Slow progress

This last week, we have been busy, but we don’t have many photos to show you, as much of the work is continuation of work already started, and/or its stuff you will have seen before. I have done quite a lot of sorting out of our filing system, which seems to be a national sport just at the moment, and Mike has plastered several walls, having managed to get hold of some multifinish. Other new bits include:

This is what remains of the path behind the single storey part of the building, between the building and the gas tank that we recently dug out. I have begun lifting the blocks because we will soon be digging out the path which extends beyond where the ladder is lying above, to clear a fire exit path. This ‘digging out’ depends on Mike’s digger – we have tried digging by hand but it is simply too exhausting – so obviously the digger broke last Friday! The weld holding the tensioning device in place, which keeps the drive chain taut, failed and the chain broke. Mike ordered a new chain, and re-welded the bolt for the tensioning device to the body of the digger (showing centrally below for those with any interest)…

…and this morning the chain still wasn’t here. We tried to burn the stump you can see below. It has been lying on its side for about 3 years, but despite putting several firelighters into cavities drilled into the stump, very little progress was made. We then moved material from another bonfire site over the stump and lit it, hoping the stump would eventually get hot enough to catch.

At 11am, the postie dropped off the drive chain! Great news, so I continued to feed the bonfire, whilst Mike fitted the chain and got the digger going. You can see our current task below: we need to remove about half of the soil, leaving less soil that can be controlled by a simple restraining wall. We also hope that removing some soil will further reveal the beauty of the rock. We then plan to put a very basic planting scheme here so as not to detract from the simply beautiful setting. Most of the excess soil will be taken to the lower garden, ready for grass seeding just before the next rain is forecast, and a small portion reserved for some raised beds we have planned.

I did have a quick go with the digger, but during my stint the drive chain popped off again. We are both pretty convinced there was no causal link between the failure and my driving, but I wasn’t prepared to take the risk so Mike carried on digging whilst I fed the bonfire.

The flames are in front of the stump, and the wind is blowing them back towards it, but at the end of the day we seem to have made no progress in reducing this massive problem. I will just have to return to YouTube to see if we can find more suggestions on how to solve this ticklish problem.

Tomorrow we will continue digging out the soil, and then we have a four-day weekend to enjoy a little break. We are beyond happy that the local builders merchants reopened earlier this week, and our rather substantial order should be delivered next Tuesday. With the cold weather forecast, we may soon wish to return to the interior work and with the consumables on their way, its time to enjoy a little break.

What a pair of drips!

To remind you: when I last wrote, we had a huge heap of soil which we had dug out from around the old gas tank, which we now need to move.

We have to move it to make room for the oil tank, which needs to be moved as it is currently propped on an old wooden pallet, on top of a path that is about 4 feet higher than it should be (thus utterly compromising the damp course), leaning against the building, in the path of the fire escape. So, no problem really.

After considerable thought, we elected to spread the soil over the lower garden, to finish our attempt to disguise the old asphalt. We wouldn’t have minded if it had been a proper driveway, but it appeared to be the site of multiple dumpings of asphalt left over from other jobs, so it had to go!

You can see where the last of the soil was left 18 months ago when we ran out of soil. A month ago it was covered in weeds which I brutally sprayed with weedkiller so they appear yellowish above. This area was previously an utter junk yard, on which we spread soil and grass seed about 18 months ago, and there is still a roughly asphalted area to ‘improve’.

Last time, we also showed you a roughly grassed area that needed strimming, which has now been done, and which also reminded us os something just hidden by the apple blossom…

…of this stump. For those who remember storm Doris (2017 for those who don’t remember) we had a row of four trees which knocked each other down during the storm. What you see here is the underside of the root plate of the largest tree, which sadly includes many bits of slate, builders rubble and other items which means we daren’t use the chainsaw to try to cut it about. We have been trying to work out what to do with it for a little while. Now we have strimmed up to it, it really must go. We have found websites that show how to burn a tree stump still in situ, so some day soon we will try the technique on this stump – but as we hadn’t had any rain here for over a month, we thought it wise to wait for the weather to break before setting fire to it.

Back to the soil. We prepped the digger, and our motorized wheelbarrow, and took one barrowful of soil to the lower garden. It was then my turn to use the digger to fill up the wheelbarrow…whereupon the chain drive on the digger broke. We were reduced to digging by hand to fill the barrow, and then taking this to the lower level, which took all of Monday. So much for mechanization.

