Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

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Skellington Floors

It’s been a while, but things are moving on. Fish has created a skeleton floor with the new oak beams — which are gorgeous — and new oak joists.

We were going to go for cheaper softwood joists and cover them, but Fish managed to find some green oak that was pretty much the same price, so we’re dead chuffed. They look great.

Oak beams and joists and a temporary platform

New oak beams and joists in the skeleton floor

In the process, Fish created Mount Dustmore:

A pile of sawdust fenced in with an offcut

Mount Dustmore

There’s space for a final joist once the holes in the wall are fixed:

Gap between joist and wall

Room for a little one

So that’s where we are for now. We’ve still not decided on a final floor plan — we need the architect for that — but the windows are hopefully going into the front of the cottage before the end of May. I’ve got some paint test pots from Little Greene, so I’m pretty impatient…

A Little Dingle Tragedy

It’s been a sad week at Casa Dingle: we lost Nanny Egg and Amelia Eggheart to a fox.

In the middle of the afternoon.

We didn’t even realise until the next day when Vicky found two sad little piles of feathers up on the footpath in the woodland. We were actually pretty upset — they have such distinctive personalities and we miss them.

And poor Granny Featherwax was all alone, and that’s unacceptable.

So Vicky got straight onto the British Hen Welfare Trust and arranged to adopt two ex-battery hens. It is an eggcellent charity, so please consider it next time you find money burning a hole in your pocket. (Now we have more eggs, we’re leaving them out with an honesty box, with all proceeds going to the BHWT.)

Anyway — meet Nugget and Shirley Bassey:

Two ex-battery chickens

Shirley Bassey & Nugget

Shirley is big and strident, and fought Granny Featherwax for top place in the pecking order (Granny won). Nugget, on the other hand, is half-bald from the waist down, quite small, and completely adorable. She looks a bit like a nugget, hence the name.

And we also picked up two more hens from Wynne’s of Dinmore, where we got our original three. Meet Betty and Mrs Pickles:

White chicken and grey chicken

Mrs Pickles & Betty

Mrs Pickles is small and white and is a Cheshire Blue — she lays beautiful blue eggs. And Betty is a Bluebell, and she lays pretty grown eggs.

They’re all settled in and completely awesome. Granny is getting over her bad temper at the new arrivals…

UPDATE

More drama at Casa Dingle: Nugget got ill. She was shivery and fluffed up and sad, so Vicky took her to the vet. She had egg peritonitis, which can be really serious. She may not be long for this world, but she had a week of antibiotics and seems much, much better…

We’re just hoping for the best really. It doesn’t seem fair — she’s spent her whole life in misery, with no sunlight or grass, and we wanted her to have years of freedom. Fingers crossed — at the moment she’s doing great. All her feathers are growing back — even after two weeks she looks better. She’s putting on weight, and is a bundle of fun. She’s interested in everything, is super friendly, and is just awesome.

Nugget the chicken

Nugget: with more feathers than she had when she arrived

We’ve got no floors and big ‘oles in the wall

Crivens. Well, quite a lot of destruction has happened over the past week. And quite a lot of discussion, as we realised we really ought to have put more thought into details like windows.

But let’s start at the beginning. Fun on the scaffolding, because obviously if we have scaffolding outside the house it becomes an aerial playground for Vicky (and her giant clown feet):

Pole move on scaffold

Bustin’ a move

Anyway — the scaffolding went up, and so did the acroprops in the living room. To stop the house falling down when they took the old, not-substantial-enough beams out from the attic floor.

Acroprops in the living room

Holding the house up

Then things escalated real fast and suddenly we had no ceiling in the wonky room. And decided that we were going to leave part of the upstairs double-height, where the stairs go up to the attic, because it looks amazing. Proper “wow”.

No ceiling double-height room

That escalated fast…

And the final Big Thing: we have two big ‘oles in the front of the cottage:

No more winking...

No more winking…

I’m a little sad because the house is no longer winking at us. But the good thing is: we’ll have loads of light in the wonky room. Until now, it’s been a great big room with two tiny little windows — basically a big dark cave. We’re having two big windows at the front, and we don’t know what’s going to happen with the back yet.

But that led to a discussion about windows.

Originally, we wanted cottage windows with 6 panels, but Fish reckoned that wouldn’t let enough light in. He suggested duplex bars to fake it. I turned my nose up, because I don’t like faking things… but when I had a look at a load of pictures, cottage windows with little panels fit our Dingle best. And you can’t really tell the fake bars are fake. So… that’s what we’re going for.

They’re going to be hardwood we can paint.

Now to find some monkeytail fasteners and stays…

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Garlic mash?

Quick vegetable-based update:

The garlic is growing like billy-o – even more than in this photo, and it’s all coming up now. We’ll have no vampire problems at The Dingle, I can tell you.

Garlic growing

Sexy garlic

And I’ve put the first early potatoes in to mixed reviews (maris peers). The farmers in the pub said it’s too early and the ground is too cold. Lots of people on the internet have implied I’m a bit late.

