A tale of two sanders

I took a break from the plastering today and decided to work on the staircase instead, which meant getting these two out.

And putting the dodgy-looking mask on.

I have no idea what John Angie painted the paneling with, but it’s vaguely rubbery when heated and really doesn’t want to come off.  It’s taken me two sheets of 60 grit on the big sander to get this far.  I was going to paint the whole thing a matt chalk white, but thinking about it, this is the hall, and our doggy guests are going to walk straight in here and have a good shake if it’s raining – so I think I’ll paint the vertical boards and the inside panel of the stair side green to match the front door, then the bannisters and the frame around the stair side panel can be white.  Should show up splatter marks less, and I’ll make sure I do the front wall and inside the front door with kitchen and bathroom paint, so it’s wipeable!

You can see where the woodworm have had a good old munch under the paint.  No active ones, thank goodness.  This will take a little bit of wood filler to smooth out.

In other news, I finished plastering the north bedroom yesterday.  Those little dormer windows that I was insistent we opened up so you could stand in them, have 13 separate joints to plaster alone!

Finances-wise, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that the mortgage lender says we can have the mortgage.  The bad news is that we can only do it if we take the commercial holiday one on the same day and use the cash released to pay off the 0% cards immediately?  Why?  Well, when their underwriters looked at the residential application they realised that we were going to own three houses, but neither of the two holiday lets were currently bringing in any income.  They use set figures for each category on their affordability calculator and they took the decision to triple the lines for council tax and utilities (which I could argue is mildly unfair because two of them will be empty, but there you go) and that brought us down on the unaffordable side again while we still have the credit cards.

Of course, Ethel’s isn’t mortgageable yet because (a) it’s still sitting on croft land and (b) it doesn’t have a kitchen or bathroom.  Brian at SGRPID tells me that I should work on three to six months for the sale of the land to complete, and Mick’s taking the first two weeks of July off work so we can blitz the house ready for David to come back and lay the floor and install the kitchen, but the seller is now very nervous about timescales because her decrofting took 14 months and she understandably doesn’t want to wait that long.  I’ve spent the past few days talking to bridging loan companies and brokers, but of the ones that will consider Scotland at all, absolutely none of them will consider a house this far north, so I’m just going to have to cross my fingers and keep hassling the various solicitors.

The other solution would be to pay the cards off, which we could do from savings, but then we wouldn’t have a deposit without mortgaging Ethel’s, so we’re in the same fix.  I did vaguely think about trying to crowdfund paying off the cards by advance selling weeks, but given our quote from the agency was under £15,000 for Ethel’s and we need nearly £50,000, it’s a bit of a non-starter – and I don’t think the agency would be very pleased if I told them all the prime weeks for the next two years were sold!

Finally, we’ve been keeping up with our crofting duties.  Stuart has been up on the hill and cut our peats for us – they look like very ancient library books!

And there are a lot of them.

They’re all laid flat for drying one side now, and when we’ve had a few weeks of sun and wind, we’ll go back up and put them all into a herringbone pattern or stand them up into Stonehenge-type formation to get the other side dry.  They’re pretty big – each slab is about 3 inches thick and just under A3 paper-size.  And they’re HEAVY!

The night before last we got the first big weather-dependent job of the summer done and now have some much cooler ladies 🙂  Just haymaking to go and then I can stop worrying about the forecast for another year.

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.

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!

Hay stops play!

As people who’ve read this blog from the beginning may remember, I didn’t actually buy a house, I bought two croft tenancies which just happen to have a house on them.  This means that I also have 12 acres of fields to look after and since we hit a rare window of settled good weather, all work on the house ground to a halt and I have literally been making hay while the sun shines 🙂

Pete and his crew came and took the scaffolding away and I wrote them a final cheque.  I have spent a smidge under £19,350 for the new roof, , replacement Velux windows, guttering, work on the chimneys and stonework and tanking inside, but we’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the finished article and I think it’s worth every penny.  Yes, we could have patched up the existing roof and it would probably have been fine for a couple more years, but the idea is that we’re setting up this house to last for decades with minimal expenses required, so getting it wind and watertight and damp-proof is important.

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I also took myself off to the local mart for a morning and came home with some new tenants for my fields – 12 of these:

lamb4 lamb5 lamb6

They’ve now been introduced to the three pet ewes I took on last October and flock integration seems to be going well .  Here are all 15 of them:

sheep and lambs

But this last week has been all about the hay.  I’ve helped out neighbours on baling day before, but never gone through the whole process of deciding when to cut, turn, etc., so I was fortunate that Ethel’s former partner, John (they were together for 25 years and were engaged but never married), has taken an interest in what’s going on at the house and has been making hay for the best part of his 72 years.  The two fields round the house lay on the ground for a couple of weeks getting rained on, because I called the cut a bit early, but we left it unturned and it’s made okay hay, if a bit lacking in nutrients.  Here’s John baling up the last strip using my bargain £300 baler (Mick and I have learned more about the mechanics of an International B47 square baler in the last month than you can imagine!):

hay making 1

When I saw last week’s heatwave coming in, I called John again and asked him to cut the field on the point:

haymaking 2

Went down each night to check how it was drying, but got distracted by the sunset:

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After a nail-biting day of unexpected fog, which totally soaked it, we got sun and a good drying wind and went for it – we probably lost about 20 bales as it flew off the point and John’s tractor had a small fire, but it was a beautiful day for it and we were still smiling at the end, although when I took the selfie with John I didn’t realise that it would take Mick, me and another neighbour another 6 hours to take all the bales off the field and up to the byres.

armadale bay end of baling

We ended up getting 138 bales off the two fields by the house and a massive 305 bales from the field on the point.  I only need about 100 to get me through winter, so I’ve bartered 80 with the neighbour who helped us bring the hay in for her 4 hours of physical labour plus horse and sheep sitting while we’re on holiday next month and will have some left to sell, which will be my first income from the house!  They’re all stacked in the biggest byre (the barn) and I now need to get the back window boarded up before it rains too hard!

Next week things should get moving again.  ERG are coming on Thursday and Friday to put the new windows and front door in, which means we have to take the plasterboard off around the front door that we’d left because the electricity meter used to be on it, and also put some chipboard down over the loose floorboards upstairs, as I don’t want a window installer going through the living room or kitchen ceiling.  Hopefully Mick and I should make a start on getting the insulation fitted as well, and things will start moving forwards again.

 

My first tenants

sheep-161630_1280

I might not have quite bought the house yet, but my first tenants are arriving at the weekend!

As it’s a croft, I am required to carry out traditional crofting activities on the land and round here, you don’t get too much more traditional than keeping North Country Cheviot sheep.  I was planning to start towards the end of next summer by buying a small pen of ewe lambs at the annual sale, raising them for a year and then selling them as gimmers, ready to breed – my sheep advisers, who are kindly teaching me all about how to care for them properly, told me that it was a gentle way to start without having several weeks of getting up every few hours in the middle of the night for lambing.

However, a friend of mine is moving away to the other end of the country and can’t take her three pet sheep with her, so I said I’d look after them for her – they were bred in the village, so it seems kind of fitting that they stay here.  They’re coming to live in my fields until the purchase goes through (I’ve got a CPH number from when we kept pigs here, so it was just a question of ringing Animal Health and letting them know they were arriving – apparently I don’t need a flock number until I start producing lambs) and will then move to the new fields to eat them down once available (not that three sheep are going to make much of an impression on 9.75 acres, but I’m going to grow some of it on for hay anyway).