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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Within the walls (Nov 17)

I thought I heard something… it was the ceiling coming down in the back hall.

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Luckily no-one was standing underneath.

The plasterer says the easiest/ cheapest thing to do is to stick up a big bit of plasterboard and skim it flat – or we can have it done the old style, where the plaster is forced up between the gaps in the lath strips.  This will create a less pristine, more lumps and bumps kind of look – that will fit better with rest of the house.   So the more complicated / expensive option it is.  Of course.

We’ll wait though until we get going on the kitchen refurb’ in the room next door – and do all the plastering in one go.   In the meantime I’m enjoying looking at it – it’s the muscle and bones of the house revealed.  Every time I walk through the hall it makes me stop and wonder.. how the horse hair plaster was made,  who the men that worked with it were and how this grand house came to be almost 200 years ago.

 

 


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Saving for a rainy day (Oct 27)

Oh dear.   I got up in the middle of the night, towel in hand to catch a perennial drip from above our bedroom window and quickly discovered that ‘drip’ was an understatement.  It was raining inside the house…

This is now an intermittent problem above 5 different windows, depending on which way the wind is blowing.   It’s essentially down to the fact that a lot of the exterior walls need repointing.   We’d hoped to get some of this work done during the summer (see The drip drip effect – Feb 16) but I’m afraid lack of funds put paid to that.

Ed and I joke that whenever a quote comes in for a big job on the house, we can safely predict the outcome – we can’t afford it!   The cost of repointing just the east wall, including replacing a lintel, sadly didn’t prove us wrong.    I guess it’s because everything here is on such a large scale.

We did make a happy discovery recently though; it turns out our roofer can do lime pointing and he also owns his own zip tower which he can get up and down in a day, and attend to anything urgent.   This way we can keep the leaks at bay for a reasonable cost, until we can afford to do a more comprehensive job.

I think interior rain falls into the category of ‘urgent’ – so he’s coming tomorrow.

 


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Dreaming of a shower in the tower… (Sep 19)

After several weeks of plumbing work the hot water in the main wing is at last connected to the new biomass boiler.   This has meant getting rid of 2 immersion heaters, re-routing some original pipework and putting in a load of new pipes that run from the boiler house up to a huge new tank in the roof space  – and all the way back down again.

The house, as Ed puts it, is getting a bit ‘pipey’.   We tried to find the route of least resistance and managed to avoid any of the grand rooms – but some of the corridors are suffering.    It’s a perennial problem in old houses like this with lathe and plaster walls and lots of plaster mouldings.

This is the worst bit in part of our downstairs, back corridor…

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The black pipes are the hot water pipes covered in insulation.  The copper pipes were added a year ago to extend the heating and the white pipes were already here.   It would be good to hide them all at some point – we’re not quite sure how yet.   Another problem for another day.

The up-side is that we now have really hot water whenever we want it and it’s cheaper to heat.  The pressure is better too as it’s running directly off the mains.  It’s also another step forward in our master plan for this side of the house:   we’ve got 3 small bathrooms to renovate and one of the large bedroom’s on the top floor is earmarked to become a fourth.   It took a bit of time to persuade Ed of this plan but if you can’t have a huge bathroom in a house like this then when can you?

One of the lovely features of this room is the inside of the small round tower in the corner.  At the moment it’s  a semi-circular cupboard but I’m hoping to transform it into a walk-in shower.

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Turning this vision into a reality is a long way off but ever since we bought the house I’ve been dreaming of relaxing in the bath in the middle of this room – a glass of something in my hand, a real fire burning in the hearth, taking in the view of the mountains in the distance as snow falls gently on the lawn.  When that day comes my work here will be done.


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Call the engineer! (Aug 15)

There’s a crack in the lintel of the fireplace in the old kitchen.   If you stand back far enough there’s also a slight bow.

It’s been like this for years but since we took the bricks out I’m a bit concerned it might be getting worse.   As we had a builder round today to look at some pointing on the east wall we got him to take a look.  He took unnervingly swift action (see below, you can see the crack above the left brick column) and suggested calling an engineer, which I did!

Whether the wall needs supporting or not the stone lintel still needs replacing, so excavation of the fire place is now on hold.   Next job is to find a stonemason who can source the right piece of stone for us and get it in – and until this is done the rest of the work is going to have to wait.  One step forward…

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Make-over heaven (Aug 12)

You’ve gotta love a mood board – and at last I’m starting.    One of the previous owners of the house was an architect and he rather fortunately ringed the the walls of the huge main office with large foam pin boards.  Given that we have 28 rooms, 8 different halls and several walk-in cupboards –  all of which need a make-over, these boards are going to prove very useful.   The house actually has 29 rooms but I’m not counting the wine cellar as Ed did this last year (see The most important room in the house Dec 10, 2013)

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I have of course become an avid user of pinterest so for a closer look at our plans go to…


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The tumble-down sheds (Aug 3)

We are putting my nephews to good use while they are here.  They’re working through a list of jobs with Ed that I’ve been compiling for some time.  There’s always a list.

Today it’s clearing out the tumble-down sheds behind the walled garden.  They’re full of junk; cages, bins, broken furniture, bits of old wood and metal.

The long term plan is to use them as potting sheds and garden storage but before we get that far, the back wall will need some attention – particularly above the corrugated roof (see the dark holes in the photos).    Like a lot of work here we just have to keep our fingers crossed that the hole/leak/crack doesn’t get too much worse before we get round to fixing it / can afford to do it…

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The sheds are already quite beautiful  – but in time we intend to add salvaged windows, doors and make-shift skylights;  a collection of different pieces that we’ll pick up whenever we can from local salvage yards.

