Colours

Magnus was at our house this week, as we had a blocked septic tank outlet pipe, and that got me thinking about colours again, as he’s going to be doing the painting at Coldbackie.  Last week I bought a painted wooden towel rail from a lady in Halkirk for Ethel’s and we were talking about how we both loved Farrow and Ball colours, but winced at the prices.  ‘Did you know they can mix to the Farrow and Ball colour chart in W&D Ross in Thurso?’ she said.  ‘It’s not identical, but it’s very close and it’s about a third of the price.’

Talk about a perfect fit:

So off I trundled when I was in Thurso on Friday and sure enough, yes they can.  The base paint is Johnstone’s Trade and it’s £34.90 for 5 litres compared to £103 for 5 litres of F&B.  So this afternoon’s job was to sit down with the paint chart and How To Decorate and rethink all the colours.

The hall, the stairwell, the landing and the downstairs corridor are all going to be Stiffkey Blue with Wevet on the ceilings.  The kitchen and utility room units are all a dark blue and search as I might on Pinterest, I can’t find anyone who’s done anything other than pale walls, unless they’ve painted the cabinets themselves and done the identical colour on the walls.  So I’ll carry on the Wevet on the walls in both those rooms and between the beams on the ceiling, but the wall where the Aga was in the kitchen/diner, which is opposite the door coming in from the downstairs corridor and will have the dining table next to it, will be Stiffkey Blue – it should balance out the blue units at the other side of the room.

I’ve ummed and ahhed for ages about the living room.  It’s a big room with a high ceiling and, of course, the very dramatic fireplace in the middle.  The floors are going to be a rich warm wood, the sofas are going to be brown leather and I want to make it feel cosy in the evenings rather than vast.  A strong colour should bring the walls in and I’m going to be brave and paint it in Blazer to the picture rail and then Wimborne White above the rail and on the ceiling.

 

I bought actual F&B Cooking Apple Green and James White when the Homebase at Wick closed down.  It was going to be for our bedroom at home, but I’m going to try it out in the back bedroom here first.  That room overlooks the garden, so it’ll bring the green inside the house.

 

The front bedroom overlooks the sea, so I’m going blue in there with Skylight on the walls and Wimborne White again on the ceiling.  Both these bedrooms will open up off the dark blue Stiffkey landing, so it should make them look brighter than they actually are.  The paint chart makes it look more blue than it is in this picture.

From that landing there’s an archway through to the corridor leading to the new bathroom and the master bedroom – the corridor will be Wimborne White and then I’m going darker in the bathroom and bedroom.  I’ve ordered bath panels and a loo seat in graphite grey, so I’m going to have a classic stone-effect floor, probably Karndean Clip Fiore:

And then Plummet on the walls with Ammonite on the ceiling.

In the main bedroom I’m going darker again, with either Moles Breath on the walls and Ammonite on the ceiling (I know it looks the same as Plummet on screen, but it is darker!) or Hague Blue and Wevet.  Moles Breath was my initial choice, but looking at it next to Plummet whilst writing this post, it does rather look as if I’ve just given up and gone grey in that section of the house.  I love Hague Blue, but am not quite brave enough to use something so dark all through the hall, landing etc. etc., so it might be nice to turn this bedroom into a cocoon of a room.

Whichever of those I go for, to prevent the room being too gloomy, I’m going for furniture from Riverside Interiors’ Tister range, which will contrast nicely against dark walls.

Next job: get the room measurements out and calculate how many cans of each I’m going to need at coverage of 12-14 square metres per litre!

 

 

Timber!

Colin the tree surgeon (or Celtic Firs, to give him his official business name) came out and did his stuff, and it’s made a big difference to the amount of light in the garden and coming through the windows at the back of the house.

We have a nice load of firewood to take home and season 🙂

The trees at the back also got a trim.  The lower branches from the other big evergreen were extending around 6ft into the garden and once I get all the output from the chipping machine cleared away (could be a while…) it’s going to be a pretty big space.  All the brambles and blackcurrants have been cut back to the boundary as well.

Inside, Pete and Al have been hard at work.  The rest of the wall is down in the kitchen, all bricks and wood have been removed, and it’s swept out and tidy.

Upstairs the little fireplace has been removed.

If the little Victorian-style insert from Ethel’s doesn’t fit into this space, then I’ll get David to take that bit of plasterboard off, re-frame it and cover it over completely.

In the master bedroom, the hot water tank cupboard is gone.  Now there’s space for a 5ft double and two bedside cabinets.

