Mike said he would take me out on the tiles…

…but you’ve probably already guessed he meant the roof.

To recap – much of the roof has been stripped, and we have begun re-slating. We’re pretty proud of the nice clean edge as you look left…

Sorry about the mess – just look at the lovely leading edge!

…but there was still quite a bit to go at this morning.

…and just a wee bit still to go.

Alex and I spent the day re-slating from the bottom edge up whilst Mike had the more exacting job of finishing the top of the tiles and then installing the apron flashing into the rebate and sealing over the top of it.

Mike fixing the lead flashing

We have had some challenging weather whilst doing this roof, but today was really fun. After about 11am we were having to remove layers so as not to overheat, and by 2pm it was almost down to T-shirts, before the sun disappeared behind the mountain tops and the temperature plummeted somewhat.

It’s been a lovely sunny day here…

At the right hand end, I had stopped a few slates short of the valley as the right hand edge will be tricky. You can see below that we have yet to strip the slates from the right hand end because we want to ensure the roof is as water-tight as possible when we go on holiday next week. On the other hand, it shows the kind of roof we removed as well as the sort of task still ahead of us!

I wonder which bit we have been working on..?

So, whilst Mike was busy with Building Control this afternoon, who visited today to check the insulation and have a general chinwag with us, I started the tricky job of butting up to the valley. Here’s hoping anyone who knows about this task can’t pick too many holes in what I have done so far.

Today we started finishing to the valley edge

The next few days will involve us – I hope – finishing the straight part of this roof and then working on interior jobs so that we can be sure we are able to leave for our hols. I wonder what we might end up doing?

Feeling on top of things…

To be strictly accurately, we are feeling on top of things but also rather chilled. Whilst working on the roof today, on what was forecast to be the only dry day this end of the week, there was a sudden sharp hail shower and I am still feeling the effects. Nothing that a hot bath can’t cure…just as soon as I have finished writing this!

I should start by telling you that after we had stripped the roof and pulled out the lead last week, we noticed some of the render was pretty flakey. Having pulled some of the render away, we realised we needed to completely re-render the upstand you can see, to ensure it wouldn’t fail in a week or so and require us to crawl all over the brand new roof!

Fabric on – and ready to re-slate

Brief recap – last week we stripped the roof and re-felted it (with whatever fabric one now uses that isn’t roofing felt) so this week we knew we needed to re-slate, which means we had to work out how to fit the lead. The lead flashing we pulled off at the top was actually very thin aluminium, and the stepped pieces at the edge (really known as soakers) were code 4 lead so could be reused. We chatted, we sought opinions, we consulted the inter-highway, we watched Youtube videos, but finally it was time to actually get started.

Starting at the bottom…

Mike put in a couple of short slates, and then replaced one of the soakers. This took longer than you might think as every angle and permutation had to be checked and re-checked. Once we were clear this was looking correct…

…now we are motoring…

…we added a few more slates and a few more soakers…

…still working well…

…and then a few more…

…but this bit was a bit tricky

…until suddenly we were nearly at the top. Over the soakers we installed the flashing (the top layer of lead) and once that was in place…

…as was this bit!

…Mike had to work out how to fit the lead flashing into the slot on the top wall, which also ran behind the rainwater down pipe which we had hoped we would not have to remove from the wall. In the event, with a bit of huffing and puffing and reaching at improbable angles, we (by which I mean Mike, naturally) managed to push the lead behind the downpipe and secure the lead edge in the slot. Much sealant was then exuded into the slot to ensure it will all be water-tight before moving to the next piece. Once that was in place, we realised we needed to move the scaffolding tower so that we could strip off the next section of roof, ready for us to move onto the next piece of work (in a tidy triangle) on Friday when we hope to reach these heady heights again.

Given today’s hail and the gale force winds earlier this week, here’s hoping the weather is kinder over the next few days and we can continue to progress our roof.

