Timber!

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

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

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

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

Upstairs the little fireplace has been removed.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally we’re getting going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.