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.

 

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.

Girl done good

The day our first guests were due to depart, I saw no car when I went to feed the sheep, so went in through the main gate rather than the back one and noticed a pink envelope on the coffee table in the living room.  I went in and found that not only had they left the house practically cleaner than it was when they arrived, but they’d also left us a thank-you card and this very lovely message as the first entry in our visitor book.

I really hope they’re all like this!  I emailed them to say thank you and they gave me a couple of bits of useful feedback, firstly that there was a draft coming from the front door (which I have been trying to replicate and have concluded that I need to put something in the information book about lifting the handle up to engage the entire multi-point locking system when closing the door, because that’s the only way I can make it happen) and secondly that the shower screen leaked.  We have, I hope, got that fixed after Mick checked and then re-did the seals around it – it’s just finishing off 48 hours to dry out and then I’ll give it a test tomorrow.

Today has been an exciting day as the valuer came round.  He couldn’t give me a number then and there, but he did say the stunning views and the fact that it’s essentially a new house inside a traditional shell (he said he doesn’t see many traditional croft houses in this kind of condition, which I hope was meant in a positive way!) would be reflected in the value, so I am hopeful that we’ll at least get to the figure I estimated on the Cumberland application and possibly even exceed it.  The last two three bedroom houses sold in the village, which were both in good repair, went for £15,000 and £22,000 more than the number I came up with.  He was carrying on west and going to value the house we’re buying straight afterwards, which was useful, because I was able to tell him what I’d estimated rental income at and he said that without even seeing the house, that sounded reasonable – although obviously again, he couldn’t guarantee that’s what would go in the valuation report without going round it.

Anyway, he said he’d get his reports back to both banks by the end of the week and since these valuations are the last things I’m waiting on before full formal mortgage offers are issued, I think I’m going to spend the next few days biting my nails.  The solicitors are primed and ready to go!

We have lift-off

What a week.  David came back with a newly-toughened understairs cupboard door and also two custom-made plank doors for the byres.

Pete turned up on Tuesday morning and decided the woodburner wasn’t safe to light.  What’s happening is that rain is being forced through the porous blocks in the chimney and onto the outside of the flexible flue liner where it touches the chimney wall.  The water, thick with soot and tar, then runs down the flue liner and drips down the stovepipe onto the hearth.  Pete suspects the whole liner is coated with tar and if we light it, best case scenario is that the whole house smells like a tarmacing team, worst case is that it ignites and we get a chimney fire above the blanking plate that’s completely inaccessible and burns the house down.  One swift call to the agency later, it’s been removed from the advertising as a feature and all guests contacted to explain the situation.  The solution is to get the chimneys harled, which can’t be done until the weather settles down, so we’re probably looking at end of April/beginning of May at the earliest.  In the meantime, Pete will come and remove the stove to clean everything down and then we’ll put newspaper or rags above the blanking plate to catch any drips, replacing with fresh at each changeover.  I really wish he’d been able to come back and see this BEFORE we started advertising, but hey ho.

It was third time lucky for BT on Tuesday afternoon, in that the engineer did turn up and fitted the master socket in the house.  Jamie from Openreach was also in the village, trying to track down a fault on our line at home which has developed a really bad crackle and intermittent broadband.  The engineer found a fault on the line at Ethel’s as well and the two of them put their heads together and worked out that it was a problem in the big 50-pair cable on the main road, somewhere between the farm and the farm cottage.  They’ve had a number of complaints in the village and this should now allow BT to link them all together and get fixing the cable bumped up the priority list.  It was supposed to be done yesterday, but thanks to the large dumping of snow, we’ve still got a crackly line.  However, hats off to BT, I got another two engineers at lunchtime today and by 1pm they’d got the phone and broadband at Ethel’s up and running for me.

Yesterday and today have been a serious case of stop it and tidy up, and I underestimated how long it was going to take.  I got the bedrooms sorted pretty quickly, they just needed a dust and a hoover, ditto for the landing and stairs.  I cleaned the bathroom, stocked the bathroom unit with loo rolls, got Mick to put the bathroom mirror up and then emptied both the cupboards under the stairs and gave them a really good scrub out, as they were absolutely filthy.  Setting up the kitchen was the big time sink.  There was a serious amount of packaging to deal with – this is just from the crockery!

