A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…


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The most important room in the house… (Dec 10)

Since moving in our main priority has been to get the heating sorted.  Now that’s done we intend to do up the house room by room.   To keep our priorities in order we’re starting with the wine cellar…

This lovely old room sits in the centre of the house on the ground floor behind a lockable door (the key was still in the lock).   Stepping inside looks, and no doubt smells like it would have done when this side of the house was first built.   It’s been unused and unloved for many years and apart from some annoying pipework seemingly untouched since 1832.  The ceiling is around 15 feet high and 6 massive concrete shelves divided by red brick make up 16 different bins  – each identified by a hand-painted number.    But the pipework’s been a problem – it makes the cellar defunct when the heating’s on.  So while the plumbers were here we asked them to re-route what they could and insulate the rest.

It’s Ed’s project and since the pipework’s been sorted he’s been working on it in the evenings with the door closed.   Tonight all was revealed and it’s a glory to behold, with a new door frame, light, light switch and key tassel!   And as some of our roof slates came off in a big storm last week, he’s recycled them to use for chalking up bin notes…

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I might add at this juncture that fixing the roof is also on our list of priorities but sadly this is going to have to wait as 1. we can’t afford it and 2. our roofer fell off his ladder while he was fixing a gutter here a couple of months ago (he’s going to be fine but that’s a whole other blog entry).

Ed’s been testing the temperature of each bin with an old wine thermometer.   The ideal is surprisingly between 12 and 16 degrees – and  it’s consistency that matters – so each bin can be different.   Luckily the pipe issue appears to be resolved.  Now all we need to do is work out a way to stack the bottles – that and spend the next 20 years buying wine…

We stood in there with the door closed for quite a while this evening – and smiled a lot.   Our first modest but rather beautiful make-over.  It’s a luxurious self-indulgence but I think it’s fair to say that a house like this wouldn’t be complete without it.


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Heat, glorious heat… (Dec 2)

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Work started last Monday on our conversion to renewable energy with the installation of our wood pellet boiler (see Preparing for next winter (Apr 7).   Vans have been coming and going all week and we’ve had a constant supply of coffee on the go for 15 different workmen.   Several floors have been lifted, yards of gleaming copper pipes connected and huge bits of kit hauled into the workshop.  It’s the beginning of making the house work for us and it feels exhilarating and a bit scary.

Outside at the back of the house now stands a massive 8 tonne steel silo (or wood pellet store). It’s 2 meters wide and 4 meters high and will need obscuring with a fence – a job we’ve planned for next summer.   Ed’s workshop is unfortunately no more and instead houses a dazzling array of equipment including a maze of new pipework and dials, 3 thermal stores (water tanks essentially) and the boiler itself – a massive 2 and half tonne orange box from Austria.     The engineer says we’ll soon be showing off this space-age system (we can operate it through our mobile phones!) to all our friends .  I scoffed at this, but now the job’s done, I’m afraid to say I can feel a few guided tours coming on…

Inside the house, the heating and hot water for the old wing is now on its own circuit; stage 1 of our plan to turn it into a holiday let.  The hot water for the main part of the house (where we live) will be done in the summer (too many more floors to pull up in the run up to Christmas).

Then the last of the salvaged radiators was plumbed in yesterday and we were ready to turn on the boiler for the first time…    It’s a different house:  Walking into the front hall is never going to feel the same again. When Gracie gets out of the bath she runs around naked on the landing.  Getting up in the morning is a treat…

So we have in fact found a way to live here comfortably (see It’s bloody cold but we do have deer… (Mar 10).  We’re starting to realise the potential of this wonderful place.