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… 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…

Our building work pause continues

Even though it is eleven days since I last wrote, we have almost no photos to share with you showing any progress. So I will start with this shot of Siabod under a cloudy sky, just to set the scene.

First snow on Siabod this autumn just about visible.

Mike and I have been very busy with hotelier stuff. We seem to have an bottomless pit of emails to respond to, documentation to create and update, places we need to go to and people to see, as well guests and family to host here. Mike’s brother and partner stayed last weekend which was wonderful company for us, but may have been slightly unusual for them as we also had a hotel full of residents so were busy serving breakfasts and evening meals. You can see below that some of our younger guests are happy to make their own fun…

One of our guests and the A-maze-ing game he created with Duplo…
…whilst his brother made free with other elements.

…whilst the adults have a restful chat.

We have also settled and sieved the honey and now bottled up our 13 jars. This is rather a disappointing yield after last years much larger harvest, but we understand that the damp weather this summer has not helped the bees.

Our second year of honey production.

I am happy to report that my thoughts are beginning to turn to building work. I think Mike is still enjoying our break from the tyranny of continual progress, so it may yet be a week or two before we recommence the building work. In the meantime, I am now producing lists and schedules so that when the energies return, we will be ready to get going again.

We have BEEn busy!

We started working this week on the landscape around the platforms that we have been restoring. The rock slope here is, I guess, running at about 60 degrees so standing here is a real workout for the ankles, and the sense of balance.

Cleaning this rock was harder than it looks…

Meanwhile, back at the workface, Mike was adding the safety rails to the platforms.

How many people can it take to prove Mike can no longer touch his toes?

Here you see Mike and Alex fixing the screws into the supports, with Lola taking her normal supervisory role.

These are the rocks that can be seen from the long corridor

Alex and I then turned our attention to the rest of the rock which runs alongside the long corridor. We needed to pull the weeds off the rock…

..and now the junk has nearly all been removed.

…which necessitated balancing on the long ladders which were secured against the building.

Mike the knife…

Great news: on Wednesday and Thursday, it was warm and dry enough for Mike to collect the honey. We haven’t collected as much this yar as last, but the little bit we have tried tastes (for the Strictly fans) fabulous.

…working to release the honey

We cut away the beeswax and then put the frames into the spinner…

Is this what they mean by spinning classes?

…where they were whizzed around until they released their contents…

At last, the honey flows.

…which has been released into a pot so that it can settle. We then need to skim away any wax and other bits before bottling, of which (possibly) more next week.

On a different front, we have been challenged recently to find enough jobs for Alex when it is wet outside, so we have started him on stripping the dividing doors in the main room.

Cleaning off the modern stain

Some years ago these doors,which we believe are original to the Manor, had been stained with a modern ‘dark mahogany’-type stain which we have both been itching to remove. Turns out it flakes off really easily when a wallpaper stripper is pushed across the flat patches. We will no doubt work out eventually how to remove it from the moulding, which is proving a little more tricky.

That’s it for now – must dash as the rooms are full this weekend, so evening meal to prepare…

The end of platform No. 1

The last major job in the current phase is to finish the external platform for the first floor suite. You can see below that we had started to lift the floor – which, unbelievably for a fire escape, had been built with battening – to find that the joists were so rotten that they just fell away.

Let’s just have a look at what we’ve got…

Looking in the other direction, you can see how the rock gently falls away beneath this platform…

I can’t see the problem – this looks safe enough to me…

…so whilst Mike continued to dismantle the platform, Alex and I scraped away the random weed and thin soil that lay over the rock to reveal its stark beauty.

…and I’m sure we don’t need a handrail

After the platform and handrail were gone, we could remove the joists…

It’s nearly gone.

…and then really gain access to the area below to check and clean. Whilst I continued removing weed growth from the concrete support, Mike plugged gaps around the two metal supports as they linked to the building and prepared to replace the joists.

Mike plans to restart, Carrie shifts the rubbish.

Once the joists were in place and carefully supported on a variety of different depth spacers so the platform will drain properly, we began putting your actual decking onto the joists… with Lola helping, naturally.

And so we start to rebuild

Whilst we did this, Shaun was busy painting some of our more recent work in the suites. So quite how he came to have time to mock up the picture below, I have no idea…

How on earth did the Empire State Building get over there?

…but we love it! I think it was only lack of time that stopped us putting on our hard hats and getting out our sandwich boxes to fully replicate that famous photo.

So plenty of hospitality to undertake this weekend, and back to building work next week we hope – assuming the weather here dries up a bit! Then perhaps Alex can clear away a bit more of the over-growth…

And this is just a fraction of the slope having been cleared!

Some work, and a trip to the seaside too…

Last week, BIlly and his friends came to stay at the weekend.

Mike with Billy and his group

They all went to climb Snowdon which, given the weather, makes them braver than us! After spending the weekend happily chatting with guests and staffing the cafe, on Tuesday our thoughts returned to the renovations.

This is the challenge facing Alex…

Between the level of the buildings and the lower garden, there is a very steep cliff. Unfortunately, where we believe this was once a natural rock feature, it has subsequently been half buried in building rubble and been largely colonised by whatever weed has managed to locate a morsel or two of soil. We cleared it a couple of years ago, but then life intervened and the weeds have all come back, so…

…we have set Alex the challenge of clearing it down again.

On Tuesday, I showed Alex (and yes, he has had his hair cut) what needed clearing, and I think this shot gives a great sense of the scale of the task in front of him – even though there is at least the same again that you can’t see in the above shots. I have been reading Graham Stuart Thomas’s amazing book about ground cover plants, and have some new ideas once we have got rid of the pesky nettles, brambles and rose bay willow herb.