The guests were coming up from Angus and I wasn’t entirely sure they were going to make it, as for most of the day the snow gates on the A9 were shut and we were completely cut off from the rest of the country.  When I checked my email at about 2.15 to find a message timed an hour earlier saying they were just 80 miles away, I had a slight panic, because the kitchen at that point looked like this:

One very focused hour later, I was just about there.  (And yes, I did remember to put the dog water bowl on the floor!)

It’s almost exactly two years since we got the keys and just as a reminder of how much we’ve done, this is what the kitchen looked like on day one, shot taken of the same back wall.

Our guests made it to the village about 5pm – Mick had just got home and we spotted a car driving slowly along the village road, stopping at each driveway.  I thought that had to be them, so Mick ran up the drive and it was.  He gave them directions, told them to ring or come and see us if there was anything they needed, and so far we haven’t had a screaming guest at the back door demanding a refund, so hopefuly that means they’re happy with the place 🙂

Racing for the line

I had an email today from our first guest!  Thanks to a bit of a booking mix-up, she actually wanted to stay 1st to 5th March instead of 4th to 8th – would it be possible to swap?  I said yes, but warned her we might not be completely 100% finished with the landscaping, which she was fine with, and then went into full on strategic planning mode!

Fortunately Mick has done an amazing job this week.  At the start of the week, the bathroom still looked like a building site.  This is what it looked like this afternoon:

All that’s left to do is seal round the shower, grout the slates on the windowsill and swap the plastic toilet seat for the oak one we bought, the rest is just set dressing.

Jeff, our heating engineer and plumber, came to have a look at the basin, which had a small leak somewhere (it turned out to be spiralling down the thread of the u-bend) and service the boiler.  I have never before in my life seen a man take a boiler to pieces and then hoover cobwebs out of the various components!  It’s now testing at 94% efficiency, which is excellent for its age, and should last at least another year.  We did have a chuckle when we realised we’d both turned up in the same outfit 😉

The weather has been beautiful today, so along with helping me take a big bale of hay down to the horses and bringing the sheep up to Ethel’s, using the little garden gate as a shedder to separate out the ones having twins, keeping them up here for feeding and putting the rest back out on the point, Mick has been sorting out the front garden.  Ever since the gravel went down, the gate has dragged on the ground and it’s been difficult to locate the hole for the bolt, so a few inches has been sawn off the bottom of the gate, the bolt moved up and a stone set in the ground with a hole drilled in it.  It now all works perfectly.

All the grass has been strimmed back.  The centre section is going to be a patio area made from the old flags that were outside the front door.  The grassy area to the left was going to be where we rebuilt Ethel’s rock garden, but it’s a much bigger area, so the rock garden is being used to edge round both grass sections and then I’m going to sow wildflower seeds in both bits when the weather warms up and try and get a sort of wildflower meadow effect going, with poppies and cornflowers and ox-eye daisies and so on.  Fairly low maintenance in that it just gets strimmed back once the flowers have set seed!

I’ve been inside, working on door frames.  David had to plane them back to get the doors to fit properly which, of course, took the white paint off, so I’ve been carefully repainting them and using several miles of masking tape in an effort not to paint any oak or hinges.  They’re all done and I’ve touched up all the spots the roller missed on the bedroom and living room walls.  I’m off south tomorrow to see (a) Erasure at the Hammersmith Apollo and (b) my mum 🙂 so Mick has been left with a short list of things from my snagging list that are jobs he is far better at than I am, and the rest I should be able to get done Monday to Wednesday next week.  I desperately need Pete to come and commission the woodburner as at the moment it still has a bucket behind it, and David needs to come back for another look at the door he built for the understairs cupboard – the flipping underfloor heating has warped it and it won’t shut, so I can’t paint it until it’s sorted!

Offer accepted!

Very wonderfully, our first offer was accepted, and my solicitor managed to get a formal offer to them before close of business today, which is only conditional on us getting both mortgages.