Other news from the last couple of weeks – the boiler at Ethel’s stopped again, the day before the guests were due to arrive.  This time I consulted Google and found that the overheat light was coming on.  After leaving a message for Jeff on every form of contact details I have for him, including Facebook, I went down the road to feed the horses and saw his van parked outside a house further down the road.  He came and had a look and said that there were three usual causes of what was happening – 1) pressure drop (which I’d eliminated by resetting it the other day), 2) the pump had failed, meaning the water the boiler was heating up wasn’t getting moved out of the boiler and around the system (the pump was fine), 3) dodgy thermostat.  He found that the sensor for the thermostat had come slightly out of its insulated pocket, so re-seated it, fired it up and told me to monitor it.  Thankfully it’s been fine ever since, but I think we’re going to have to budget for a replacement boiler in the next 12 months, as even though Jeff said it probably had another two or three years in it before things started going wrong, I’d rather do it a bit early and not have any pissed-off guests.

We had a half-decent amount of snow here last week and sod’s law, one of the days with the heaviest fall overnight was the one where I had to go out to Coldbackie for a site visit with the plumber.  Yes, I finally have a plumber!  He has keys and will get started as soon as he can.  He’s made all sorts of sensible suggestions about bathroom layout and saved me an entire shower cubicle.  We’ve measured out the en-suite width upstairs and I’ve written on the wall to show David where the new stud wall needs to go.  I was going to do all the ordering through his account with the local plumbing merchant in Thurso, but while I was browsing through the Heritage bathroom catalogue, looking for an appropriately-period-style suite for the new bathroom, I found a website with a January sale on the entire range.  Kris told me to order from it, as he wouldn’t be able to price-match, so he’ll get all the en-suite goods and the replacement downstairs loo and shower through his account, and I’ve got £800 off on the upstairs suite, which is 10% of the entire bathrooms budget.  The one I’ve picked is Granley Deco, which is 1930s, same as the extension.

RDI went back out yesterday and got the heating working again.  I need to give them a ring to find out where we are, because they were going to do the radiator move as well and I can see today that they’ve moved the temperature control to the new position and put the two isolation valves on, but there’s a big wet patch on the concrete floor and the radiator is still under the kitchen window, so I’m not sure whether they simply ran out of time, as I know I was down as an afternoon job, or if they hit a problem.  A relief that the house is warm again though, although I’d turned the water off as a precaution while it was off.  It doesn’t half look pretty out there in the snow though, even if driving around snowy unploughed roads is a bit hairy – view from the front bedroom last Tuesday.

Finally we’re getting going

It seems like I’ve spent most of the last eight months we’ve owned Tor Aluinn bashing my head against various walls, but with the turn of the year I’m faintly hopeful that we might be moving forwards again.  Colin the tree surgeon arrived on New Year’s Day (yes, I know!) to take a look at the trees in the back garden.  He agreed with me that the massive pine next to the house with the electricity cable running through its branches needed to come down completely and suggested he trim and balance the other large pine and tidy up the remaining trees.  Even better, he also does other landscaping and garden works, so I asked him to quote me for sorting out the bramble and blackcurrant overgrowth, getting the lawn under control and generally sorting the whole garden out – two of his guys can do in a day what will take me about a month of stomping around in waterproofs and swearing!  The really good thing is that he is trained and insured to take trees down by climbing them, which means no heavy machinery on my neighbour’s beautifully-mown paths through the grass outside my boundary.  The trees and brambles are being worked on tomorrow, which was the earliest date SSE could give us for getting someone out to turn the mains cable off, and then I think the rest of the garden will be done a bit later in the year, after I’ve taken the tree trunk off site (he could dispose of it for us, but asked if I wanted it cut into manageable lengths to burn, which should give us a fair amount of firewood).

I went out there today to leave some keys for him in case he needed to get into the house and to my delight Pete and Al had made it out to start knocking through downstairs.  It’s going to be a fabulous big room and it better balances out the huge living room at the other end of the house.

The other end of the room doesn’t look quite so tidy.

There’s still a bit of wall left to come down – Pete’s van is in for servicing tomorrow (which is handy, because we’ll have both Colin and SSE taking up the parking places), but they’ll be back on Friday to finish this off.

And, most handily, where they’ve taken out the poured concrete skirting, there’s a nice access point to undernearth the floorboards, exactly where Chris will need to get into to run power to the kitchen island.

The less good news was that the boiler had stopped working.  We ran out of oil while we were away on holiday, so I got a delivery as soon as we were back, repressurised the boiler, hit the reset button and all seemed well.  I was slightly suspicious that it had turned itself off again last time I was out, but the thermostat was reading 9C (it’s on the Eco setting and should be maintaining at 10C) and I shrugged it off as it not having hit the boundary temperature to fire up again.  Today I checked the pressure, hit reset and although the boiler sprang into life, it didn’t make the WHUMPH noise that indicates it’s fired up and promptly switched itself off again.  I spoke to RDI and they’ll be out to look at it as soon as possible – it probably needs bleeding and they need to replace the dodgy non-return valve they found on their last vist.  We were going to wait to move that radiator until Pete and Al had sorted the wall, but I’ve said if they’re coming out, we might as well go back to the original plan of putting two isolation valves on it and letting Pete take it off the wall when he’s ready, then RDI can cross this job off their books.  They’re also going to test the emissions, as my neighbour has mentioned he can smell it very strongly when it fires, although that may simply be because it doesn’t have a garage around it any more.  (It’s been a bad day for boilers, the one at Ethel’s had stopped as well, but I managed to fix that one – pressure drop due to cold weather.  I’ve got guests arriving on Friday, so I’m hoping that’s all it is!)