We’re building again!

Happy New Year everybody! I know we have all put the decorations away for the year now, but I just wanted to show you our ‘staircase’ Christmas tree. Each year since we arrived in 2015, we have cut down a ‘weed’ tree (usually Hemlock) from the grounds and used this to fill the space between the banisters. This year, we had run out of Hemlock and hadn’t realised until after we cut down whatever species this tree is, it was considerably heavier than Hemlock. It took three people to get this tree upright, so you might like a last look at it in all its glory, before we get down to business.

…and you are only looking at the top half!

We had a gratifyingly busy Christmas, thanks for asking. The cafe was busier than we had expected; the suites of rooms were really very busy; and all of our children managed to be here for some of the holiday, so we were kept very busy and are now looking forward to having a break later this month.

Carrie, with wrecking bar in hand, naturally!

Now that Jane is back in the cafe, we can return to the building work – or should I say the destruction…? We removed the slates back in December, so now its time to take up the battening and felt, fit the second layer of insulation and then replace the waterproof barrier followed by the battens.

Here you can see Mike tackling the edge of the roof. (Don’t worry about the cable you can see. This is part of the satellite cabling which had been casually slung all around the exterior of the building before we arrived and which we are slowly removing.) As we removed the lead soakers from the side, large chunks of the render fell away as well, so we have a little additional job to complete in due course…

Once the battening and felt had been lifted, we added one layer of insulation to balance on top of the layer we installed before Christmas, from the inside. You can probably see from the droplets on the insulation that it was raining pretty hard whilst we worked – but we must keep going if we are to finish sometime this decade….

Once the insulation was in place, we put in the new roofing membrance followed by the battens, which at least gave us somewhere to kneel. Or at least Mike did. I struggled with the problem that has been reported in Caroline Perez Criado’s brilliant book (Invisible Women) exposing how items like work overalls are made for the data-typical man, not for women. My lovely (men’s) overalls have failed me. I usually wear them with the excess length rolled up at the ankles, but when I added the knee pads, they protected my lower shins admirably!

The light was failing by 4pm, and heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow, so we have replaced the some of the tarpaulins and will be working inside tomorrow – but it does feel good to be back in harness. Here’s hoping the progress continues next week.

Happy Christmas,one and all!

Last week was our last week working on the building this decade. The cafe will be open every day except Christmas day, so we hope to be busy – so we won’t be able to do any building work because we always try to do that work in pairs.

The dividing doors are being stripped of the moden (badly applied) stain

We might be able to carry on cleaning the stain off the dividing doors in the main room, but as Jodie is already doing a great job of cleaning this, maybe not.

A different roof, and a different operator.

Having stripped spare tiles from one roof last week, this week we stripped tiles off the roof we are trying to reslate, above. Just out of shot is the scaffolding tower from which we are working, and this roof is wonderfully out of the wind which makes for relatively comfortable working. We stripped the tiles off on a day with good weather…

Mike and Alex in the crawl space…

…and when the following day was wet and windy, we insulated inside instead. The crawl space under the roof is a bit limited, but we need to increase the insulation significantly. The pipes run just above the ceiling, so we are insulating under the roof rather than over the ceiling, to be sure the pipes (which are already lagged) can’t freeze. As it happens, we were both amazed that having insulated half the roof, the water temperature in the house is already noticably higher!

…and here is the new insulation, in place.

The next day, we returned outside and stripped a few more slates, before battening down the tarpaulin as solidly as we could to withstand the mild Welsh weather (?) until the New Year.

The second roof now stripped even further.

Philly is here with us at the moment, home from her studies in Cambridge. I strongly suspect the thrill of New Testament Greek paled when Mike suggested they both tried teaching Lola how to balance a festive pringle on her nose…

Lola is being taught the meaning of ‘wait’…

…which Mike then decided was not a sufficiently testing option, so proceeded to dress Lola in a Christmas jumper. I’m not sure she was terribly impressed – what do you think?

