Caroline causes chaos

Well, that didn’t quite go as planned.  Storm Caroline arrived earlier than expected, and after I got pinned against the field gate with two buckets of horse feed until the gusts dropped sufficiently for me to open it, we decided to abandon the idea of trying to get the coffee table into the car on health and safety grounds.  The electricals were loaded up and we went down the road, only to find that the power was off at that end of the village.

This was a problem, because (a) I still needed to hoover and (b) the sky was so grey that there wasn’t enough natural light to take interiors.  So we zoomed back home, rang SSE to report the fault (who, I have to say, have been absolutely excellent at getting it sorted and keeping me informed of progress) and then rang Annie, the Scottish Cottages area representative, to see if she still wanted to come up or whether it would be better for her to turn back.  She said since she was only 20 minutes away she might as well come on up and we could at least get all the paperwork done and do the grading.

So the upshot is that we’re all signed up, Ethel’s House will be going live on their website in about a fortnight (if I can take good enough pictures myself) and will be available for guests from 1st March next year (which gives me a chance to get a few friends to stay in it and tell me what I’ve missed), and I am the proud owner of a 4* (and apparently a high 4*) holiday cottage 🙂

Stick a fork in it, it’s done (nearly!)

Weather permitting (we’re due 70mph here with snow), Scottish Cottages will be here in the morning to take photographs and thankfully, after a long stint this evening hanging pictures and making beds, we have something for them to photograph.

The landscapers turned up yesterday and have made really good progress.  They’ll be back first thing with one final load of gravel and then we can put the old flagstone path to the front door back down.

That’s Dougie’s van in the first picture, he’s been here all day and as a result the final light is up in the living room, all the sockets are in, all the pendant lights are in and all the smoke alarms and CO2 alarm are installed and tested.

I’ve shopped like no-one’s business over the past couple of days.  Yesterday I went into town, paid for the carpets, spent £550 on plates, glasses, cutlery and kitchen equipment in Tesco, £370 at CLB (Caithness Livestock Breeders, our local agricultural store, who have a wonderful homeware and clothing section as well) on four wool rugs and four pictures, and a final £85 at Serendipity (local ironmonger/garden centre/homewares) on a log basket, fire irons and a doormat.  Today I picked up all my lampshades and cushions from Just Wright Crafts to add to my wonderful gin bottle lamp bases I found on Etsy and finally I think I can say we’re looking close to finished.

Still to do in the morning – take the coffee table, TV, microwave, kettle and toaster down the road, along with a selection of books for the shelf on the landing, bake cookies, stick some logs in the log basket, put the crockery on the kitchen shelves, touch up any really obvious bits of paintwork, hoover throughout and clean the downstairs windows.

We’re furnished

Carl and Anne from Riverside Interiors turned up with a van stuffed to the brim and since there’s nothing more likely to guarantee that you’ll start banging furniture into walls than someone standing there watching, I showed them where the tea and oat crumblies were, explained what was going where and left them in peace.  A few hours later I went back down and the house has basically been completely transformed.

Double bedroom:

Twin room (doors waiting for David’s return!):

Single room:

Living room:

Kitchen – that table extends, so will seat five comfortably when the house is fully occupied:

Still a big list of jobs to be done, but really absolutely definitely on the home straight now.

The carpet has landed

We got the painting done in the nick of time, finishing off the top coat on the bannisters on Saturday afternoon (I was away from Sunday to Tuesday).

Much to our surprise, Dougie was down there on Saturday as well, wiring up the living room lights.

He said he’d probably be back today and we warned him it might get crowded – it certainly was!  By the time I went down the road with mugs for tea and a big box of homemade oat crumble biscuits, the carpet van, Pete’s van, Ian’s truck and Dougie’s van were all crammed in.  Dougie has been working on fitting the extractor fan and I’m going to have to figure out how to disguise David’s patch to put a piece of studwork in for it to be attached to, but it’s up at least.