As well as speaking to RDI today I’ve also rung a new plumber, as I’ve never heard anything more from the one who said they’d come and look at the job back in October, despite a few gentle nudges.  I got their voicemail, but they were recommended by my neighbour at home’s parents and they only live about 5 miles from the house, so I’m hoping that a nice chunky job close to home will be appealing.  Fingers crossed.  I also gave Chris the electrician a ring to see where I’d got to on his list and he’s hoping to start if not next week then probably the week after.  We’ve decided not to move the meter and consumer unit, I’ll get David to build me a nice small cupboard around them, as they’re not the prettiest.

I know it’s a bit early to start thinking about finishing touches, but I couldn’t resist a bit of shopping over Christmas.  Serendipity in Thurso got this beautiful slate house name made for me:

And then I hit Riverside Interiors for their January sale.  The Jude chair that I wanted for the living room was in it – at that much of a discount I’ll take the risk of the second one I’ll need to order not quite being the same shade of brown.  I’m having a pair of these in the bay window in the living room, looking out over the islands.

This footstool is also for the living room, but the other end, where the two big sofas and the TV are going.

Lighting was 20% off, so this will go between the sofas as a reading lamp.

And finally, this wasn’t a planned purchase, but I fell in love with it (oops).  If there’s enough room to get it into the corner in the porch behind the front door it’ll go there.  If not, it’ll go into the utility room, opposite the back door.  The perfect boot-removing seat.

Hopefully I can get back to some more regular updates over the next few months.  I think our planned target of finishing by the end of May is optimistic, but that’s not going to stop us trying.

Slow progress…

But at least we do have some forward movement to report.

The guys turned up with the digger to do the parking spaces.

And it looks very smart, but can you spot the mistake?

The kerb drop is correct, but they should have taken out all the grass at the front so we could get two cars on parallel to the house by parking all the way up to the bay window.  A combination of miscommunication at their end and me not having time to get out to see them while they were here (I assumed that since the guy who came out to quote had been extremely organised and printed off the photo I’d sent him to explain the job in the first place and wrote all the measurements down on it, there wouldn’t be a problem).  As we can get two onto it perpendicular to the house and men and machinery had moved on and were miles away, I suggested they simply adjust their invoice accordingly, which they were happy to do.

Chris the electrician was working on a job nearby last week, so came to have a look on the way back.  Despite living over 50 miles away, he knows the house (he did the electrics when Jeff installed the boiler for the previous owner) and is happy to take the job on – including getting the servant bells working if the wiring is still behind the walls for them.  I’ve found a fabulous website called Below Stairs of Hungerford, which has original 1920s electronic bell indicator boards, so fingers crossed.

Pete also came out last week and we went through the list of things he and Al are going to sort for me.  We had another look at that brick wall in the kitchen and after making a few more holes in various bits of plasterboard, he’s also happy that it’s not load-bearing and the beams run all the way across the corridor ceiling to the other wall of the house.  He managed to track down the source of the damp corner in the dining room area as well.  This isn’t the world’s clearest photo, but this piece of guttering had been leaking back against the wall for so long that the water had worn right through the harling and was dripping onto the stone.  Like so many houses up here, there’s a lot of sandstone in the walls and it simply soaked through.  A simple fix for once, which is great news, as I’m pretty good at ringing Pete up with weird and wonderful leaks.

Finally, Warren arrived on Friday to start sorting out the gable end where the garage was and will be back on Tuesday to finish the job off.  I’ll then need to get Magnus out to paint it white, but we’ll need to wait for the weather to warm up a bit first.

Pedal to the metal

As promised, a catch-up on what I’ve been up to.

RDI came and insulated the loft and moved the oil tank.

They also put the pipework in ready for the radiator to be moved once Pete and Al were free to sort the wall out.

Once the oil tank was out, Alan and his team could remove the garage.  As my neighbour walks his dog around the back, they made a temporary fence out of some of the old picket fence lying around.

Warren, who harled the chimneys down at Ethel’s, will be along at the beginning of November to harl the wall.

I started clearing the garden.  It’s mainly blackberries, blackcurrants and honeysuckle.  The idea is to keep enough hedge behind the oil tank to grow over it and hide it a bit, clear a space behind that to put a picnic table so you can see the view between the two houses, and then clear all the way around the fence line, so that the wall can be taken down onto my garden and a new fence erected.  My neighbour says I’m fine to take a digger around the back to put posts in as long as I don’t leave any stones that will clog up his mower.  It’s tough going!