…but I’m not sure she enjoyed the dressing up challenge!

As this will be my last blog in 2019, I must finish with a hearty ‘Happy Christmas everyone’, and I look forward to sharing our exploits with you new year!

Prepping the roof- for Santa…

Last Sunday, Mike drove to Cambridge to collect Phil away from her studies and back for Christmas. On Monday, it was back to the building work – which obviously needs to start with some casual destruction. We are preparing to re-lay the roof over the long corridor, but we know lots of slates within it are broken. The roof you see below is scheduled for destruction next year (and leaks in any case), so we are pinching some slates from here to patch the corridor roof.

So…one more time…how are we going to do this?

But how, precisely, will we do it? It was surprisingly difficult to agree the approach but…

Yes, we really are going to do it this way!

…we got there in the end. We lifted the ridge tiles and then started recovering slates. The special gadget we bought to do this just kept breaking the slates, so we moved to Mike’s first instinct which was removing nails with pincers and then lifting the slates. Mike’s job was the nails (since my wrists aren’t up to the job) and I was passed the slates to store safely and take the photographs.

It’s ok – you can’t see the safety rope from here.

We lifted most of the tiles on Wednesday which was a bright, only slightly showery day, but we needed to get a sound cover over the roof since much windier weather is forecast soon. That meant we needed to work today, in an outside temperature including wind chill of -1 degrees, in showers of rain and hail…(have you got your violins out for us yet, to play that little sad song?)… but we managed to lift the final 40 slates and then baton down the butyl rubber cover which we hope will hold.

and yes, it really was that wet.

We have also been preparing the corridor space, ready to start work on Monday. I should let you know Mike is sitting very carefully tonight, with a hot water bottle easing a stiff muscle in his back. We think this arose because he was doing a twisting job in freezing conditions – but he is already much better than he was a couple of hours ago, so please don’t worry about him…yet. Tomorrow we are hosting an event, of which more next time…

Christmas is on it’s way…

…so we needed to get on with our annual cull of Rhododendron ponticum. Over the last couple of years, we have cleared much of this nuisance plant from the top level and are now having to work on the downhill slopes. Here you see Mike about 5 foot downhill, trying to suss out the lie of the land…

There must be ground here somewhere…

…and within an hour of so, both he and I were about 10 foot downhill and still descending.

…if I just keep stamping on this, perhaps we’ll see land?

Hopefully this shot gives a better idea of the steepness here… and also that, one false move, and only trees stand between you and the river thundering past.

If it looks a bit steep… that’s because it is

After a long morning of lopping and sawing, and with help to move cut elements away, we had cleared about 100 square metres of ponticum and could now see the river from this part of the top path. In the afternoon Mike returned to inject weedkiller into the cut stems in the hope that they will give up the ghost over the winter.

…but we can see the river from here now!

Whilst doing this, we kept an eye out for this year’s Christmas trees. We found one suitable specimen behind the wall running towards Lledr Hall,

We have cleared trees in the wrong place on the grounds…

and the second one behind the same wall, in a spot which will be our building site next year, so it had to go!

…this one cleared a space for next year’s building work.

If this all gives the impression we didn’t do any much building work this week, that is partly true. We had a full house in the suites last weekend and then an Environmental Health visit this week in the cafe, which took several hours out of the schedule. We also both had lot of paperwork to complete this week . Here’s hoping we can make more progress next week!

And the next phase begins…

At last, after three months of snagging and being busy both in the cafe and with the suites, we have been able to start the next phase of the refurbishment. We think this should take about 6 months, and will mean: re-roofing the long corridor; insulating and replacing the ceiling; creating one doorway and widening another in the back wall of the old Manor; relocating the ladies and gents; and creating an accessible toilet. In case you were going to ask.