Pete and Ian have been working on the woodburner.  Too dark to get a picture of the top hat on the chimney that the flue liner is hanging off, but the stove is in place and hooked up.

Everything from the bottom of the stairs upwards has been the domain of the carpet fitters today and they’ve done a wonderful job.

And the results of the shopping spree have started to turn up!  (Inspector dogs and bucket of headcollars not included!)

Tomorrow is furniture day and apparently they’ve been playing Tetris with the van all afternoon to see if they can do it in one load (as it’s a 52-mile round trip).  They’ll be here late morning, which gives me time to get down the road first thing and hoover up all the loose tufts of carpet.  By the end of tomorrow, it’s going to look very, very different.

 

Time to shop

I’m NEARLY there with the landing!  Just one top coat of Milk White to go on the bannisters and I’m declaring it done, although in truth I’ll probably paint that loft hatch white as well over the next few weeks.

Dougie has been back.  Remember we had a problem with the hot water not working and Jeff the heating engineer told me the switch had been unwired in the boiler?  Dougie gently reminded me that he’d fitted a master control switch for the boiler next to the manifold and had we checked that the hot water was on…?  Sure enough, one quick button press from OFF to CONTINUOUS and we were in business, so I shall be ringing Jeff tomorrow to tell him I’m an idiot and asking him to come back on a dry day and service the boiler!  I also need to order some oil, but the padlock on the tank has rusted shut again and Mick is in London until tomorrow evening.  It’s not super-low, so it can wait for a couple of weeks, as they won’t be able to deliver with (a) carpet fitters and furniture vans parked outside next week or (b) the landscaper digging up the parking area to gravel it.

Anyway, Dougie has nearly finished the kitchen lights, which look great, and will be popping back and forth over the next fortnight to finish everything else off.  (They’re all silver, but they reflect the wall colour, so look turquoise in this picture!)

We emptied out my office a bit further at the weekend – I’m thinking I should have maybe gone for silver appliances 🙁  Oh well, when these need replacing I can change.  I absolutely refuse to have integrated ones, I hear nothing but grumbles from people who have them!

Parcels are starting to arrive now – the three Velux blinds are here, the two Roman blinds are in transit, the curtain poles and curtains have all arrived too, but it’s all sitting in the office for the moment.  I took advantage of a Debenhams one-day 50% off on bedding and bought 5 duvets, 10 pillows and a king-size mattress protector (all the singles were gone) for £100, but at checkout they advised delivery for the Highlands was up to 2 weeks, so I hope they get here in time for the photographs, otherwise it’s going to be a sprint over to Tesco.  I’ve also ordered all the lampshades and cushions from a fantastic local business, Just Wright Crafts, I’m particularly fond of this Highland Cow lampshade which will be going in the hall and will hopefully put a smile on people’s faces when they walk in!  I’ve found some plain white wooden candlestick-style lamp bases on eBay, so have ordered one to see what they’re like – hopefully they’ll be fine for the bedside tables and the living room.

Tomorrow is Black Friday and I’ll be shopping primarily for the following:

  • Television
  • Blu-ray player
  • Freesat box
  • Bluetooth speaker for kitchen
  • Microwave
  • Bedspreads
  • Bedding
  • Towels

However, Schofields Insurance has put together this incredibly handy list of 200+ items you need in your self-catering cottage, so I think I need to print it out and start ticking it off.  For things that are easily breakable or stainable, I either need to shop within an hour’s drive (e.g. crockery from Tesco – their new Fox and Ivy premium homeware range actually looks very good) or buy generic (Out of Eden’s plain white Egyptian cotton bed linen) so it can be replaced by another brand if necessary without looking mismatched.

Goodbye yellow-stained wall

Today’s plan was to paint the landing cabinet doors in the contrast colour of Crown Hall & Stairs Naughty Step and then zoom off to Wick to get a pale green for the stairwell, as I’d had a text from David to say he’s hoping to come on Friday and I wanted to have it done before he arrived.