The paperwork has arrived for the Ecology one and it appears they want written estimates for all the work we intend to undertake, which is fair enough, but not something that I’d factored into the timeline, so I suspect I’m going to be spending an hour or so on the phone next week trying to co-ordinate getting Dougie, Pete, David, Jeff, someone from ERG Windows and a Green Deal-approved energy assessor all in to have a look without annoying the keyholder neighbour too much.  Ecology requires a full schedule of works together with costings, and I suspect my back-of-an-envelope scribbles will not cut the mustard, as they give it to their valuer when he comes round to assess whether or not our plans will get the required two grades of improvement on the EPC.  On the plus side, once I’ve got all that together, plus all the bank statements, proof of income etc., they say they can turn round an application to a full formal offer in four weeks.  We’re going to need the money from the Cumberland first and that’s just one form plus proof of income and a month’s bank statements, so I shall get that done over the weekend and then concentrate on Ecology.

Want to have a look at the house?  Video below 🙂

Fingernail-biting time

So we did make an appointment to view inside house number 4, Mick took a half day last Friday and we spent an hour having a really good look around it.  The executor was up visiting friends and family, so showed us round herself, a really lovely lady.  It was her aunt’s house, which she’d bought in 1976 as a kind of insurance policy against being asked to leave her family croft if either of her two older brothers came home and showed an interest in taking it over.  They didn’t and so she stayed on the croft, with the house remaining mostly empty apart from the odd family holiday week and an occasional prayer meeting in the living room.  She eventually moved into it in 2013, when she started to need more regular care visits and the house was more accessible for carers than the croft, which was down an unmade-up track.  After two years there, she was moved to the local care home.  For a house that’s been mainly empty for the past 42 years, it’s in pretty good shape, though it does need a fair bit of work.

We got home, had a good chat through it and decided to go for it.  Cumberland, who does holiday let mortgages, had a look at the details and said that sadly it needed too much work for them to lend on it, but they’d be happy to do so once renovations were complete.  I found a bridging loan company who would lend me up to 60% of the value of Ethel’s plus this one, but it would have been at 1.25% a MONTH and they wanted all the interest and fees taken out up front which (a) totalled over £20,000 for 9 months and (b) wouldn’t have left us with enough to get the renovations done.  After a lot of calculator-bashing I realised that if we did it as a buy-to-let instead of a holiday let, then the Ecology Building Society might be able to help – they specialise in lending on houses with the potential for energy improvements and since the EPC graded it F, there was certainly plenty we could do on that front, so I gave them a ring at the start of the week and then went through things in more detail with a mortgage advisor yesterday morning.

The upshot of that call was that they’re happy to lend me up to £96,000 or 80% of the purchase price, whichever is lower, subject to completing a full application form and providing proof of income for us both.  I’d also been in touch with Cumberland about taking a mortgage on Ethel’s and after a few questions, they also got back to me yesterday afternoon to say we could borrow £100,000 as long as we used some of it to pay off the remaining 0% credit card debt from renovating Ethel’s and could get Scottish Cottages to write us a letter confirming expected income was more than £7,500 net of commission.  At 4.45pm I got through to the selling agent and, after a discussion with them about where to start negotiations, made an offer.

We’ll see what happens, I have a good feeling about this house, and it was 10 years ago on 14th February that our offer on the house we live in was accepted, so I’m hoping this is an auspicious time of year for house-buying for us!  To take my mind off things, I’ve been busying away down the road.  The hall is now completely painted and the knocks on the stair skirting touched up.  Just the cupboard doors to go on, lampshade to fit, sockets to be screwed in and coat rack to be purchased and put up opposite the bottom of the stairs.

I’ve also touched up the scrapes in the kitchen and painted over the plasterboard cut-out round the extractor.  You can tell that something’s been done there (the paint was still wet when I took this) but I think that’s sufficiently disguised not to need anything putting over it.

For comparison:

I painted the new wood frame around the bathroom window bay and, despite being very careful not to press the masking tape down too hard and removing it slowly as soon as the paint was dry to touch, a load of grey paint peeled off, so today’s first job is to sort that out!

David has been making doors for me in his workshop at home, one for the cupboard next to the bathroom and two for the byres outside, so I must drop him a text today and see when he’s coming back to fit them.  Mick has taken next week off so we can have a big blitz and get everything finished.  My to-do list is still looking frighteningly unticked, but I cheered myself up yesterday by realising that more than a third of the items on it simply involve buying something and putting it in the correct room.  I shall crack on with that as soon as my cashback credit card ticks over to a new statement period in the next couple of days!