On the of-fence-ive

I was down the hill yesterday afternoon, topping up the horses’ hay, when I heard a clanking noise.  It sounded awfully like someone was driving a large piece of machinery down my top field.  I scrambled up the muck heap to have a look and sure enough, a bright yellow JCB digger was churning its way over towards me.  It was Graeme, here to start replacing the 440m of fencing I need doing.

As horses and bright yellow diggers aren’t usually a happy combination, he left it parked there overnight and this morning I had the job of persuading the boys that they wanted to come down the road to the field at 166.  They didn’t turn a hair at the digger, or at the enormous tractor and trailer parked on the drive, but apparently a red sheep lick tub that’s blown into a ditch needs a Very Hard Stare.

Anyway, Graeme and his team have had a productive day down the road at Ethel’s House.  The little garden area is marked out with strainers and fenceposts.

They’ve put a drain in to tie the extra downpipe Pete suggested we added into the rest of the drains (and accidentally went through the water main, but they’ve promised me they’ll fix it tomorrow!  They missed the BT cable though).

The old gate is off and the new wooden main gate and side gate are ready for hanging.  I’ll be painting them dark green to match the front door.

The slightly rickety wooden fence is gone from the front and new fenceposts and strainers are in.  I’m hoping that the wire fencing won’t get in the way of the view so much as the old fence did.

And it’s been ripped out in front of the byres as well, meaning I’ve got some visitors!

They’ve also put in strainers and fenceposts for the sections we need doing at home and tomorrow they’ll do the same for the big field up the road – then the second digger can go off to its next job and they’ll start putting the wire up.

Treading water

Last weekend Mick levelled the bathroom floor:

So we’re ready for Derek and his team to come back and put the rest of the heating in, but they’re tied up on a job up the road in Bettyhill at the moment – however, they’re hoping to finish it on Thursday and then will be back 🙂

We’re expecting a bit of a breeze on Wednesday (this is Highland for up to 70mph), so Mick has come up with a clever way to keep the remaining part of the corrugated iron roof in place until Pete has time to replace it.  (Plus this picture is proof for my accountant that the two haynets I bought yesterday are a legitimate property expense – the other one is on the other side!)

For now, though, it’s sunny and mild, so what better day to get the tractor out of the shed after its winter lay-up?  It started first time and Mick has had a happy morning raising the clutch a bit and chugging around with a big grin on his face.

So fingers crossed Derek and team can make it to us next week and then we can start the final push.  I was on a smallholding forum this morning and found a post from someone wanting a croft to do some filming on at the beginning of May, so I’ve replied to see if Ethel’s would be suitable – with a warning that it might not be finished by then if they want to shoot interiors!

Floored

Firstly, if the Highland Council is still reading, thank you very much for putting the council tax back down to the 100% rate.  I will do my utmost to get the house finished and onto business rates by the end of the council tax year!

David has been in for a day and a half this week and now we have a floor upstairs.

Twin bedroom – turns out that the underfloor heating plus 18mm chipboard (turns out we hadn’t ordered 22mm after all!) was exactly the right height to match up with the 3 x 2 round the window.

Hall – this will be covered up by a cupboard.

Double bedroom

Single bedroom

I had a bit of a scrub at the bannisters, just to see how easy it was going to be to sand the paint off.  The bannisters themselves should be fine, but the understairs cupboards not so much – I can see about three layers of paint there.  Fortunately Mick has a sander, so I won’t have to do it all by hand with sandpaper.

Today has been a sheep-wrangling day – our area is bad for liver fluke, so since my brother-in-law was staying, we took advantage of the extra pair of hands to get them penned up and dosed.  Two brothers looking very pleased with their herding efforts!

They also hung gates in the gateways between the three fields (they’d been removed before we bought the crofts), so catching them next time might be a bit easier, as I’ll be able to at least confine them to the small field rather than having them racing around all three when they escape!

Frog swallowing

Anyone else swallow frogs?  The saying stems from the thought that one should swallow a live frog first thing every morning on the grounds that nothing worse is likely to happen to you that day (or the frog, for that matter…).  Getting the maps done for the decrofting application has been a frog that’s been growing in size steadily over the past month or two, so last night I held my nose and swallowed it.