The colour was drying lighter than the colour shown on the outside of the tin and the further down the doors I got, the more I started to think that it actually might work for the big stairwell wall as well – and since it’s being used in the hall, it would tie upstairs and downstairs together nicely.  So I bit the bullet, put the platform up over the stairs, masked off the edges and went for it.  I did have a slight moment of panic halfway through when I thought it had gone a bit too Southwold beach hut, but I reckon it looks okay, and so far no sign of the yellow tinge coming through.

It’s going to need the once-over with a roller, because it’s showing the brush marks quite badly, but not a complete proper second coat.  Just the bannisters left to paint upstairs now!

Earlier this week my solicitor emailed me to say that the Scottish Ministers’ solicitor had sent her a signed title deed and a plan, so all that remained was for her to complete the registration of the disposition and we were good to go for mortgaging purposes.  I had a glance through it, but something was nagging in the back of my head and I when I opened it up again the following morning, I saw what it was.  They’d used the wrong plan!  It was about to be registered with the initial draft of the plan, which didn’t show the rights of access over the croft.  Not an issue right now, since I have the croft tenancy and can grant myself permission to cross the crofted land, but a potential legal mess in years to come when either I or my executors come to sell it.  My solicitor’s come back to me today to say that the other side have acknowledged it was their error in sending the wrong plan to their clients for signature, and are redoing the whole thing (my solicitor’s offer of getting out the office crayons and colouring in the applicable bits was politely turned down!).  So that delays us by another couple of weeks, but the end is definitely in sight on that one.

I shall hopefully be letting David have free run of the house tomorrow to sort the stairs out, so my job will be to go round my house and make a list of absolutely everything I need to buy to turn Ethel’s into a home from home for my guests – with Black Friday deals starting tomorrow, it’s time to shop.

Three weeks to photos – eek!

I rang the Scottish Cottages rep today to find out how full her diary was, as I knew she was away visiting family overseas for Christmas.  We’ve settled on 7th December for her to come up, which is three weeks tomorrow!  After a flurry of phone calls, text messages and standing at the foot of Pete’s scaffolding shouting up to him, I have Dougie coming next week, Pete coming in the next five days IF the wind speed is low enough for him to get on the roof and drop the flue liner, Roisin at Riverside is checking they can do the furniture delivery on 30th November (1st December is the first day of their Christmas shopping event, so everyone will be tied up with that) and I’m waiting to hear back from David.  However, if the doors aren’t on for the photographs it’s not a problem, so all I really need him to do is a little bit of work on the stairs before the carpet fitters come and the rest can wait until after he gets back from holiday.

In terms of actual work down the road today, I got the white top coat on the landing cabinets, door frames and tongue and groove and then took advantage of the lack of rain and slapped a second coat of green on the gates, which means the slate Mick got me for Christmas with the name and house number can be fitted at the weekend.

I also might have been a tiny bit naughty and driven out west to scout out a small cottage that’s for sale.  I might have been even naughtier and asked the Scottish Cottages rep to have a look at the for sale listing and give me an idea of what it would make as a holiday let.  It’s in a much better condition than Ethel’s was, the home report is nearly all 1s with only one 3, but that’s for damp, which doesn’t worry me in the slightest, because it specifically states that high damp meter readings were obtained in X, Y and Z locations.  My view is that an old stone cottage which hasn’t been lived in for a number of years and has electric heating which hasn’t been left on is going to produce high damp meter readings simply because it hasn’t been warm enough inside to evaporate the moisture in the air, so it’s condensed onto the walls.  It’s got a large garden, two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs (unusual in a traditional croft house that hasn’t been altered much) and two living rooms and a tiny kitchen downstairs, so that would get turned into a utility, one of the living rooms would become the kitchen, pop in some central heating, redecorate, furnish and welcome guests 🙂  Okay, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, since I haven’t seen inside it yet, but I like the location, I like the home report, it’s got character and it’s not a mammoth project.  My concerns are (a) they’re overvaluing the croft land with it and (b) it’s been up for sale on and off since 2013 but no-one’s bought it.  The home report is clean enough, there isn’t anything in the surrounding area that would put you off, no planning applications in (in fact the local plan from 2010 specifically states that road in the village is not under consideration for new housing due to the standard of the road and visiblity concerns with its junction to the main road) and the current owner lived there for over 50 years – I’m wondering if it’s simply the price putting people off, as the asking price is nearly a third more than the home report values it at, but does include the croft land, which the home report doesn’t take into account.  Watch this space, anyway!

