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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Christmas lights (Dec 28)

Today’s job…

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…assembling the Arts and Crafts chandelier Ed bought me for Christmas.  Now where to put it….

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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.