I need to ring the Department today (or the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspectorate Directorate, to give it its proper name, but SGRPID is tricky to pronounce, so everyone calls it the Department), as they are the representatives of my landlord (the Scottish Ministers) and see if I need an appointment to get a signature on the forms to say they approve of the application or whether I can just drop in.

What else has been happening?  Mick has been working hard on his improvised plasterboard-cutting table

and as a result we have three separate rooms again upstairs, plus Derek and his team have finished laying the underfloor up there.

Last of the insulation going in upstairs

Bathroom ready for the pipework for the shower.

Corner edging in place

We had a Rembrand delivery on Thursday.  Mick had ordered some more plasterboard and the 22mm chipboard sheets to go over the underfloor heating upstairs and had arranged with them to ring my office phone when they were close so I could go down and help unload.  Now, every time they’ve been here in the past, it’s been around 10.30-11am, so when I got down the road at 9.15 to feed the sheep I was a bit surprised to find the order neatly stacked outside the front door.  The problem was that moisture-resistant plasterboard sheets weigh 26kg (or about 57lbs) which is over a third of my bodyweight and we had a fairly stiff breeze of about 35mph coming directly from the south, which meant that the 8×4 plasterboard sheets and 8×2 chipboard sheets (which themselves were about 15kg each) turned into giant sails, blowing me around with them when I picked them up.  After a bit of a false start when I tried to take a plasterboard sheet straight into the living room, got it wedged between the stairs and the front door and had to climb out of the living room window, I got the 8 plasterboard sheets and 30 chipboard sheets inside and stacked up in about 45 minutes.  Seems a winter of heaving 25kg sacks of sheep feed about has its uses!  David’s away at a wedding at the moment, so once he’s back he’ll come and lay this for us, then it’ll be ready for underlay and carpet.

I also had a surprise gift – John, Ethel’s former partner, turned up with this and has refused to take any money for it, because he reckons he put the barn roof on in 1991 and it should have been good for a few years more yet.

For those of you going, ‘What on earth…???’ it’s a Massey Ferguson fingerbar mower (the second blade is in the shed for sharpening) and it means I now have all the equipment I need to make my hay without outside assistance this summer, though I suspect I shall be on the phone to John going, ‘Help!’ the moment something breaks down!

Post-Christmas progress

WARNING:  lots of pictures ahead!

One of the things I forgot to mention in my last post is that the Highland Council decided to give me a Christmas present of putting me back on 200% council tax as of 25th December.  I’ve sent them an email explaining that the house still isn’t done and attaching scans of the latest bunch of invoices and letting them know they can follow progress on this blog, so hello to the Highland Council council tax department if you’re reading this 🙂

So, what’s been happening in the last fortnight?  The stove arrived:

and Pete and James turned up to put the replacement hearthstone in, very, very carefully!

David’s put all the internal studwork back in, has been panelling like a demon and has also replaced all the rotted/woodworm-y floorboards.

We hit a bit of an issue last Friday.  We were forecast gales on Thursday night, not particularly high – gusting to about 65mph or so.  As I was walking down to feed the sheep on Friday morning I saw an SSE van in the village and a flapping power cable.  ‘Wonder what caused that?’ I thought.  The next field I passed was Ronald’s, who lives in the house diagonally opposite Ethel’s.  There appeared to be a heap of twisted metal in it.  ‘Crumbs, some poor sod’s lost their roof,’ I thought.

Er, yes, that poor sod would be me – the haybarn roof had completely gone!

Talking to the SSE guys, they said it looked like it had come off in one piece, bounced off the power cable between Ethel’s house and Ronald’s with such force that it snapped four cables as a result, knocking out power to that end of the village, and then bounced in Ronald’s field, breaking up on impact.  In the picture of the field, you can just make out a piece of wood stuck vertically in the ground to the left of the telegraph pole.  That had driven in over a foot deep.

Mick came home from work and we cleared out all the wood from the stalled byre, finding the chains for tethering the cattle in the process – there’s a selling point!  “If your children misbehave whilst on holiday, simply tether them in our handy cattle stalls…”

And I really must take this sofa to the tip.  Ethel got it for the front room, but decided it was too big, so it’s been living in a cattle stall ever since.