Two weeks to carpets

Time is sliding by remarkably fast.  My wonderful mother has solved the curtain problem by reminding me about John Lewis.  The pair I absolutely loved for the living room turned out not to be suitable for a window of that width, because the material is too heavy for that long a curtain pole, but they’ve got some plain grey ones that will be fine, plus plain pale blue ones in the same style for the kitchen.  Price?  Just £75 a pair.  I need to double-check the length of curtain pole and then I’ll get those ordered.

Other than that, it’s really been landing, landing and more landing.  The first job was to take the old coat hooks off the wall.  I was going to keep this until I realised that it had been made by sawing off the tops of double coat hooks and could easily slice your fingers open.

Mick carefully filled in all the gaps in the panelling and then ran the big orbital sander over it, to take the top layer of varnish off ready for painting.

I got to work base coating the landing in white and couldn’t believe what a difference it made to the amount of light up there.

First coat of primer on the panelling.

I finally finished sanding the bannisters.

Working my way down the stairs.

The problem is that even after THREE coats of undercoat, it still looks as if someone’s been chainsmoking there.

So I’ve taken an executive decision and that wall is going to be pale apple green instead of milk white!  I went into town today to see if the paint shop had the colour I wanted, but they don’t stock the Crown Hall and Stairs range and I didn’t have time to go over to Wick, so that’ll have to wait until Saturday.

Mick has been brave and started tiling the bathroom.  It’s not a job he likes doing, but he’s better at it than me, so he gets lumbered with it.

The carpet fitters came over last week to measure up.  They were kindly fitting me in after a long day on two jobs roughly in my direction and even more kindly they drove round the village looking for me when they called at my house and found I was out.  I didn’t mean to be out, but my neighbour’s ram had escaped and I was helping her find it before it got anywhere near the ewe hoggs (this year’s lambs, which all roam loose around the village over winter) and we had some unwanted teenage pregnancies!  They called me back with a quote 48 hours later, which I agreed to, and they’re coming to lay them on Wednesday 29th November.

This gives me quite a tight timetable to work to.  If all goes to plan, it should work like this:

  • I finish decorating the landing, hall and bannisters
  • David comes back to lower the lip on the top step of the staircase and fit the downstairs doors
  • Dougie gets all the electrics finished
  • Pete fits the woodburner
  • Mick finishes bathroom
  • Carpets are laid (Wed 29th November)
  • David fits the upstairs doors (Thu 30th November)
  • Furniture is delivered (Fri 1st December)
  • Curtains, blinds, bed linen, kitchen equipment, etc. etc. put into house (weekend 2nd/3rd December)
  • Parking area scraped and gravelled, garden scraped (4th-6th December)
  • Snagging (w/c 4th December)
  • Scottish Cottages rep visits to take the initial photographs and get us on their website pre-Christmas (w/c 11th December)

I’ve been leafing through the Howdens catalogue this evening, choosing doors and door handles, and realised I have no clue whether I need to order 12 x the handle part number for 6 doors or whether they come in pairs!  I think this is the point where I just hand over the details of what I want to David and let him work out the quantities.  Next job: choose the fabric for the two Roman blinds for the dormer windows.

Is it really only Wednesday?