Inside I’ve been peering under more bits of carpet and the more I see of the downstairs floor, the more I love it.

Howdens’ designer, Tom, and I have been back and forwarding by email.  We’ve got the kitchen and utility price down to £7,500 from £12,000, but Tom just wanted David to double-check his measurements and make sure the wall cabinet doors in the kitchen would open under the beams.  So on Wednesday afternoon I picked David and Magnus up from Bettyhill and we all went over together, Magnus to look at the external woodwork and inside walls for painting surfaces.

David noticed pretty quickly that two of the beams in the maid’s room had been boxed in before they’d been papered.  A quick prod with a hammer and crowbar later and we found a beautiful natural rough beam, which must have been hewn nearly 100 years ago.  A bit of bark fell off it.

David also took a look at the mystery brick wall and agreed that it almost certainly wasn’t load-bearing and I asked him to look at the joists in the bedroom we’re turning into a bathroom upstairs – the good news is that as long as I put a bath perpendicular to them (which I was planning to do anyway) and I don’t buy a cast iron one, they’ll take the weight.  Upstairs has had 18mm chipboard laid over the original floorboards, which is good news for putting Karndean down in the upstairs bathroom (less floor prep required) and as Jeff remembered, there’s a decent depth under there to get plumbing in.

Next week we start to get busy.  On Wednesday Green & Cameron arrive to rip out the grass at the front, replace it with gravel and drop the kerb to create the parking spaces.  On Friday RDI come back to move the radiator – Pete and Al haven’t had time to sort the wall, but I need the heating back on, so we’ve agreed they’ll put an isolation valve on each side and then Pete can take it back off when we need to get behind it.

Magnus and David both recommended an electrician – sadly Dougie is tied up on a massive job all winter and can’t help me this time – but warned me that he’s getting close to retirement and doesn’t always want to take on big jobs.  I was hopeful that since he lives fairly close to Coldbackie and could have a key and do it at his own pace, he might be persuaded and although he hasn’t said yes yet, he is at least coming to have a look at it towards the end of next week.  I also have a plumber interested, who’s going to stop by when he’s next out west.  He’s working with David on a bathroom near me soon, so hopefully he’ll drop in at the same time.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on room layouts.  All the bedrooms, the upstairs bathroom and the living room have been mapped at 1:10 scale in Excel (with the cells made into squares) and then I’ve created shapes to the correct dimensions for beds, bedside tables, sofas and so on.  I’ve also marked where the existing sockets are and where I want new ones.

Next week’s job is to think about colour schemes.  I found a copy of Farrow & Ball: How To Decorate* in the local library system, took it with me when I went away with my mum last week, and read the whole thing in two days.  It’s been so, so helpful.  I’ll leaf through it again next week as I’m starting to work out what colours I want.  The only thing I’m firm on at the moment is that I want a big dark wall to hang pictures on in the stairwell, but it really does feel like we’re about to start making some speedy progress.

 

Things I’ve been drooling at

Not a lot of house progress to report (I’ll try and get the pictures off my phone later on this week), so since I haven’t done one of these for a while, here are a few places that have caught my eye recently.

Seaglass, Whitsand Bay

Couldn’t be much further away (it’s in Cornwall), but it has views to die for, plus its own hot tub and helicopter landing pad.  Only three rooms (bedroom, living area/kitchen and bathroom), but manages £120,000 a year in bookings as a holiday let.  Originally up for sale at £850,000 when I first spotted it back in June, it’s now down to £699,000.  https://www.onthemarket.com/details/4718836/

Point Clair House, Loch Ness

Slightly closer to home and also currently being run as a holiday let, Point Clair House was built in the 1930s by a ship’s captain (spot the nautical influences in those curved windows) and sits on a peninsular into Loch Ness.  It comes with about 3.5 acres of grounds, with planning permission to build another two 3-bedroom houses.  £795,000.

Howietoun Fishery, Stirlingshire

This is an unusual one and it only came up on my radar today when I was looking for something else.  It would be an utter nightmare to develop, with 4 A-listed buildings on it and a B-listed grain mill, which of course means that I really want to do it!  My favourite building, by far, is the summerhouse in the middle of one of the ponds.  At 27 acres, this could be a really beautiful set of holiday cottages and £225,000 seems very reasonable for something only 4 miles outside Stirling.

 

Let the demolitions begin

Apologies for the gap in posting, I’ve been getting husband back on his feet, dealing with lambs, making hay, keeping Ethel’s clean and tidy with back-to-back guests and, finally, getting a bit of work done on the Coldbackie house!

The new windows went in last month and look great.

The Aga was sold to a couple just up the road from where we live, who are off-grid and are going to convert it back to solid fuel.  Their son came up to help them take it out and it left the house in three pieces, but it’s made the room look a lot bigger.

