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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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.

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It’s bad news…(Oct 1)

The man from the council has just been round and despite all the conversations we’ve had  – the plans, the to-scale maps, the photographs, the drawings, the photoshops and the endless specs ( “do you really want the 8 page spec for a 2 and a half inch bit of pipe that isn’t even going through the wall?”)  he now thinks it’s unlikely he’s going to give us planning permission for the new wood pellet boiler.

The problem is the flue – a big metal tube that will act like a chimney and run up the outside of the old boiler house.

Our intention has always been to try and use the existing brick chimney – but as it’s not been possible to know whether this will work till we try it, we were advised by the council to apply for permission to put the flue on the outside of the building just in case.    This is what set us back so many months given all the extra paperwork.

I tried to persuade someone from the council to come to the house in April (the office is just 10 minutes away) so we could at least get a view on which way this was likely to go – but they were having none of it.   Instead we’ve wasted loads of money and loads of time just to be told something that they could have decided in 5 minutes 7 months ago.    What can you do….

So the pressure is on.   The only way we will ever get this boiler in – and the only way we will ever have a warm house is to get a flue liner (another big metal tube) down the current chimney come what may.   Only then will the council grant us permission.   If the builders can’t get it in I don’t know what we’re going to do.  Several men and a load of scaff’ are arriving on Monday…