Because I feel like I’ve done a full week’s work already!

Monday’s jobs were to track down Dougie (done, he hadn’t got my text last week, but I spoke to him and he’ll be back as soon as he has a free day – he’s also been alerted to the boiler wiring issue and will take a look when he’s back), ask Magnus if he was free to help with decorating the landing and hall (no, he’s off on holiday – Magnus is a great traveller, so I look forward to seeing all the photos on Facebook) and turn the twin room purple:

Yesterday I had to go into town, so the house-related part of the list was:

  • Pop into Pollards to ask them a quick question about a house they’ve got for sale
  • Visit Elizabeth’s to have a look at curtains
  • Visit Janet Street Carpets to have a look at carpets

The house I had the question about had gone under offer that morning, so it was a bit of a moot point, but sales fall through with alarming regularity up here, so it may not be game over with that one.

I found curtain material I absolutely loved for both the living room:

and the kitchen:

and then had slight kittens at the price, which with window widths of 7’6″ worked out at just under £300 for the living room and about £500 for the kitchen!  I remembered that Riverside did curtains, so went and had a look, but the prices were about the same – until I found a pair in their sale bin almost identical to the black and silver pair above, for £59.50.  The one problem?  I hadn’t measured the drop I needed, only the width, and at 54″ I wasn’t sure they were going to be long enough.  I asked if they’d stick them aside for me so I could check, as it was the last pair, and they very kindly stuck them in a bag for me and told me to bring them back if they didn’t fit!  Sadly they didn’t, I need a 66″ drop, so I’ll be sending them in with Mick when he goes into town on Friday.  I’m not sure what to do about the curtains, might have a look at Curtain Exchange or eBay before I commit to getting some made.

Also to go back with Mick on his Friday afternoon trip to see his mum will be the two books of carpet samples that Janet Street Carpets lent me.  I’d remembered the Cottages.com rep advising me to go for a quality carpet with a high wool percentage, so I spent a fascinating 20 minutes learning all about how wool fibres react in a carpet and issues like reverse pile.  After a fun Tuesday evening with Mick spent holding carpet samples against the white woodwork and then putting bits of offcut oak from the downstairs skirting boards on them to get an idea of how it would go with the furniture, we’ve settled on an 80/20 wool blend from Summit Twist in Olympus, which is a dark neutral beige.  It comes in three grades, and as the difference between the middle and the best is only £2 a square metre £21 versus £23), I think we’ll probably go for the highest.  Wool carpets are graded by pile weight, which is the number of ounces of carpet pile (i.e. the wool bit, not the backing) per square yard, and the Summit Twist’s top weight of 50oz means it’s graded as suitable for heavy domestic use, so it’ll be fine for the stairs and landing as well as the bedrooms.  We also need a special underlay because of the underfloor heating, at £8.99 a square metre and I reckon I’m going to need about 40 square metres in total – they’re coming on Monday to measure up, as they’ve got two jobs in the area.

Today we had no rain forecast, so I bit the bullet and decided to paint the gate.  First job, scrubbing all the green bits and bird droppings off with a wire brush, then sanding down any wire marks.  Finn, my Welsh cob, came wandering over to see what I was up to and provided moral support by farting loudly at me whenever I looked like I was flagging!  Of course, sod’s law dictates that once I’d got started with the actual painting part, a load of showers came over.  After having to re-paint the same bit of gate three times to get the raindrop marks out, I gave up in a huff and went home for some lunch, which, of course, I ate in glorious sunshine.  Back down again once I’d finished and another two hours saw the first coat finished.  I’ll need to wait for another supposedly dry day to get the second on, but it’s looking pretty good, I think.

I’ve still got the dormer to paint in the twin room, but I did touch-ups on the purple today and I want to make sure they’re completely dry before I put masking tape over it, so tomorrow I’m going to attack the landing.  Wish me luck…

We’re on countdown

We’ve had David for 2.5 days this week and he has finished pretty much everything he can do on the list – the remaining items need someone else to do something first.  However, he broke the news that he’s going to America for a couple of weeks at the beginning of December, which means in all likelihood if I don’t nab him for those jobs before he goes, I’m not likely to get him back until January.