I got stripping in the front bedroom – love it when the wallpaper just peels off in easy strips 🙂  I need to measure up that fireplace – I’m hoping the Victorian-style metal insert that we took out of the bedroom at Ethel’s will fit in there, allowing it still to be a feature, but getting back the floor space that the tiled hearth takes up.

And I couldn’t resist a little peel back of the wallpaper on the landing.  My bedroom was that colour yellow when I was tiny!

Then it was time to get demolition-happy in what will be the kitchen-diner.  It’s going to be a lovely big room when we’re all the way through.

And just to show what a difference aspect makes to warmth of light – both the room I’m standing in and the room I’m knocking through to are painted the same colour, but one has a north-facing window and the other south-facing.

New beams being exposed.  This is going to need treating for woodworm.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was to find a brick wall here.  Everyone, even the surveyors, thought this was stud.  We worked out, with some help from Ralph next door, that this is where the original house’s staircase would have been and the Hoggs would have put this wall up to create the maid’s room.  Therefore it’s likely not to be load-bearing, which is backed up by not all the beams resting on it, but I’m going to get Pete to come and check it out before I take a sledgehammer to it.

RDI were starting this week, putting in insulation, moving the oil tank and moving the radiator in the maid’s room, so I thought I’d better have a look at the wall the radiator was going to be moved to (the Aga wall), just in case there was a fabulous stone fireplace hiding behind it.  Sadly all that was left was a lintel, the rest appears to have been bodged about with in the 1930s.

I wasn’t expecting that wall to be tanked.  As we were planning to make the wall on the left of the picture above a bare stone feature wall and there was a bit of damp in the top corner, I thought I’d peel that back as well.  Turns out it’s also tanked, so game over for bare stone (why would you tank an internal wall??), but I think I’ve found the cause of the moisture – old plaster had flaked off in chunks and wedged itself between the wall and the plasterboard, bridging the air gap and allowing moisture to cross through into the plasterboard.  All this will come off, the wall will get cleaned up, picked and pointed as necessary, and then have new studwork and plasterboard.  On the plus side, it means the radiator can now go on this wall, which is a much easier move in terms of pipework.

Our final job at the weekend was to cut back the area where the oil tank’s going to go.  Lots of blackberry and blackcurrant bushes in with the honeysuckle, so I think I’m going to make it an edible garden.  I think I’ve found a border at the back of the living room which would make a perfect herb garden, but I need to go back and rip out a load of weeds and grass and see what’s actually under there.  We’ve found quite a nice old concrete edging to the lawn under the grass as well.

Project 2 has lift-off

Completion had to be delayed for a few days after the final set of searches found a Notice of Grant Conditions attached to the house, but Elaine checked them out and they’re nothing to worry about, so we were able to pick up the six sets of keys to the house last Tuesday.  Mick is currently in plaster after rupturing his Achilles tendon last month, so not a lot we could get our teeth into straight off, but we went over there straight away anyway, just to go and sit inside it and feel happy for a bit 🙂  Room by room walkthrough below.

Living room

The window seat will be retained (or at least reinstated after the bay window is replasterboarded, as there’s been a leak at some point in the past).  I’ll put a coffee table there and two small armchairs to make a separate seating area from the rest of the room.  Then there’ll be a sofa side-on to the fireplace with its back to the window.  This will be part of the TV area grouping at the other end of the room.

TV will go to the right of the fireplace (the satellite dish has to be on the back of the house.  I was going to put a corner unit in that right-hand corner, but the radiator is in the way, so there’ll be a big sofa along that right-hand wall to make an open 90-degree corner with the fireplace sofa.

As the fireplace is such a huge focal point (we’ll take out that electric fire and replace it with a woodburner), I don’t feel I need to do a wallpaper feature wall in this room.  The original picture rail is still up, so we’ll paint the room white above that and put a colour on the walls below – I’ve found some lovely tan leather armchairs and leather/fabric mix sofas with pillow backs, which are autumnal reds and greens, so I need to work out a colour that will blend in with that.  The carpet is an Axminster, in Dounreay pattern(!) and there are some lovely floorboards underneath, but they’re straight onto joists with no insulation and there are gaps in them where Jeff broke through the floor installing the radiators, so we’ll put carpet in here – we’re going to have a neutral carpet throughout the house in all bar a few rooms.

Love this art deco-style door handle.

Bathroom

It’s a standard Care & Repair bathroom, similar to the one at Ethel’s.  This was originally two rooms and we did think about reinstating the wall, but have decided one lovely large bathroom is better than two small separate rooms.  The sink will move over to the right, a bath will go under that window where the sink is (I need to measure out, but I’m hoping to get a double-ended slipper bath in there) and the shower will be a large quadrant shower in the left back corner.  The floor in here will likely be a Karndean lino in a chessboard-style tile effect.

