The heat is ON!

As anticipated, the heating system was successfully switched on on Thursday afternoon, but there was just one small problem left to solve – Derek had checked the tank and found that what I thought was 4-5″ of oil was actually 2-3″ of oil and about 2″ of water.  The system had been off for so long that condensation had been slowly topping the tank up.  So Mick went down the road armed with a can of WD40 and a determined expression and managed to get the lock off the main filling cap and then Steve came back on Friday morning, syphoned off three very large cannisters of water, bled the system again and said I was good to go, but please to get oil delivered ASAP!  One quick phone call to Simpsons later and I have a delivery scheduled for early next week.

Dougie had left all the thermostats set to 21C and as a result the house had warmed up amazingly over 24 hours and was showing 18C or 19C in all rooms.  We’ve turned them down to 16C to eke out the remaining oil a bit and also because it’s just going to be too hot for us to work in there as it is at the moment.  It’s fascinating to watch the the little motors open or close the valves as the temperature setting changes.

I sent David a text to see if he could come and lay floors for us during the first week of April.  He’s going to schedule us in a couple of days, but is a bit distracted building a timber-framed house for someone at the moment, so I suspect we’re going to have to use our time with him carefully as he’s expecting it to take at least 12 weeks full-time.

Mick and I have both taken next week off work and we’re planning to blitz the house in terms of taping, jointing, skimming, sanding and, hopefully, painting, so that by the time David arrives to put the engineered oak floor down, we’ve got as much of the downstairs messy stuff done as possible.  Wish us luck!

Well, well, well…

Progress!  Not one, not two, but three pieces of good news to report.

Firstly, I had a recorded delivery letter from the Crofting Commission to say that my application to decroft the house and garden site has been granted.  I am chuffed to bits that (a) it’s gone through in about six weeks (it can take up to four months) and (b) it’s gone through first time.  Reading through the order, which is signed and stamped with a very official-looking red seal, it doesn’t come into effect until I’ve actually bought the land from my landlord, after which I send a form back to the Commission to say it’s been done and then the property gets entered onto the Registers of Scotland as freehold and becomes mortgageable.  I’ve emailed SGRPID, as the representatives of my landlord (the Scottish Ministers) and they’ve forwarded my enquiry to the correct person, so now I just have to wait for them to get back to me on what I do next.

Secondly, Derek and Dougie have both been on site today and we NEARLY have a central heating system.  It would have been up and running today but for two things – Derek wanted to double-check what we were doing with the drain for the shower and the flue plate has dropped off the boiler and needs welding back on.  So he’ll be back tomorrow with a welder he knows and, fingers crossed, we should have a big switch-on tomorrow at some point.  It’s looking good though.

Sitting room heating layed and covered for walking on.

One of the individual room thermostats.  These can all be set to different temperatures and are programmable.

The manifold is nearly full and Dougie has fitted a master control panel.  David’s going to build us a slim cupboard the length of the landing to hide all this – I was hoping to use the rest of it for spare bed linen, but I don’t think there’s going to be any spare space!!

Last but not least, the land is slowly being renovated as well.  When we were making hay in the summer, John Angie told me that there was a natural well on the slope down to the little cove, but a landslip had covered it a few years back.  He showed me roughly where it was, but I didn’t get round to having a proper look.  Then a neighbour mentioned it again last night, so yesterday I climbed down and went in search of it.

I could hear the water running and soon found what looked like a shallow muddy puddle in the right place.  I kicked a bit of the silt out with my boot and it filled itself up again – bingo.

So this morning I strapped a spade to the back of the quad bike and after I’d fed the sheep, I dug away until I hit rock, using the silt to make a dam at the front – John said he had a piece of stone at the front, but it got taken out by the landslip, although I think I’ve found a corner of it sticking out of the ground a couple of metres below the well and may be able to dig it out.

I left it to fill and when I went back down to the sheep this evening it had topped itself up.  Add one old saucepan and that’s an end to the problems of filling water buckets all the way out on the point 🙂

One year on

Unbelievably, it’s exactly a year today that we got the keys to Ethel’s.  That was the day we confidently expected to be welcoming our first guests when we got back from holiday in October – how wrong can you get??  Right now, I’m crossing everything very hard that we might just get our first visitors this summer!

Mick has spent most of the day down there putting up the kitchen ceiling, so Dougie can now fit the ceiling lights in the kitchen and bathroom, and Derek has said he’ll be here on Wednesday to finish installing the heating.  Assuming he does get it all done in one day, I can then ask David to reserve us a few days in a fortnight’s time to get the downstairs floor laid and install the kitchen.