Not that it ever rains in this part of the world…

As you can see above, we have had quite a bit of atmospheric dampness this week…

So one of us was dressed appropriately for a day by the seaside in October…

…but we were very lucky that on our wedding anniversary, the rain gods held off. We went to Tremadog to a garden centre – obviously – to aquire one or two absolutely essential items that I simply couldn’t resist. Mike knows that one way to make his wife very happy is to take her to a garden centre with a good ‘poorly plant’ section so I can buy even more plants from my tiny weeny landscaping budget.

After this, we had a quick drive to Borth y Gest (near Porthmadog) where Mike was checking out the beaches to see if our Grandson will like them when he comes to visit…

…but of course Mike just had to go a step further!

Away from this lovely interlude, it was really super on Friday that the carpet arrived for the lobby entrance to the new staircase…

We had removed the old carpet…
and yesterday, this area was finished.

…. so we look even more like a hotel than we did.

Finally, the handrail has been completed…

Also this week, Mike finished installing the handrail on this platform

…so floor 2 guests can walk safely out onto the rock behind.

.and also obtained costings for decking to repair the first floor platform. I, meanwhile, have been up to my eyeballs in figures as I try to work out exactly how we did financially last year. You know, sometimes, it’s perhaps best not to enquire too hard if you are not confident you will want to know the answer!

More finishing touches

In our glorious / ludicrous refurbishment, we are at that stage where we are still continuing to finish all those niggling little jobs that seemed to get shuffled to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list.

We have replaced the railings on this external balcony area so it is now safe to walk on, and guests will be able to use it to walk out of their room, across the platform and off onto the rock behind the building (after we have moved some junk out of the way).

Look – no more consumer unit on display

Mike and Alex have been working hard to build the cupboards to contain the electrical consumer unit on each floor, which will look so much better after a lick of paint…

The floor is finally almost level

Above you see where a wall used to separate the entrance corridor from the bar: if you look carefully, you can see the feint outline from a line of bricks which we had to chip away at to bring them below the general floor level.

Having done this, Mike and Alex flowed some floor-leveling compound over the area and then spent a fun afternoon chasing it around so that, when it set, it was roughly where we needed it to give a pretty-nearly level floor. The readings from multiple spirit levels before we did this showed that the floor was – and I am using a very specific technical term here – all over the place. Now it is still pretty corrugated, but it will shortly be under carpet, and in an area that people should not be walking in, so we hope this problem will soon be firmly out of sight.

The gap between the stairs and the slate have finally been plugged…
… on both of the first two flights of stairs

Before the carpets went down, we finished off most of the edges of the stairs – but the gap between the stairs and the slate wall features proved more challenging. Mike recently had a light-bulb moment and, once the glue has dried, and after Shaun does his magic with paint and brushes, we are hoping this will shortly all look as smart as the rest of the staircase.

We continue to greet new and really interesting guests to stay in our lovely new rooms, and also to work with hospitality platforms to advertise them well. I will soon be enjoying an extended numerical break (as our accounting Year End is next Monday) but I understand Mike plans to carry on with the floor 1 platforms before we can turn to the next phase…

Back on track!

Hiya. I am pleased to report that I am feeling considerably better now, and hope to be back to what passes for normal in the next week or so. Mike is continuing to work like a trojan to pick up any slack and keep all the plates spinning, so here’s hoping he doesn’t succumb to some lurgy any day soon.

We are delighted to report that we have been busy hosts. In particular, this last weekend, all three suites were booked out to group raising funds for stroke rehabilitation by climbing Snowdon. We had an absolute blast cooking for them, and we believe they must have enjoyed themselves as they have rebooked for next year.

I am also pleased to report that we have started, with baby steps, to return to the refurbishment work.

The long corridor.

At the lower energy level, I have worked with Gill and Alex to empty the cabinets that used to line the right hand wall of this corridor so that we could remove the cabinets. The settles which used to sit on the left hand side have also been moved, so that we can become familiar with this empty space, before we start knocking doorways through and generally relocating the toilet facilities.

But this is getting ahead of ourselves. The toilet refurb is the next phase of work, and various people are -rightly- pushing us to ensure that we fully complete the last phase before starting the next.

The exterior platform for floor 2

Which takes us to the external platforms. Both floor 2 and floor 1 have access doors to platforms which were previously part of the external fire escape, and both of them need ‘sorting out’ before we can advertise them as features of the suites.

Alex sanded and painted this platform a week or so ago, and today all three of us worked to use an angle grinder to remove unnecessary metal parts (Mike); remove the old woodwork and remove rubbish from the site (me); and prepare the underside for painting (Alex).

Mike with angle grinder going…
Yes, I know it looks pretty rubbish but…

As you can see, there is still a little work to do – but by the end of today we had put the first coat of paint onto all the metal, and hope by end of play tomorrow that much of the railings will be back in place.

Me, back in overalls, and clinging on…

This shot shows me painting the metal uprights whilst clutching onto the structure: it is surprising how having no safety rails makes the ground look so much further away.

I don’t think these stairs are fit for purpose…

And later on this, let’s face it, glorious afternoon, Alex and I set about pulling these stairs apart. In future, we will have two independent platforms without connecting stairs so they just had to go.

It feels really good to be back making progress on the building, and I look forward to showing you more next time. It might be slightly thin pickings though – I have to drive Phil (our youngest) to Cambridge Uni over the weekend, which will leave Mike to look after quite a lot of guests – I’ll let you know next time how we all got on.