Kitchen/diner

This is the current dining room.  Much as everyone says, ‘Oooh, Aga!!’ it’s going to have to go, because it drinks oil like a demon, overpowers the room both physically and heat-wise, and is going to get in the way of where the dining table’s going to go.  The wall to the left, just out of shot (you can see the paper peeling off where I ripped a damp bit away) is an external wall but now has the current kitchen built onto it, so Pete reckons we may be able to strip that back to be a beautiful bare stone wall without much heat loss.

This is the maid’s room, attached to the dining room and shown as bedroom 5 on the floor plan.  We’re going to knock this out completely to make a big kitchen/diner.  The kitchen part of it will mostly be contained in here and flooring for the whole thing will be another Karndean stone-effect lino.

Utility room

Currently the kitchen, this will have a sink, washing machine, tumble dryer, ironing board and be somewhere for wet, muddy, sandy dogs to dry off 🙂  Karndean flooring again.

Hall and landing

The downstairs hall and corridor, leading to bathroom and kitchen/diner.  This will be carpeted and painted a neutral colour.

The stairwell, still with its original bannisters.  That electrical gear is going to need moving, I fear, because to read the meter you have to stand on the landing and peer at it.  (And that reminds me, SSE couldn’t find the house on the national database when I rang them last week, though they do currently supply it, so I have to ring them back tomorrow with the meter serial number!).  Again, this will be kept simple and neutral, though I want something quite statement lighting-wise – I’ve seen one that I love, but only on American websites, where it’s tagged as Analia vintage 3-light cluster pendant.  I’m hoping I can find something similar in the UK, or maybe something like a lantern light.

Upstairs landing – again, neutral throughout.

Master bedroom

This room is above the dining room.  That door opens into an empty cupboard where the hot water tank used to be, it’ll be knocked out to give a bit more space and a 5ft double bed will go up against that back wall.  Plenty of space in here for a wardrobe and drawers.  The little hatch on the left accesses the roof space above the utility room.  I haven’t even started to think about colours yet.  This room has a modern door on it, similar to the one on the cupboard.  Fortunately by knocking out the maid’s room downstairs, I’ll free up two original doors (there are two doors in the long corridor downstairs) which can be put into this room and what will become the upstairs bathroom, as it also has a modern door.

Upstairs bathroom

Currently a bedroom, this is going to be turned into an upstairs bathroom with a big shower, a loo and a sink.  There’s a handy cupboard to the right of the doorway, which will hold spare towels and bed linen.  Jeff, who installed the heating system here, says that from memory there’s a good foot of space under the floorboards before you get to the downstairs ceilings, so in theory, there’s enough room to take the pipes through that void and out the back to connect with the existing drainage and sewerage (this room is more or less above the bathroom, it’s just the corridor is on the other side upstairs), and it shouldn’t require a building warrant.  Although downstairs is currently an electric shower, I’m going to put one that runs off the combi boiler in downstairs and make this upstairs one electric – that way if there’s an issue with the boiler at any time, a hot shower will still be available.  Belt and braces!

Front bedroom

I need to think carefully about layout in this room.  It’s going to be another double, so do I block off that fireplace and put the headboard against that wall, put the headboard below the picture and leave the fireplace or put the headboard against the left-hand wall in the picture below?  I think I’m going to be in here with my newspaper furniture layouts again.

The door just visible on the left is yet another cupboard and although the roof valley comes down inside it, I think there’s enough space in there to put a rail in and make it a wardrobe, which frees up a bit of floor space.  I found the newspaper below in it, from July 1970, and just loved the second lead story on the front page.

Back bedroom

This will be the twin and will be tricky to fit a wardrobe into.  Where I’m standing has the roof valley coming down into the room, so I’m going to have to put the beds on the wall where the bell push is and the wardrobe against that bit of wall to the left, if it’ll allow the doors to open.  The little bit of wood on the left of the picture is the door frame.

Garden

Somewhat overgrown and vertical, but it looks like this bit used to be a flower border at one time.  I love the bluebells.

The boundary is roughly where the tree is and that old house belongs to the neighbour, but there’s a wonderful honeysuckle growing all over the top of the garden, which I’m sure will smell glorious in a few weeks when it starts to flower.  Views up to the Watch Hill are nearly as spectacular as the views to the front, and we’ll build seating out here, so that people can bring food out of the utility room door and eat out here in summer (midges permitting).

I’ve already had ERG round to quote for windows.  Mick guessed £24k, I thought they’d start at £22k and we’d settle somewhere around £15k.  In the end, for 17 windows plus a Velux, they started at a few pounds under £20k and we got to £14,199, which I’m delighted with.  I did look at a company called Rationel as well, because they do hardwood windows and I have a real soft spot for proper wood windows in old houses, but it was going to be just that bit too expensive when I took into consideration everything else we need to do.  Next time they need replacing, when I’m not trying to get everything else done at the same time, I’ll have another look.  Their surveyor is coming to do a detailed measure-up tomorrow morning, then on Thursday morning someone’s coming to take a look at the asbestos garage and quote for dismantling and disposal, and Monday morning sees RDI Renewables visiting to let me know what they can do in terms of insulation.  It’s a little bit damp in there at the moment, and new windows plus some room-in-roof and attic insulation will make a big difference.