The first item on the agenda was to add a fire door between the old manor’s stairwell and the long corridor. This was planned to improve fire security, and was bumped higher up the priority list as it might also keep the part we are living in warmer, and shield us a little from the dust-storm we will be creating!

Mike and I installed the door frame, with a little help from Alex…

…and now we have separation.

…then the door, and finally the door closer. Part of this involved Mike sucking through his teeth a lot and muttering to himself whilst he tried to work out how to fit parts. I have learned through years of experience not to bug Mike when he is in that zone so, with a little help from Alex, I set off on my favourite task – a little light demolition.

Here you see the interior wall ‘attached’ to the back wall of the old manor. Just as we have done in the stairwell, we want to expose the slate wall, so with a little help from a hammer I pushed through the plasterboard and pulled…

…and pulled a little more…

…and kept pulling. It felt so good to un-bury the radiator which Mike had been mithering about for ages, as it was clear the wall had been plastered ‘over’ the radiator. The other useful thing was that in exposing the wall, we have also revealed cracks in the plaster which align with a cupboard on the otherside of the wall (see below) so we now know precisely where to knock a hole through the wall when the time is right.

This is the rather strange cupboard in one wall of the ladies toilets. I removed the shelves, lifted the ceramic tiles from the floor, and then had a careful look at the back wall, because it won’t be with us much longer! Mike had to hold me back with some nonsense about it not being time yet, but perhaps whe will let me tackle this with a decent sized lump hammer – maybe next week?!?

Our little steps continue

This has been quite a busy week for us. It started before our guests arrived for Saturday night. All three suites were booked out to the one extended family, and there was quite a party atmosphere as two of the guests had recently become engaged so we decorated the cafe…

…and were kept busy preparing and serving food. We hope that the guests enjoyed themselves, because we certainly enjoyed their company!

When we were finalising some of the suites back in April, we invited a few friends in to test them. One group of friends suggested we should install some bird feeders, but I have been dragging my feet as I was concerned about attracting unwanted wildlife. Over the summer then we had a customer in the cafe who talked me through the different feeding options and which one was best to avoid stray visitors, and so we have taken the plunge. Yvonne and Julie installed the feeders last week, and it has taken a day or two for the birds to trust them, but we are now enjoying lots of flying visitors.

On the work front, I have been doing a lot of paperwork this week and Mike has been moving lots of things around in preparation for the next phase. He has also finally completed the last item on our ‘snagging’ list for the three suites. The suite on floor 1 opens out onto a balcony at the front, but the stairs from the balcony to the ground were very slippery. Our previous attempts to make these safe have been washed away by rain, so we decided we needed something more effective. On Thursday, Mike and Alex fixed wire matting in place to make the treads safe- not the most elegant, but very secure and no more slip.

So, now that the last of the snagging has been done, we can turn our minds to the next phase – yippee! We have guests in this weekend, but come Monday let’s see what presents itself as the next item on our production schedule.

A tale of two ceilings

I hope you haven’t been too worried since I last showed you the damp spot we found on one of the newly refurbished walls.

Now how on earth did that happen?

Mike spotted this last Friday morning and so, on my return from Welsh classes, we investigated further…

It looked much worse within the bathroom

…and found that this wasn’t just the result of someone being too enthusiastic in the bath. Having scratched our heads a bit, and noticed a smaller but definite water stain on the floor below all this, we realised surgery was required. Mike took Stanley knife in hand, took a deep breath, and…

That first cut is definitely the deepest…

…cut below the point where we suspected something was amiss. And we were right (and in the right place, which was even better!) One of the very few plastic joints we have used in the plumbing had sprung a leak. We think the leak had started relatively recently, but it was dripping enough that there was plenty of water on the woodwork as well as in the plasterboard and down the wall…

One drip or two?