Anyway, the hay is all safe and sound, the wood is in the roofless hay barn and we’ll get a new roof on it once Mick has decided whether or not he’s going to rebuild the front wall, which is bowing out a bit.  Back to the house.

David, bless him, came over on Saturday to finish the last little bits he needed to get done before the heating team started.  I am LOVING the way the bedroom alcoves have turned out – how’s this for a bedroom with a view?

Derek turned up on Monday with his team and Dougie was on hand to wire up the manifold.  Heating is now going in 🙂

Holes are starting to appear for sockets and switches.

And once the pipework is done for the bathroom, the last bit of plasterboarding can be done.

So it’s just finish the heating, get the floor down, install the kitchen and bathroom, decorate it and make a garden.  Easy-peasy, right??

Nearly ready for heat

Happy new year!  I spent it getting plastered…

(Top tip: old bank cards make great miniature floats for skim when you’re filling in plasterboard screw heads!)

Actually, I’ve spent most of the Christmas break concentrating on breathing, as Mick kindly gave me an extra Christmas present of the lurgy going round his workplace, but while I only managed to do a few hours of hole filling, he has spent nearly every day of the holiday down there and has got a LOT done.

Plasterboard and insulation going up in the hall.

The kitchen windowseat has been done as well – just need some edge protector to finish that off.

He even managed to plasterboard the ceiling over the stairs.  I’m not sure I want to know exactly how he managed that – apparently it involved those two lengths of wood poking through the bannisters and a piece of chipboard…

David very kindly gave us some time between Christmas and new year as well, and has made good progress with the panelling upstairs.

And the framing for the internal walls is going back up as well, so it’s starting to look more like a house again and less like a shell.

David has been back this week too, replacing the damaged floorboards and finishing the framing, and Dougie has been finishing up the last bits of electrics needed, so hopefully we’ll be all set to go for Derek and his team to start putting the heating in on Monday 🙂

What I’d like under the tree tomorrow

Earlier this week I was in Thurso for the day while my car was being serviced and MOT’d (or, more accurately, not being serviced and MOT’d, because the power steering went on the way in and we decided that was a bigger issue!).  I’d hoped to use the time to have a play with my new camera, but sadly it shipped to me with a faulty battery, so I had some time to kill – and that’s dangerous, because I start walking round the solicitors’ windows and because Thurso is a small place, it’s only a 10-minute walk to go and scope out anything I like the look of in town.  So if I could have a set of front door keys for Christmas tomorrow, one of these three (and the funds to sort it out!) would be more than acceptable 🙂

Candidate number 1 is a bit of a faded grand old lady.  The house has been used as a social club, which closed about a year ago, and so is classed as commercial and there’s no home report.  The price has already been dropped by £30,000 to reflect the amount of work the roof needs and the club hasn’t had the funds to perform much maintenance in recent years, but like many of the late 1800s houses here, she has good bones, and is listed as a result.

Lovely as it would be to put it back to a family home, with my business head on, the only way to make it just about break even would be to do it as four flats.  I’ve not been inside it, but looking at the floor plan, as long as it’s possible to knock through under the fire escape from the billiards room to the function room, you’ve got a fairly easy split into second floor, first floor, ground floor left and ground floor right.

Candidate number 2 is an old drill hall.  I saw this come up for sale a few years ago and I can’t remember what the asking price was back then, but I think in the region of £120,000-£140,000.  Again, a lovely building that needs a little bit of TLC.

This is being sold privately, it’s just a sheet of paper and a phone number in the window, which I haven’t rung (yet…), so I’ve no idea what they’re asking or even what the layout is inside, but it seems that there’s a fairly natural split vertically, making three small houses each with its own big arched entrance door.

Candidate number 3 is a bit of a cheat, because I didn’t actually see the house, I just saw it advertised in the window, but apparently it’s been on the market since August and I somehow missed it.  This is in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere – literally – and is a four bedroom detatched house with large garden grounds and absolutely stunning views over miles and miles of open moorland to the mountains.