Busy, busy, busy

Many apologies for the radio silence, it’s been an astonishingly busy few weeks, mainly down to the arrival of our lambs!  32 of them running around the place now, with one last ewe holding out on us, though she has an udder like a football, so I hope number 33 will be with us before too much longer.

Guests have been coming and going at Ethel’s and we’ve had a few more bathroom issues.  Jeff’s bottle trap fixed the basin leak and I haven’t had any further comments about leaks in the shower, but I did get a message from one set of guests to say the shower was backing up to the point where they’d had a small flood in the bathroom.  So Jeff and I went down there while they were out (with their permission) and investigated.  First stop, check the shower trap – clear (I take the hair out of it at every changeover, not my favourite job, but important).  Second test, flush the loo, which is below the the shower in terms of the way the water runs.  Water level in shower trap rose slightly, indicating there was a blockage somewhere between the house and the soakaway.  John Angie had told us that the drains can block at one particular point and he used to rod it every three months – now, we hadn’t touched it in 2 years and I doubt Ethel’s son did when he lived there for a while in the 2 years after she died either.  We lifted the access point John had pointed out and sure enough, it was backed up, indicating the blockage was further down.  One set of rods, a satisfying sucking noise and a miniature ancient fatberg later, it flowed away, but Jeff advised getting Magnus (the house painter) over, as he had the right equipment to power flush the whole system through.

Magnus turned up two days later, after the guests had gone, lifted the cover to the first rodding point right outside the bathroom and…

Yes, the scourge of all septic tank systems – the wet wipe!!  I think we need a better sign for the top of the toilet – the one provided by the agency says only soft tissue may be flushed down the toilet and it appears that people are taking that to include the dreaded wipes.  Magnus, who needs a bravery medal, cleared it, flushed the system, and so far it seems to be behaving itself, but he thinks we might benefit from having the soakaway redone at some point, as it’s not working too effectively right now.

Then on Thursday last week we had to get Jeff back again, as the hot water stopped working.  A quick investigation revealed the culprit, a hole in a rubber hose inside the boiler, which had obviously been rubbing against something and gradually eroding.  Fortunately Jeff had the right part at home and was able to repair it straight away.  I peered into the tank to check there was oil in it, could see my reflection but didn’t have anything to dip it with, so we fired it up and it started working – all seemed good.  At midnight I got another email from the guests to say it had stopped working again, so I went down there at 7am with a bamboo cane and found the oil level was below the outlet pipe from the tank.  Given I’d put 500 litres of heating oil in there about two months previously, that was not good news – I’d had the same amount put in our tank at home at the same time and that was nearly half full still.  We appeared to have lost 200-300 litres from the leak.  I called the two oil delivery companies, neither of whom were coming west that day (Friday), but got a delivery booked for today (Monday).  Our thought was to try and find someone local with a small pump, siphon some oil out of ours and take it down the road, but when a number of phone calls drew a blank, we suddenly remembered that Allans of Gillock, the agricultural store where we buy our red diesel for the tractor, also has kerosene on pump, so I emptied all our jerry cans into their respective bits of machinery, drove over to Watten, filled them with 75l of kerosene, lashed them all together in the boot so they wouldn’t fall over, drove back, emptied them into the tank, hit the reset button on the boiler and….nothing.

Jeff, who by this point was probably qualified to put ‘damsel in distress rescuer’ on his business cards, arrived 15 minutes later, diagnosed a lot of air in the system, bled it, and it started up just fine and has been working ever since.  I saw the Simpsons lorry go up the road this morning, so I can now stop worrying that this week’s guests are going to run out of oil.  ‘Dip tank’ will be added to the list of monthly maintenance tasks!!

We are now on our eighth set of guests and are starting to get less panicky that people are going to hate it and give us bad reviews.  So far we have three out of three 10/10 scores on Revoo (which get displayed on our listing with the agency) and the comments in the visitors’ book have been amazing.  I’ve learned that to do a full changeover of all five bed spaces is about seven loads of laundry (depending on whether they used all the towels as well) and that the next set of bed linen I buy is going to have fitted sheets instead of flat – slightly harder to iron, but a lot quicker to make up!  Bookings-wise, we’re now up to 113 nights booked and a little under £8,500 of revenue after the agency’s fee is taken out.

