plaster board into the wall.


One stud wall…


…now insulated

Unfortunately, the insulation is spectacularly effective against noise.  Now if I bellow up the stairs that Mike is needed somewhere, he can’t seem to hear me.  Weird that.

I also tidied up a bit of wall which used to be hidden by the old floors, and once it was levelled, Mike added a bonding and then a finishing coat of plaster so it is almost looking like a regular stairwell now.

Mike got a little plastered…

In addition, I have insulated a further piece of stud wall which Mike erected earlier this week, and then Mike used his left over plaster …

and the small stud wall, also insulated

… to cement the gap where the walls meet the ceiling.  Having done this, he has put PVA all over the ceiling, tinted a lovely shade of green so we can see where he has worked.

Sealing the ceiling

so who knows what delighted may face us next week, after we spend the next couple of days in the cafe.

Preparing for my examination…

As I sit here writing on this beautiful early evening, I have the warm sun on my back coming in through the turret window (!) and a fantastic view if I look out of the window.

Of course, I’m not doing that, as I have a blog post to write, and then one or two other things to do before the evening is out… but this refurbishment lark is still great fun.

Last week, Mike and I were insulating the end wall on floor 3 using the ‘dob and dab’ approach to gluing things in place.  You can see below pieces cut to size for the right hand end of the wall…

Insulation ready for installation

…which went according to plan.

Half of the wall now covered…

On the left hand side, we started well…

It’s just like a big jigsaw really

…and then got diverted when we needed to insulate and plasterboard the stud wall…

Now insulating the wall cavity

to the right of Mike as he is standing below.  We then had to remove the window board and insulate around the window to complete the end wall facing the river.

…just needs a bit of careful fitting around the window

We had a non-refurbishing weekend during which I was in Cowbridge with Charley and Damien, getting the last elements of my mother-of-the-bride outfit, whilst Mike held the fort in the cafe along with a couple of excellent helpers.  Yesterday and today, we returned to work with gusto.   Mike replaced the floor in the main bedroom on floor 3 (the green bit being the new bit)…

Fitting the new floorboards in the main bedroom

…and then built the short stud partition to take the door frame of the second bedroom…

New stud wall to take the door frame

…whilst I put the gloss top coat onto the cafe store window, the interior of the patio doors above, and the balcony rails.

Gloss paint finally on the balcony rails

Here’s hoping that these coats of paint actually stay attached to the woodwork over this coming winter, unlike last autumns coats!

Our next bulletin may be a little sketchy as I have my Welsh exam coming up this Thursday evening in Bangor (which my be ‘o Fangor’, or ‘Ym Mangor’ depending on the context in Welsh, in case you are interested).  I might need to do just a teensy bit of revision between now and then, especially as it is many, many moons since I last sat (or stood it, as they say in Wales) an exam !

What’s in a name…

Before I report on the refurbishments, I would like to send our thanks to everyone who has sent kind words about Jasper.  It looks like his roles as chief welcomer to the cafe, twinned with his extraordinary efficiency as the sausage disposal mechanism, have been noted and will be missed.  The cat is trying valiantly to fill the void, but he is clearly also missing his house mate.

On Saturday, Mike switched his focus back onto the works as a distraction, and completed the plywood floor on the landing on floor 3 which needed strengthening to stop it boing-ing every time we walked on it.

New landing on floor 3 now reinforced with plywood

He then started on the electrical wiring for floor 3.  Firstly, we had to move a couple of old baths down the new stairwell so if you know of anyone looking for original period avocado baths, sinks, toilets and fittings, do please feel free to point them in our direction.  Once these were out, we were able to approach the walls again and start fitting socket boxes and wires.

Sunday and Monday saw us both in the cafe.  On Sunday, there was really quite a torrential downpour in the early morning.  The skies were emptying so fast that the Manor guttering – which we already knew needed some attention in the near future – was, in some places, spouting fountains of water nearly a foot away from the leaking joints.  As we discussed the timescale on which we might tackle this over breakfast, the thunder and lightening got steadily worse.  At about 8.45 am we remembered it was a good idea to unplug the computer during a storm, for which we were very grateful when at 8.50 am there was a very bright lightning flash followed almost immediately by an extremely load bang when we think the house (or, if not the house, something very close by) was struck by lightning.  As a result we spent Sunday serving the handful of trusty souls prepared to venture out in such atrocious weather, including the couple who had been camping out for the first time and whose tent hit the skip when they left the campsite several days early and popped in for lunch and an opportunity to dry out.

As a consequence of the strike, both our credit card machine and our wifi modem were fried, so apologies to anyone trying to contact us by email – it might be a while before we get through the backlog.

The weather on Monday was relatively settled, but definitely not the Bank Holiday weather we had expected.  Yesterday was dry so we prepared the paintwork and I primed, and today undercoated the doors and railings you see below.  (Those with a long memory may recall we got to this stage last autumn but, sadly, didn’t get the dry spell necessary to put on the gloss coat, so have had to start again this year…)

Woodwork on the balcony, currently being repainted

Mike meanwhile fitted the ring main wiring on floor 3, then the fire alarm cabling (see the red cables coming from the ceiling below), and then used the plasterboard delivered today to plasterboard more of the walls (on the right below) for the second bedroom.  We were unable to find the cable for the lights circuit, so that will have to follow in a day or so.

The plasterboard has been put to good use.

Floor 3 is now beginning to look more as it should.  On the other hand, we are running out of electrical components so, first thing tomorrow, I will be making my way to the electrical wholesalers before doing the routine shop for the cafe.  This is my favourite sort of shopping, not: I will be asking for a variety of components by the name Mike calls them, which will probably not be the same as the names in the wholesaler’s catalogue.  No matter, it all adds to the excitement of my day…

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.