The home report is a shocker – partially collapsed ceiling, suspected decayed roof timbers, crumbling plaster, woodworm, damage to the chimneys, damp, corroded window frames, ancient electrics – in short, pretty much everything we’ve found down the road at Ethel’s house, so that doesn’t scare me.  What does is the price.  Bearing in mind that the survey recommends a retention of £25,000 until the ‘water ingress’ (i.e. leaking roof), defective plasterwork, damp, woodworm, electrics and water supply (private supply) is sorted, I think £200,000 in its current state is ambitious.  It sold in 2005 for £203,750 and despite Zoopla giving it a current estimated value of £289,000, I can’t see it going for more than £240,000 in top notch condition.  The roof on its own would be £30,000 to replace (that’s a Pete estimate!) and electrics would be another £8,000 or so.

That said, it’s a very pretty house in a stunning setting, albeit very remote, and I’ll be keeping my eye on it to see if the price comes down once we’ve finished with Ethel’s.  It’s an executor sale, so it’s toss of a coin whether they want fast cash or best price, but I wouldn’t want to pay more than £150,000-£160,000 for it, I don’t think, and I’d probably want to alter the layout a bit.

tigh_achanechan_floorplan

Downstairs I’d leave alone, but upstairs I’d be strongly tempted to make bedroom one, the bathroom and the cupboard into a big master suite with en-suite and dressing room, and then turn bedroom three into a second bathroom, or alternatively, if I wanted to keep it as four bedrooms, carve a bit off the left-hand side of bedroom four and turn that into an en-suite, bringing the plumbing up from the WC/utility below it, though if you went the full length of the room it would unbalance the bay window.

Merry Christmas to everyone reading this and I hope you all get what you want in your stockings tomorrow morning 🙂

An expensive day

Last-minute emergency pre-Christmas shopping is supposed to be things like stuffing balls, sprouts and bacon, isn’t it?  Not what I bought today which included:

  • A multifuel stove (plus fitting kit and flexible flue liner)
  • Paint for priming the plasterboard and panelling and some of the colours (we need to have another look at the small bedroom, the living room and the kitchen after the sample pots didn’t quite turn out like the catalogue colours)
  • 17 litres of ready-mixed skim (for me to fill in all the screw heads on the plasterboard and the joins that can’t be taped)
  • More wood for framing

It just struck me the other day that Derek was probably going to want to put the stove in BEFORE he laid the underfloor heating in that room and so I’d better get a shift on and order it.  Fortunately Stovesareus had what I wanted in stock and should be delivering a Stovax Stockton 3 on 5th January.  Small, traditional-looking, and capable of burning peat – perfect for a croft house.

In other news, we had a fairly strong southerly with rain in it overnight, i.e. perfect conditions for testing out the chimney sealant, and I’m happy to say it passed with flying colours – dry as a bone in there this morning 🙂  If it comes through the rest of this week the same way, I think we can safely say we’ve solved the issue.  Fingers crossed.

Edit on Thursday 22nd:  I can add 72 x 4.8m lengths of lining boards to the above list now, as David sent me a text to say he’d picked them up from Rembrand on Monday and would cut them all down to size at home before coming and fitting them for us next week, but I needed to call Rembrand and pay for them.  One swift phone call later and I’m a smidge over £400 lighter, bringing me to about £1,500 in two days – not bad going!!  I think the next two to three weeks are really going to see a huge shift from building site back towards inhabitable house.

Men in brave pants

I was feeding the sheep this morning when the gate rattled open behind me and in drove Pete and James with their ladders.  I was surprised to see them because although they’d said they’d be here this week, it was pretty gusty and expected to get up to 60mph today.  Their thinking was that if they didn’t do it today, it wasn’t going to get done until after Christmas, thanks to storm Barbara, so they thought they’d come along and give it a go.

By the time I’d gone home, fed the dogs, done a bit of work and then decided to go back down to start tidying up anything that might potentially fly through one of my lovely new windows, they’d done the north chimney and were onto the south one.  The sealant they’ve painted on is very, very runny, almost the consistency of water, and Pete said it was running down all the stonework apart from that one problem block we’ve identified, where it was just sucked in straight away.