As regards the other house, missives are concluded and we’re completing on Thursday, but in the meantime I’ve got involved with two other little projects on the side.  One is our own house, which has needed a new roof for a while, so Pete and his new sidekick, Al, have been taking the fibre cement tiles off it and replacing with proper heavy slate.  It looks fabulous.  James, who is now a delivery driver, has even been back to cut the scallops, just like he did for Ethel’s.  We were going to go for diamonds either side of the Velux, but it’s not quite central and it would have sent Mick’s OCD bananas, so we’re having a big diamond on the porch roof instead!

The other project is our village hall!  I’m now the hall committee secretary and we’re applying for a big grant from the local wind farm to turn our lovely old traditional hall into something fit for use.  We’re working with a local architect, who’s come up with the brilliant idea of building a new structure around the old hall, so it becomes the main room within the new building.  We’re planning to provide facilities not just for the village, but for tourists passing on the North Coast 500 and people visiting the beach, so it’ll have toilets, showers and a laundry room which can be open for public use while the main hall and the kitchen remains locked up.  This is what it looks like at the moment, just after the landscapers had been in to clear out the overgrown car park and take down a few trees.

So lots and lots to get my teeth into and I can’t wait to get going with Tor Aluinn!

Settling in

Our first three sets of guests couldn’t have been nicer, they’ve all left us lovely comments in the guest book, one has left us 10 out of 10 on Reevoo, which is the feedback service Cottages.com uses for its properties, and they’ve been very patient with the little teething troubles we’ve had.  I was away when the second guests checked out, so Mick popped his head in to make sure all was okay and turn the heating back down.  He reported all was fine, they’d very kindly stripped the bed and left used towels in the bathroom.  ‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘Don’t need to do much before the next lot arrive on Saturday.’  On the Saturday morning I waved Mick off to London for work and went down to clean.  Picked up the towels from the shower tray and found they were all soaking.

You can insert your own Scooby-Doo ‘Ruh-roh’ noise here.

Yes, there was a massive leak in the back corner of the shower where the glass screen met the wall.  Neither Jeff nor Pete were picking up, but Pete’s was going straight to voicemail which indicated he might actually be using it, so I sent him a text to see if there was any chance he was free to come and rescue me and then got on with sorting out the rest of the house.  Three hours later, when I’d finished everything else that needed doing, I went home, watched a few YouTube videos on how to use a silicone gun, thought it didn’t look that difficult and was just marching back up the drive with it tucked under one arm and a knife in my pocket, when Pete screeched to a halt at the top of the drive.  He’d actually been in the village when I was trying to call him, but his phone had no signal, and he’d got all the way home to Reay before my message had got through.  He tried to call me back, but my phone had no signal here either, so he’d rummaged in his shed for some silicone, jumped in his van and come all the way back.  On a Saturday.  Megastar!

I left the guests a note asking them to try and avoid spraying that area of the shower too heavily that evening and asked them to let me know if there were any further problems.  On Tuesday they let me know there was a bit of a leak from another bit of the shower and the basin was leaking like mad.  This time I really did need to summon up Jeff.  I went down while they were out on Wednesday afternoon and managed to fix the shower myself (proud DIY moment!) and then Jeff and I took the basin to pieces on Thursday morning.  His theory is that there are too many joints in the U-bend waste pipe and the angle it goes into the wall is putting pressure on them and loosening them.  He tightened everything up, stuffed a towel into the back of it to catch drips and is coming back tomorrow with a bottle trap waste, which he reckons should solve the problem.

The next guests are due on the 14th and if we’re very lucky with the weather next week (this week is rubbish) we might get the problem chimney harled before they arrive.  Pete has finished the big job he was working on and has been bringing all his scaffolding to our house today (he’s going to replace our roof with proper slate as our old fibre cement slates are completely knackered), so it’s here and ready to go up down the road if we catch a break.

Ethel’s is now removed from the council tax register and onto business rates.  I’ve applied for 100% rates relief, which I should get, but it would be about half the normal council tax if I had to pay it in full.  Scottish Water is coming on Monday to survey the house to see if I’ll be better off with a water meter fitted and then I have to find a water provider.  Apparently there are 20 to choose from in Scotland at the moment (list here), so I need to work my way through those later and see if any of them give the remotest hint of what prices might be like.  I only need water supply, the drainage is to a private septic tank, so that’s one fewer bill at least.

The final thing I have to arrange is commercial waste and recycling collections.  The Highland Council has a very easy form to fill in and, even better, lets me split my year into two seasons, so I can have a fortnightly collection from 1st April to the end of October, which is the usual residential cycle, and then from 1st November to the end of the year on 31st March, I can just have an uplift once a month, which helps save me money.  Unfortunately I got an error message submitting the form, so I’ll have to try again tomorrow, but for a normal sized wheelie bin for a self-catering cottage, the current Highland Council price is £5.03+VAT for a rubbish bin and £2.20+VAT for a recycling bin, so not extortionate.

In Coldbackie news, we have all the financing in place, which is absolutely fantastic.  Just a small boundary query for the solicitors to sort out between them and then we should be all systems go.