For now though the boys are helping us to move things on and because they’re involved I can see that their connection to the place gets stronger with each visit.    They are becoming part of the shape of things here.   Slow progress I’m discovering has its own kind of rewards.


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Bringing the kitchen back to life (Aug 2)

Lots of rooms in this house have their secrets and in time we hope to reveal them all, layer by layer.   Bringing the old servant’s kitchen back to life is our first labour of love.   We’ve been excited about uncovering some of its hidden features ever since we moved in and this weekend we make a start…

It’s a tired old room that obviously hasn’t been used in decades but has plenty of timeworn treasure; a huge bricked up fire place with a massive stone lintel (and possible bread oven),  a flagstone floor hidden underneath a glued-down carpet and what used to be a walk in pantry concealed by a partition wall.

_MG_0221An iron ring bolted into the stone surround of the old kitchen fireplace

Back in March Ed took a sledgehammer to the fireplace (see Sledgehammer happy Mar 4) but it quickly became clear he was going to need some assistance.     My 2 nephews offered their services and are now here for a long weekend…

photo4After a day’s work half the fire-place is open, the carpet’s gone and the partition wall is out – which is adding loads of light and space.

IMG_9902The table came from the workshop – it’s ends had been cruelly sawn off to fit the space.   It’s probably the original kitchen table so our plan is to restore it and use it again if we can.

IMG_9904The unassembled bit of furniture against the back wall is an old butler’s pantry that I picked up in a salvage yard earlier this year.  It came out of a georgian house in Glasgow and like the table needs some tlc.  It was the handles that sealed the deal…

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Trying to envisage how it will all come together is a bit of a leap and it’s going to be a tricky space to get right.   Luckily Ed and I have similar ideas about taking the best of the old and making it work with the new.   One advantage of not being able to afford to do everything straight away means that we’ve got plenty of time to make sure we get it right…

I’m now dreaming of  a fire in the grate, coffee on the go, friends up for the weekend and Sunday papers strewn across the kitchen table.  The unveiling of this house is a slow process but we are in it for the long haul and the transformation is underway.

 


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Wild flower meadow patch (May 31 weekend)

We dream of a wild flower meadow in the paddock (see last year’s The Paddock  – May 20) but as this is going to take some time, I’m getting started on a beginner’s patch in the walled garden instead.

Last year we let a lot of the grass grow unchecked – partly to cut down mowing duties and partly to see what would happen.  Unlike the paddock the walled garden has no brambles, docks or nettles to deal with – so we left 3 sections of grass to grow wild this year.   It’s a daily treat to open the garden door and see the pretty long stems swaying in the wind.

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Now all we need is flowers…

So I’ve taken on one patch as my first real garden project.  I’ve been keen to take ownership of something outside, but so far the house has taken priority.  I’m also not naturally green-fingered but I’m keen to improve so I’m hoping this will kick-start me into action.

This weekend was my last chance to get going as we are away for most of June and then it will be too late to plant seeds.

I picked out blue cornflowers and red poppies (both grow wild here) from the packets Ed bought me for my birthday last year.  He also found a strange implement in the gardening shed which looks like it might have been used for cutting holes in a golf course – it has a tall handle that sits on a hollow cylinder about 5 inches wide and 3 inches deep and as you twist the handle bar it cuts out round sections of earth.   Armed with this and a bucket of soil and compost – I planted 18 random holes in amongst the grass – it seemed like a fitting number.

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It’s a bit of an experiment.  A more fool proof method might have been to plough up the earth and spread seeds mixed with sand (the gardening programmes I’m watching with Ed are starting to have the desired effect) – but the golf course version requires much less effort.   Soon after we get home we should see if it’s paid off .  If it has, then this could also be the answer to turning our 2 acre paddock into a meadow – as well as the beginning of my gardening career…

 


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A taste of things to come.. (May 10)

The refurb’ of the old wing (originally a cottage built in 1700) into a high-end holiday let is on hold (see Sledgehammer happy – Mar 4).    When we can afford to do it, it’s going to need a lot of work, including putting in a new kitchen, 2 new bathrooms (possibly a new shower room) and acquiring a whole load of furniture.   So our plan in the short term is to rent it out.

It’s only been possible to do this since we upgraded all the heating.   When we first moved in the heating circuit for the whole house criss-crossed between both wings, and the hot water was on 4 separate immersions heaters – a thoughtless concoction built up over decades.  Thankfully the electrics were already separated.

So when we installed the biomass, we got the plumbers to reconfigure everything. Now the old wing is a fully functioning separate unit and when you turn on the taps there’s instant hot water – a luxury we have yet to experience in the main wing.

To rent it out though it still needs some sprucing up.  So we’ve invested a bit of money in some basic redecorating while making a few inroads into our longer term plan.  The wood chip in the hall has gone and the walls replastered, every room has had a coat of paint, we’ve revealed an old doorway on the first floor (which we’ll need later for our holiday let) and we’ve painted the boards white in one of the attic bedrooms – a transformation that has given us an inspiring glimpse of things to come…

Attic bedroom.  Before and after with salvaged column radiator.

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A scary crack on the top floor hall wall; it turned out to be the seam where the apex of the dining hall roof meets the roof of the old wing

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