Mike tweaked the pipework first, to see if we could stop the leak, but all that did was move the leak to a different part of the joint. So as you can see below…

We never liked that particular joint anyway

…we cut away part of the plastic and inserted a new piece of copper pipe with a proper compression joint. We left it for several days to dry out fully

Ceiling nearly repaired

and earlier today Mike patched the ceiling whilst I was once again learning my new language (new to me, anyway).

But this was not the end of our ceiling adventure. You may also recall a large chunk of the library ceiling fell down a month or so ago. We had planned to mend this one day, but when we had a very cold day last week, we really noticed how much cold air was dropping into the ground floor through this hole.

One thump or two?

Mike set to with hammer (and in some places lump hammer) to remove the lose pieces at the edge of the hole whilst I draped the lower area with old sheets (can’t think where we got those from?!)

and after it was plasterboarded, Mike spent a happy few hours skimming the board, so we now have a functional but undecorated ceiling.

We will decorate it at some point, but we need to remove all the ceiling and wallpaper in the library first, and that is not at the top of our ‘to do’ list. So we dismantled the scaffolding tower and prepared to return to the next job, which is installing the next fire door (if weather is wet) or completing the last bits of the external balconies (if weather is dry).

Our money is on Boyd, but Lola is still trying to pursuade him to ‘play’.

As the photos are not very pretty this week, I include one of the pets for your enjoyment.

Our other news this week is that last night, Mike and I watched a documentary on BBC4 entitled ‘Climategate: Science of a Scandal’. I was working in the Environmental Sciences school at UEA (the focus of much of the programme) when the crisis hit and it was interesting to see what long terms effects it had and also to realise how time has flown over the past 10 years!

I wasn’t expecting that!

It’s November already, and we are still pretty occupied with the cafe and hotel combo, but not so busy we can’t enjoy Lola.

Lola playing at being the centre of attention

Whilst the weather is still pretty good, we decided to cut back the plant rampaging across the front of Plas. I rather like this hydrangea, but it was looking pretty straggly, so we declared it to be time for a quick trim.

Our Hydrangea petiolaris has got a little out of control..

We set to at the lower levels with loppers and secateurs…

..so it’s getting a little hair cut

…and then got out the ladders for the higher stuff. You can probably see our biggest concern was towards the top high hand side where the plant was running up under the roof and hosting many creatures that we didn’t want to be able to climb into the building.

Short back and sides ok do we think?

We then set Alex up with a job he could complete in our absence. Behind the building, in the part we will be working on next summer, there is a slope that runs across the back of some rooms. Obviously, this touches the rendering and is therefore holding water against the building, which is showing serious signs of damp inside.

Who put all this up against an external wall?

We set Alex to uplift the blocks, to see what he could find underneath. As we had thought, removing these revealed slate chippings on top of builders’ rubble, just as we had found under the blocks at the front of the cafe three years ago. We left Alex digging this out, down to the ‘original’ ground level around here whilst we…

starting to remove it…

… nipped off to see Teddy, our new grandson. As the North Walian Granny and Grandad, we will be known as Nain and Taid respectively.

Proud Nain with Teddy who has just dropped off…
…and proud Taid taking over the baby sitting.

We had a wonderful couple of days with this part of our family, made possible because Julie and Yvonne heroically moved into Plas to keep things going in our absence. We are hugely grateful for this as, even in this quiet part of the year, they not only had to run the cafe but had guests staying over one of the nights we were away. Gold stars all round.

On a less cheerful note, Mike was showing some cafe guests around the building this morning when he spotted a slightly damp patch on one wall. After I returned from Welsh lessons at lunchtime, we both went to investigate the small damp patch and found, on the other side of the wall, a distinctly worrying patch on floor 2 (photograph below) and a smaller one on floor 1.

A quick but thorough investigation left us in no doubt that the plumbing was leaking somewhere…

oh dear – whatever can be causing these water stains?

… which I will tell you about next time. Feel free to relax – it is all sorted already – but I didn’t want to miss the chance to build up a bit of dramatic tension to make sure you return to read next weeks blog…