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…


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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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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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…


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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The drip drip effect (Feb 13)

We knew it was wet here on the wet west coast but even Mr C says he’s never known anything like it and he’s lived here all his life.  It must have rained for at least 100 days and every day more rain is forecast.

It’s creating a few issues – firstly the drive.   We can’t fill in the potholes as the road planings get washed away as soon as we lay them in.    Ed did the drive just before Christmas but a couple of weeks later it was like it had never been done.    We’ve been waiting ever since for a dry-spell but it’s never arrived…

Secondly the gardens – it’s almost impossible to do anything outside.   We were listening to Gardener’s Question Time on the radio recently (this is what happens when you move to the country) and they were discussing how “soothing” gardening is.   Ed laughed – clearly they’ve never had to garden in Scotland.   And the impact on our almost moss-free lawn doesn’t bear thinking about after all that hard work last summer….

The third problem is inside.    Water is dripping into some of the bedrooms from above the windows.   We’ve put this down to holes in the pointing above the lintels outside.     We had someone give us a rough assessment of all the pointing from ground level when we first moved in and they estimated around 60% was in tact.  It appears we’ve located the other 40.    Resolving this is a big job as most of the windows are very high up so the builders will need a lot of scaffolding and scaff’ is expensive…

We weren’t so naive when we bought the house to think that maintenance wouldn’t be a big issue here; the roof, the drive, the walls, the land – it all needs looking after and we expected there’d be some big expenses.   The extended rain’s just given us a crash course in what our priorities should be.    So our plan is to try and set aside a pot of cash every year to do 1 big maintenance job – and it looks like this coming year it will have to be the pointing.

It actually feels quite satisfying uncovering these problems and putting plans in place to resolve them despite all the effort and expense (apart from the lawn, which I fear may be a losing battle  – although Ed is ever optimistic).  It feels good to be investing in the house, that we are learning how to live here and that everything is slowly being repaired.    And given that our initial aim was to be warm and water-tight, we’re already half way there.