Once Mick was back to dog-sit (our young collie is going through a phase of eating things he shouldn’t when left unsupervised during the day), I went down the road to get to grips with my new toy.

Appropriate gear was donned (this is SUCH a good look for me….)

After a couple of false starts before I worked out I could turn the speed down a bit (I’m sure the small chunks it took out of the rail will buff out), I got to grips with it.  The sanding reel seems best for the spindles, but the little flapper disc has done a great job on the groove in the bannister.  Unlike the random orbital sander I was using before, I do have to remember to sand with the grain using this.

With potential heating next week, I also needed to check we had some heating oil.  No glass level on the tank, so I found a stick and we appear to have about 4 inches left.  I should be okay to leave ordering until April.  One annoying thing is that the main filling hole is padlocked and none of the keys we have seem to fit it – either that or it’s rusted shut.  I think the tankers can fill it using the smaller one, but they’re not keen on doing it because it slows them down.  The little spike thing with the wire appears to be some sort of wireless level-checking device, called a Watchman, made by Kingspan Environmental.  I’ll contact them and see if it’s possible to get it working, as I’m guessing Ethel and John never used it.

The final job down there for the day was to feed the ladies, who were most unimpressed at me being late.

It was a beautiful evening – dare we hope that there’s a touch of spring in the air?  This was taken on the way back up towards Ethel’s from the sheep field on the point.

Things you don’t expect to hear from your electrician

“Do you have a small make-up mirror I could borrow?”

I’m quite used to Dougie phoning me from down the road to answer queries, but that one threw me a bit, not least because I’m not really a make-up kind of girl.  However, one rummage through the dark recesses of the bathroom cupboard and I turned up a Clinique blusher compact with a mirror in it (bought for my wedding in 2011 and used about twice since!) and took it down to the house to find out what he needed it for.

As it turned out, he wasn’t planning to restage Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Armadale-style, but had left his own small mirror behind and wanted to check the position of some wiring from underneath the new fuse box.  All was well and we now have sockets upstairs with power to all of them.  The smaller white fuse box in the middle is a breakover switch – this gives us the ability to switch the house onto a generator if there’s a power cut.

Dougie has very carefully covered all the new sockets in protective film and taped around the edges, so they don’t get covered in paint when I’m decorating.

The heating manifold is beginning to fill up, though I’m still trying to get hold of Derek to find out when he’s going to come and finish off downstairs and switch the system on.  The reason I’m getting a bit angsty about it is that we need the heating on for two weeks to warm the wood flooring up so it expands before it’s laid.  David will be doing the laying and then installing the kitchen on top of it, but he has sheep and we’re getting perilously close to the beginning of lambing season!

And I’ve been working away at my bannister – my new specialist sanding tool arrived yesterday, so I hope to have a play with it tomorrow, but I did manage to get most of the upstairs hand rail done with what we had.

Sunday was sheep-moving day.  There was so little grass left on the fields around the house that we decided to move them out to the hay field on the point, which hadn’t been grazed since it was baled in August.  To get onto the track down to the point (Reismeave, to give it its proper name), you can either come out of the front gate, turn left on the road and then turn left again just before the next house, or you can go out of the back gate and through a little gap between the corners of two fields which has been deliberately left for sheep to hop through, dropping straight onto the track and avoiding the road altogether.

Well, the latter option seemed like the most sensible one to us, so Mick set off in that direction rattling a bucket of sheep nuts with 14 hungry sheep following him and Jack and I blocking the escape route to the road.  Unfortunately although the gap is large enough for a normal-sized North Country Cheviot hill ewe, which tend to be on the skinny side, our lead sheep, Bella, hasn’t had a lamb for several years and is therefore a somewhat portly lady.  Bless her, she tried her best, but even with Jack barking encouragement from behind, she was not going to fit through that gap!!

So we went the longer way round and managed not to (a) lose any of our sheep or (b) pick up any belonging to anyone else and the ladies are delighted to have some thick grass between their toes instead of mud.  It’s not a bad view for them either.

A better view

The new fence is in and as we’d hoped, it’s really opened up the view at the front of the house now those wooden bars have gone.

The guys have also hung the gates for us.  I just need to get some bolts so they can be locked into the ground, meaning you can open one and leave the other shut, and a loop catch (I’m sure there’s a proper name for it!) to go over the top.  Oh, and to paint them green, of course!

Since the fencing crew has been working in some vile weather, I’ve kept them well-fuelled.  The favourite has been these homemade hobnobs!

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??