Since there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, Mick and I have agreed to put our collective feet to the floor and try and get the house completely finished by the end of November.  We’ve pushed on pretty well, with David’s help, and bits of it are now starting to look like a home rather than a project.

Painting the woodwork in the twin room while Ophelia lashes the windows.  The slate roof barely made a sound.

David has an incredible knack of taking my rather garbled description of something and making me exactly what I had in my head.  This little build-out hides where the underfloor heating pipes go into the wall and will be a useful shelf for keys etc.

The kitchen became a workshop while the weather was so vile!

One thing Mick wanted David to do was a piece of wood putting into the top of the dormers – there was a thin piece sticking down between the plasterboard, which I’d tried painting, and it just looked awful.  This is much neater and will be painted white.

It’s amazing how much more finished the house looks with all the skirting boards and door surrounds in place.  We had a big tidy-up downstairs this morning.

Also done by David but not photographed – a bead around the landing ceiling and the loft hatch, a thin piece of wood planed down and slipped in behind the bannisters to hide the underfloor heating insulation, and the top three stairs shimmed so that there isn’t quite so much of a difference with the top step, again because of the underfloor heating insulation.

We took a deep breath and ordered the furniture yesterday.  The shopping list consisted of:

  • 2 wardrobes
  • 5 bedside tables
  • 1 3-drawer chest
  • 2 2-over-3-drawer chest
  • 1 floor-standing cheval mirror
  • 2 small wall mirrors
  • 3 3ft beds
  • 1 5ft bed
  • 3 3ft pocket sprung mattresses
  • 1 5ft pocket sprung mattress
  • 2 upholstered dining chairs (these are going in the dormer windows in the two larger bedrooms)
  • 1 corner TV unit
  • 1 lamp table
  • 1 extending kitchen table
  • 5 cross-backed dining chairs with padded seats

All of the furniture is solid wood and I had a feeling that I was probably going to have to shut my eyes when I handed my card over, but the total, after a very generous £297 discount, came to £5,200, so thank you Riverside Interiors!  We also spent £3,050 with them on the two leather sofas and a friend of Mick’s was selling a coffee table in the same range of furniture we’ve picked for £100, so that makes our total furniture spend to date £8,350.  Looking at our original budget, we’re £300 over on the wooden furniture and £1,950 over on the sofas, but we’d originally budgeted for fabric, not leather, before we were advised by the agency that leather would be better if we were accepting dogs.

We had a visit today from Alex, who’d come over to have a look at the area in front of the house and the garden so he could quote for sorting it out.  We need the whole area in front of the house scraping back, a weedproof membrane laying and then covering in gravel, bar a long strip about a metre wide to the right of the gate, which will stay as grass.  At the back, we’re having a gravel path put in along the back of the house and then the rest of the garden will have the top layer scraped off.  As we know from our own house, the problem with making a garden out of a field is that it’s always trying to turn itself back into a field.  In theory, if we scrape back deep enough, we should hoick out all the docks, thistles and other unwanted field pests.  Unfortunately we’ll have to fork out for some turf rather than waiting for grass seed to take, otherwise the photos are going to look a bit weird when it’s advertised, but at least it’s the right time of year for laying it.

Lots for me to do next week, and I have a list that would probably choke all three of my horses, but tomorrow’s first job is to try and give my sheep a contagious disease!  About a third of them have come down with something called pinkeye, a mild conjunctivitis, and I’ve been advised that it’s best to try and get them all to develop it and get it out of the way, as it normally clears up by itself in 6-10 days and after having it they build up an immunity to it.  So I shall be down the road in the morning to fetch the feed troughs and then holding the sheep equivalent of a chicken pox party!