Into each life…

…a little rain must fall, but storm Ciara brought us more than just a little water. For anyone concerned about us, Plas took a little damage from the wind but nothing serious. Less lucky was Betws y Coed which we understand lost the Miner’s bridge, and parts of Llanrwst were well under water. Cars in the Co-op carpark in Llanrwst and in the Siabod cafe car park were bobbing around in the floodwaters.

At least the bridge is still standing…

Given the general wetness and the high winds, we decided to work inside rather than on the roof. I know – how pathetic are we?! We cleared out the corridor below ready to replace all 17 windows on the left hand wall (part of which is not in view, in case you are counting).

The long corridor aka the cloister

As we have replaced glazing a few times before at Plas, this is now quite a polished activity. We clear off the exterior putty; remove the brads; lever the window out from the inside; clear the margins of old putty; apply silicone sealant; insert window; add sealant and beading, and then tack beading into place.

Most of the double glazed panels are misty

See – it’s simple. This week, we have replaced 10 of the 17 panes, and (even though the windows need cleaning) this is already letting a lot more light into this corridor. I hope you can see that the right hand pane below is more like a window should be than the panes on the left.

…so the clarity of the replacements is great to see

It has not been our most productive week, however. This is partly due to jet lag still working its way through our systems, but mostly because Charley dropped by with our grandson, Teddy. Mike has insisted that I include the photo below, which I would normally have found a reason to exclude due to its unflattering nature, but as a dutiful partner, what was I to do? There had been much rocking and pacing and cuddling to encourage Teddy to drop off to sleep, but once he had dropped off, I didn’t dare move his head so needed to sit down with my forearm propped on my leg. What you can’t see is the laptop screen I am reading as I check emails (how is it that emails are still taking over my life?!?) which might explain the slightly strange expression…

Which one is the more tired, I wonder?

…so I thought I would share a better shot of the delightful Teddy so you can enjoy his loveliness more fully.

Hey gorgeous!

We are not sure what we will be doing next week, given storm Denis is due in and our rooms are due to be quite busy during half term. We will let you know next time.

Can you guess where we have been?

We have had a brief break from the building work, so hope you won’t mind if we share some snaps with you.

My brother is currently living in Phuket. Just before Christmas, he suggested we could both do with a break from the physical toil and spend a few days with him…

The unheated swimming pool was at cool bath temperature

…and maybe even enjoy his pool, even though it is winter in Phuket at present.

Mike’s casa…

What we hadn’t realised was that even in winter, the day temperature was around 32 degrees, and nights at about 24 Celsius. We wilted pretty quick!

…and Mike’s family

Here you can see us enjoying a relaxing evening drinkie, just off the beach…

Dinner at a ‘pop up’ Zuma

… and here you can see the pudding plate for Sunday brunch at one of the swankiest places in town. Above you can see the fresh fruits along with a sublime chocolate pud, a banana cake, selection of ice creams. Sadly you can’t really see the integral ice sculpture from this angle.

Yuko (my sister in law) took us to lunch one day at a restaurant in the hills with a magnificent view of part of the island, and with a group of resident monkeys. There are signs warning you not to feed these monkeys but sadly we were still reading them when…

Mike’s mugger

…one moved astonishingly quickly to relieve Mike of his water bottle! He pinched it, then ran to his seat and punched a hole in one end and proceeded to empty the bottle.

It was hotter than this looks

We spent some time relaxing on beaches – this one was so hot we had to sit in the shade, except when we swam with the yellow and blue striped fishes

Hello old boy, how lovely to meet you, says someone.

and on our last day, we visited an elephant sanctuary which is busy adding high level walkways.

The idea is that as they acquire more elephants, the humans will be walking above them, leaving room for herds to form and move unencumbered – but we couldn’t help feeling the whole place will look pretty much like Jurrasic park.

In the afternoon we visited a gibbon sanctuary, which is slowly moving them to more remote areas until the point they can be released to the wild.

All in all, we had a fabulous week away – thanks so much to brother Mike and family – and also thanks to Yvonne and Julie who did a fantastic job of looking after Plas during our absence.

We have returned ready to get back to work, as soon as we have recovered from the jetlag and spent the next few days running the cafe. So I hope you enjoy the change in photographic content: we will be back to normal next week!

So near, and yet so far

A brief reminder of where we are:

four years ago we bought a semi-derelict hotel. Three years ago we opened a lovely new cafe. Five months ago we finished three suites of completely rebuilt of rooms. This week we are working to finish re-roofing a corridor connecting the cafe to the toilets.

Here’s where we started this week…

We only have this little piece left on the main roof to complete but, as you can see below, the weather hasn’t been on our side this week.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

But other things have. I had a meeting with a chap from the Wales grading people who tells us (if we decide to go for grading) we would be 4* guest accommodation, which is good to know.

In between downpours we have been working on the roof. Here you can see Mike has almost boxed himself in to the last corner. If he looks a bit wooden, I can assure you it was cold up there.

Yes, that is a pile of hail you can see

Mike was balancing on his tippy toes to install a piece of downpipe to complete the guttering around two rooms in the old house, before I passed things up to him so he could complete the slates and finish the apron flashing.

Nearly there!

And then today we have a totally 21st Century problem – we have finished the flashing, but I took the photo on my phone, not Mike’s, and mine is not yet set up to send emails. So I hope you will take my word for it that this bit of roof is now watertight in a way it hasn’t been for many a long year, and all we have to do now to complete is the fiddly bit to the right hand side. More of this next time I write, which might be later than usual, she says gnomically…

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?!?