The rain arrived overnight Monday into Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, I finished undercoating the windows above, during which we found that our large bucket collecting rain from a leak in the ceiling of the old building needed emptying – twice! We decided we needed to improve our rain capture device. For a couple of years, a bit of guttering above the ceiling had routed rainwater into a large bucket, which occasionally overflowed. So now, we have put a rainwater butt under the guttering, and then put old guttering underneath the butt’s tap, through a step ladder, into the bath. Now we leave the waterbutt tap open and the rain is gently dripped onto the guttering and disposed of, without risk of overflowing. We can’t believe it took us two years to come up with this obvious refinement of the design!

Back to the real work. Today, Wednesday, we had heavy showers this morning, after which Mike drove to Porthmadog. We have been focusing on external work recently as we had run out of consumables with which to complete the internal works. Once again, fortune has been with us, as the local builders merchants seem to be reopening. Mike placed an order yesterday which we had to collect at a precise time today. He also managed to order some electrical bits from a nearby wholesaler, so if things can fit in the car, it seems we may be able to get hold of them. We are holding out hopes that the local builders merchants will open soon – the rumour is this will happen next week – because we need to order plasterboard and other bulky items that simply won’t fit in the car, however hard we try.

After Mike returned, the weather was lovely, so we visited our 14-plus piles of earth and slowly raked the earth smooth including, as you can see, Mike breaking up the ‘old’ pile with a pickaxe (as it had crusted over).

Sadly we ran out of whizz at about 4pm today and the remaining approx. one hour’s work will just have to be done next time the sun shines.

Once again, we have work to do whether or not it rains, which does feel a little better. It’s hard to believe we are nearly at the end of April, as time seems to have no meaning at the moment. I can’t believe that next time I write, it will already be May…

Our current dilemma…

is explained further down. This week, it has been hot and dry here, so we continue to work outside. For those who may think we have lost the plot, I remind you that we are trying to find/create a new location for our heating oil tanks, because the current one is situated not 6 inches from the building, balanced on an unbelievably unstable arrangement of pallets, in an area we are trying to turn into the exit path from a fire door we are incorporatig in the new design. I won’t give any further details as I don’t want any building inspectors reading this and hot-footing it round to have a look just now…

By the end of play today, you can see that Mike has managed to dig deep enough that we will be able to extend the 8″ depth of concrete by a metre, to form the base we need for the oil tanks.

More excitingly, he has unearthed an old bit of wall (under the casually propped fork above). We have no idea what it was for, but it feels like it has survived a long time and we are reluctant to deliberately demolish it. On the other hand, if it has to go to make room for the new concrete base, at least we know we tried to save it.

Whilst Mike was doing that, I was cleaning this hillside on which Mike was standing just to give a sense of scale. What we can see here is the area where the previous owner kept his poultry, which has become overgrown over the last 4 years. We struggled with dismantling his chicken house, but a liberal dose of WD40 soon eased up the stuck bolts, and a bit of pulling and pushing meant we were able to yank it apart. I then moved all manner of junk – wooden posts, metal brackets, chicken wire, old feed trays, all half hidden in the grass…and once they had gone, I took a set of loppers to the random growth. I thinned away some of the trees to leave a select few to thrive, and even uncovered an apple tree in blossom of which we had been unaware. I have created two new pretty sizable heaps, ready to become bonfires, and we will (I hope) strim this area sometime next week, so we can see the lay of the land.

The picture above shows the area now, with the self-seeded brooms now no more, noting I did spare the native gorse. We suspect that the grass is covering all manner of rubbish that we cannot yet see, but all will become clear in due course.

And this clearance is important. We can’t really show in photos, but this hillside overlooks the area to house the oil tanks; the area that will become the back-doors to the accessible suites of rooms we will be building over the next few years; and forms much of the view from the rooms we finished last year. If we clear this area down, and it reveals the rocky hillside we think is here, we could remove the soil from all three areas to expose the beauty of this rock. If, as we suspect, it turns out this area is full of building rubble, we need to prod around to check its depth, to establish whether we could reasonably clear this all away (plan A) or perhaps throw grass seed over it all to hide it (plan B).

As this is a tricky conundrum, and as our pictures today have not been exactly pretty, I thought you might like to see one of the azaleas we planted behind the long corridor a couple of years ago and …

…one in a pot outside the cafe. I am really looking forward to the day when we decide what we can do round the back of the building, so I can start planning the landscaping !

I carefully haven’t shown you the enormous pile of excavated earth we have created. Mike and I still have to hold the arm-wrestling match to see whether this soil will be put into new raised beds? Or will we spread over existing beds? Or will we move it somewhere else until we can make up our minds what to do with it? Those who know our ability to procrastinate will probably be able to make a guess, but I hope to share more with you next week. In the meantime, stay safe.