Everyone is wrong. I’m right on time. Everyone knows a wizard arrives precisely when she means to.

Potatoes ready to be covered

Mash

The rhubarb is about to take over the world, as rhubarb is wont to do. The fruit trees are all bursting into flower. And the chickens are silly:

Chicken balancing act

Silly Birds

In other garden news: almost all the brambles and bits of wood are gone from the bank and we’re about to start flowerating it. We’ve decided to move the mower shed from the middle of the lawn to the back corner. (Well, when I say “move” I mean build a new one and paint it a pretty colour). And we’ll leave the giant sycamore stump to become a stump garden.

Roll on summer, hammocks, and gin and tonics.

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Revenge of the Brambles

Wow. Joe has been busy in the garden today.

Remember the bramble motherload that was cascading down one side of the dingle? It is no more. And we’ve now got about an extra 10 feet of width in the dingle, loads of light, and a slightly-used very steep bank.

I seriously thought there might be a castle with a princess buried in there somewhere, but there wasn’t. Just lots and lots and lots of brambles.

Before:

Brambles and a grassy dell

Brambles, taking over everything

After Joe and his chainsaw onna stick:

Cleared dingle and chicken house

Space!

We have SO much more space now. It’s fab. We’re planning on smoothing out the bank a little, and sprinkling wildflower seeds all over it. Then planting daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, primroses, and generally making it beautiful.

Or possibly terracing it, depending on how much work that is…

Anyway. Then we had loads of stuff, so obviously we made a big fire:

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The Garlic Is Coming!

So, I have been very excited indeed about the state of my vegetable garden. Currently, it’s mostly in a state of potential vegetable garden, but it’s all ready for growth.

We had two tonnes of topsoil delivered last week, and spent an afternoon wheelbarrowing it from the front of the house, up the steps, up the bank, and into the raised beds.

We didn’t have enough, so we’ve more arriving next week to finish filling the beds.

But here’s what Raised Bed A looked like after:

Empty raised bed in sleepers

Blank vegetable canvas

I’m awaiting my delivery from Rocket Gardens, but in the meantime I had garlic to plant:

Garlic laid on on soil ready for planting

Three varieties of garlic

I’ve planted three varieties, all from the Isle of Wight, and all for spring planting (as I obviously missed winter planting):

  • Picardy Wight
  • Mersley
  • Solent Wight

I bloody love garlic. And in the event of a vampire attack, we’ll be sorted.

Every morning, I’ve walked purposefully up the garden to inspect the soil, and every morning I was disappointed and impatient. Until just a couple of days ago, when I saw this:

Garlic shoot

It’s sprouting

Two varieties are popping through like there’s no tomorrow… but there’s no sign of the Solent Wight yet.

Joe found some rhubarb in the compost heap and planted it in the corner, and it’s growing well. Bring on the crumble…

rhubarb sprouting

Rescued rhubarb

In other garden news: have you ever seen a pheasant on a bird feeder?

Female pheasant on bird feeder

She was a pheasant plucker…

And finally – welcome to The Springle:

Daffodils in woodland

The Springle!

More exciting garden news and a big fire coming up…

Enter the Artichoke

We finally admitted it: we have no clue what we’re doing. We can’t even decide where to put the stairs into the attic, and how to arrange the first floor.

So today, we invited an architect round to have a look.

I’m not sure how encouraging it is when you ask, “So, do you think we’re mad?”

And he just looks at you for a moment before replying, “I think you’re brave.”

He’s going to cost us a small fortune… but it’s going to be well worth it, because without expert help we won’t end up with the home we want, and it’ll probably cost us much more in mistakes in the long run.

We’ll be getting started with him in the summer. After we’ve sorted the oak beams and the new window.

We’re already really excited: there’s talk of a two-storey oak-frame extension on the back to house the new kitchen and possibly our main bedroom – positioned so we can look out up the garden.

There’s also talk of possibly pushing the banks back to give us more space behind the house. Which will be epic, and is an idea I’m coming around to.

Can’t wait to see what he comes up with…

Diggity

As the weather has been awful for the past couple of weekends, we thought it’d be the perfect time to get out into the garden. And we’ve accomplished quite a lot…

Not least, getting very muddy.

We also failed to buy a chainsaw on a stick. Instead, we bought a hedgetrimmer on a stick. So we need to get a small chainsaw attachment so we can prune the fruit trees.

The long-handled snips let us do some initial pruning, though, so we’ve made a start – and now the old apple tree by the mower shed has a lot less mistletoe on it, and we’ve identified the vertical branches and rubbing branches that must go.

But the main progress was Joe and his new machete: he’s cleared a whole load of brambles from the house-end of the bank, so we can see the whole hazel tree and conifer now. If we can do a couple of hours of that every weekend, we’ll manage to reclaim that bank fairly quickly. Apparently the way to go is wait for the bramble stumps to start sending out shoots, then just dab weed killer onto it for a targeted extermination.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Joe with machete clearing brambles by the hazel tree

We now have a hazel tree free of brambles, and a big scrubby space on the bank

The plan is to get the bank back to grass — or possibly wildflower meadow — and also plant snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodil bulbs so we have beautiful spring flowers.