That was the second coat on anyway (they’d done the first yesterday but I’d been out), and it looks like its effectiveness is going to get a thorough testing over the next few days, as forecasts are now saying that people living on the north coast should prepare for gales of 100mph or more and heavy rain.  I fear Christmas lunch this year may be a pizza cooked on the top of the woodburner by candlelight!

I’ve picked up all the loose bits of wood and guttering and stashed them in the area between the house and the byres, along with the wheelie bins.  The pile of old plasterboard out front now has large breezeblocks holding it down and the cooker, small chest freezer and chest of drawers we turfed out of the hay barn over the summer have all been laid down on their sides.  I may lose my hay crate – I don’t want to lash it to the fence yet, because the sheep are tucking in well, but I’ll tie it down on Thursday, as I suspect the sheep will all hunker down in the gorse bushes.

Anyway, thank you to Pete and James, who definitely had their brave pants on today – I even got them to pose for a picture for the blog for me, though promising to put the Land Rover in it possibly was the deciding factor for James agreeing to do it 😉  Pete on the left, James on the right.

She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice…

…because she has a lot to do before the second week of January and she’s sure she’s going to forget some of it!

The Monday after we went to see the little gatehouse, I had a phone call from Derek the heating engineer.  “Small problem.  The supplier’s having a stock take and wants your system out of the warehouse before it happens.  I don’t suppose I could deliver it on Friday?”  Well, not to the annexe, no, as that’s still full of the Howdens kitchen!  So I said we’d clear out bedroom one for him and it duly turned up – it didn’t take up quite as much space as I’d feared.  Amazing to think there’s a heating system for an entire house packed into those boxes.

20161209_150036

I was going to help Derek unload it, but when he arrived it was to tell me that he’d already done it all and to drop off the invoice for it (which I was expecting, so the £3,840 wasn’t a nasty surprise just before Christmas!).  We talked about timings and he’s free the second week of January, so we agreed to aim for that as an installation date.

Of course, that meant panic mode on.  Before we can get the heating installed we need to:

  1. Fix the leaking chimney
  2. Get the framing for the internal bedroom walls done
  3. Finish all the insulation and plasterboarding
  4. Get all the tongue and groove in place around the upstairs walls

A few texts later and I had Pete on standby for a break in the weather, David booked over Christmas (and he’s said he’ll go into town and collect the tongue and groove so he can pick out good pieces rather than us just getting a banded load) and Dougie made aware of the installation date so he can be on hand for electrics as needed.

Part one is now underway after Pete and James turned up yesterday for further chimney investigations (in James’ rather lovely old flat-bed Land Rover after the van had an unfortunate incident with some black ice and a bus…).  Although they didn’t get the three-hour rain-free gap they needed to paint the sealant onto the chimney stacks, they did cap the two southern ones (they’re big 10″ pots, which isn’t helpful in terms of rainfall collection) and think they’ve discovered the source of the issue in the norther one.  Have a look at this crop from a photo from the summer, taken before the chimneys were picked and pointed.

156-armadale-outside-10-crop

See that big patch of mortar on the chimney?  This is what it looked like after Pete had taken it off.

156 armadale - outside - 28

And when Pete and James went up there on Friday, they had a look at that stone just above the roof, with the notch cut into it, and found that it was so saturated with water that if it had been a sponge you could have wrung several buckets’-worth out of it.  It’s a piece of sandstone, about the size of a shoe box, and it’s very porous, so rain is soaking into it and trickling down into the house.

The problem is that it needs to be dry before it can be sealed and at this time of year that’s just not going to happen, so the new plan is for Pete and James to go up there next week on a dry day with a couple of heat guns and dry out the surface of it enough to get the first coat of sealant on it.  I do love a good creative solution to a problem!

Mick is carrying on with the plasterboarding when he’s not at work and has now got enough done upstairs that David can put the internal bedroom walls back in when he’s here next.

20161212_095034 20161212_095049

And finally a very specific tip for anyone who’s having a roof replaced and has sheep – the wooden crates that slates are delivered in make fantastic hay feeders!

20161205_093410