While Joe was doing that, I was prepping the second raised bed (I did the first one last week). I covered the grass with a layer of cardboard — old cardboard boxes — that will mulch down. Then I gathered loads of wet, dead leaves from the Bridge of Significant Peril, and from the hedges and banks and around the fruit trees, and spread them on top of the cardboard.

There’s also newspaper, paper towel, straw, and chicken droppings spread all over the raised beds:

Railway sleeper raised beds filled with mulch

All ready for topsoil

I’ve just ordered two bulk bags of topsoil to be delivered on February 23 – and I’ve got some garlic on the way to go in asap.

We haven’t got a greenhouse or anywhere to propagate seeds at the moment, so I’m buying in young plants to plant out throughout the year. Easiest way to learn is by doing as I’m told, so I’m using Rocket Gardens on recommendation of a friend. I’m really excited about this.

Also, we’re planning a little fenced area for our allotment, which may help to keep the chickens and cats out…

Inside the House

Inside, we’ve not made huge progress — but the new oak beams are going in to reinforce the attic floor mid-March, same time as the new winking window at the front of the house.

We’re seeing an architect next week, who’s going to help us plan the whole project out — because we keep stalling and don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t.

Watch this space…

The Mysterious Plumbing of Dingle

Now Christmas is over and everything’s back to normal, we decided we’d better get back to work in The Dingle. Next stop is the stairs and floor, and we still have some way to go before we’re ready for that – not least of which was getting rid of the header tank inconveniently located in the attic.

Header Tank

You can see how we wouldn’t want a water tank dripping away next to our bed, right?

Now, we weren’t entirely sure what this header tank was doing. We’d done some cursory investigations and come up stumped. So my first suggestion was to just take it out and move it into the Stone Attic.

Then Bill the plumber came round to service the Rayburn and I diverted him up to the attic instead to have a look. After some sleuthing, we figured out it was feeding the shower in the ground-floor shower room. That room will eventually be knocked down with the rest of the lean-to additions, but for now we kinda need a shower.

The hot was fed from the hot water tank in what’s currently our bedroom (the Stone Room) and cold couldn’t come off the mains because the pressure was too high. We’d just get cold water if we did that.

So we went and bought a pressure valve, some plastic pipe (temporary measures, remember!), and some courage.

Joe set to work manfully and discovered two things. Firstly, an old pub sign was repurposed as a shower room wall panel, which is ingenious – we’ve found loads of brilliant repurposing in the house so far:

Repurposed wall panel

Repurposed wall panel

Secondly, the plumbing is interesting. There are many water feeds to different places.

  1. Mains cold water to the sink tap.
  2. Cold water to the shower from the header tank.
  3. Hot water pipe #1 to the shower.
  4. Hot water pipe #2 to the hot sink tap.

I took a picture:

Many plumbing

Many plumbing

It seems like it evolved organically. Like mushrooms.

The answer was to cut out some bits of batten here and there so we could take mains cold water from the existing pipe and route it up that blank wall with lots of mystery holes in it, and around to the shower, then add a pressure valve, like so:

High-quality bodgery

High-quality bodgery

Then we (well, I say “we”. I was working. I actually mean Joe) put it all back together and ta-da! We have a working shower and no bloody header tank in the attic! This feels like real progress for the first time since the plastering went on.

I’m seriously impressed with Joe because he’s never done any plumbing before and he confessed he was a little nervous about “flooding the entire house and village and planet”. I knew he’d be fine because I’ve done a little simple plumbing before, but I wanted to watch him flapping.

Speaking of flapping…

Here’s a little bonus for you. I heard strange noises coming from attic, so I went to investigate. Here is what I discovered…

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We Got Plastered!

It’s now been two weeks since the plasterers left us with a totally transformed space. The photos don’t really do it justice, because it looks absolutely stunning:

Plastered 1 Plastered 2 Plastered 3

We’re going to leave it for a few months – probably until summer – before we paint it. Advice was to leave it a year, but my level of impatience is too high for that, so we’re compromising at 8 months.

We’ll be using clay-based paint designed to go onto lime plaster, so there’ll probably be lots of posts about which colours we like and how we can’t decide.

Next job in the attic is to finish sanding and oiling the timbers. We need to lightly sand all the timbers, in fact, to take the plaster off.

Then we’ll be putting in the electrics. Yes, yes, we should have done all that before the plasterers arrived but things got on top of us and we got overexcited about the plastering. So we’ll be looking for surface-mount LED spotlights for the ceiling, and using that gorgeous old-fashioned braided flex for the wiring that’ll be exposed.

After Christmas – if we’ve got enough cash! – we’ll be getting the window in the wonky room knocked back in and the 8″x8″ beams installed to reinforce the attic floor.

We got John and his team from PlasLime to come and do the work, and they were brilliant. A total delight to have around the place, and really careful about keeping everything as clean and tidy as possible. We were pleasantly surprised at how little dust there was.

The bill was huge… but it was totally worth it. Beans on toast until springtime.

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