Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Category: preparations (page 2 of 2)

Stripping The Attic Part II

What with all the sunny weather we’ve been having, we’ve been a little lax about getting on with the vast pile of indoor jobs…

But on Sunday, we ventured back upstairs to finish the pine-cladding destruction.

It went much as before: pine removed, many dust generated, nails removed, rafters exposed. And we discovered the ridge beam is not so much a beam as an entire tree trunk by the looks of it. We need to inspect it more closely, but so far it looks sound.

Actually, that’s another job we have to do: treat all the timber in the house for woodworm. That’ll be fun.

Anyway – you can see the progress we’ve made below. It’s pretty much bare now. We need to remove the cladding corpses and as much dust, nests, and dirt as we can, then we’re ready to look at the actual improvements.


Bare rafters

Bare rafters

And the ridge beam:

Mahoosive oak (we think) ridge beam

Mahoosive oak (we think) ridge beam

We still need to pull all the electrics out as well, so we can rewire properly.

In the meantime, Fish – our floor man – is coming along on August 12 to look at the horizontal softwood timbers and advise on what we can do.

The oak floor is arriving on October 17 to sit for a few days…

And we start laying on October 24! Exciting times.

So before October 17, we have to:

  • Strip out all electrics
  • Clean out the entire space
  • Make sound any gaps at the base of the roofline and ensure the wall is cool
  • Cut out the area where the stairs will go
  • Blast and treat the exposed timbers
  • Lath and lime plaster (we think) the sloping walls/ceiling

Suddenly that seems like quite a big list, considering we’re having a holiday in between now and then…

Attic or loft? And Lots of Dust

We’ve done a lot of garden maintenance over the past few weeks. Mostly mowing and viciously attacking the nettles (and we’ve not made much of a dent in either, if we’re honest).

What we haven’t done much of is make progress indoors. That’s been frustrating me (Vix) because there’s so much to do.

So, this past weekend, we decided to Make A Dent In The Attic. Literally.

Here’s what it looked like before. The sleeping end:

Joe contemplates the sleeping end of the attic - pre-destruction

The sleeping end (and a prisoner on day release)

You can see there’s fibre-board laid between the beams and over the rafters. And there’s a whopping great big ridge beam that looks original (hurrah!).

And here’s the other end – there’s going to be a dressing / sitting area in the middle, then a shower room at the far end. (It’s a huge space.)

Attic space with original beams and pine cladding

The other end, complete with dodgy sauna cladding

You can see at this end, there’s pine sauna-esque cladding running up to the “ceiling”, which has been lowered. We’re going to remove all this and expose the original ridge beam.

Where the paint line is, is where the old train set ran around the room. The chap who lived here had this amazing train set. He’d built an entire landscape, and it must have been quite the thing when it was going. I love miniature stuff, so I would’ve loved to have seen it. It was mostly disassembled when we moved in, so we took the rest out and gave the train tracks to Joe’s niece’s friend.

Anyway – the weekend task was to rip as much of the cladding out as we could. We’re stripping it right back to the rafters and then starting again.

We’re also considering putting new oak beams in to support the roof, because the white ones you can see in the photos are cheap softwood. They’ve also been bodged in and are a right mess where they join at the truss. We’re not boxing them in because we want the space, so we’re considering replacing them with oak, which will look amazing and will last longer than we will.

Watch this space.

This is the old staircase opening, which we’re removing. The staircase is serviceable for occasional attic use, but no good for regular use.

Old staircase opening

Old staircase opening

We’re having a new solid oak staircase built by the same chap who built our friends’ beautiful new staircase. We’re widening the opening at the top and it’ll look amazing. We’re also thinking we might have stairs built up to the truss so we can climb onto the beam easily then faceplant into bed from a height. Fun!

Here’s the plans drawn up by our master craftsman. It’ll be in before Christmas…

Our chosen stair plan.

Our chosen stair plan.

In the meantime, though, here’s how far we got with the destruction…

Exposed rafters and one of many wasp nests

Exposed rafters and one of many wasp nests

This is pretty much what the sloping walls look like now. We uncovered three solitary queen wasp nests, beautifully built. And a full, gorgeous paper wasp nest. All abandoned.

And bird nests. Not so much nests, actually, as an entire bird housing estate… I think that was mostly responsible for our roof insulation. Thankfully, the roof and the weatherproofing are in really good condition.

There is, however, a random course of bricks that has been placed beneath the roof where the walls join, so we’re going to need to look at that. Not least because they all move alarmingly when you at them hard. I think a soffit should be there. We’ll dig into that.

We haven’t uncovered the ridge beam yet – that’s next weekend’s dirty task.

In the meantime, here’s a beautiful wasp nest that resembles The Scream

Wasp nest that resembles The Scream

The Scream

Next up: finishing the destruction, then installing new horizontal beams and starting the plastering.


There are a limited number of things I know about the chap who lived here before us.  He was well thought of by the village. People liked him, and enjoyed seeing him thrash his motability scooter at unprecedented speeds down the high street. As a younger man he’d run the local scout group, and there’s quite a few middle-aged chaps I’ve met in the pub who knew him when they were a child. These facts have been gleaned in the local pub. There’s only really one thing I know about him that comes from the house itself.

I know he had no fear of electricity.

I know this from the junction boxes, from the randomly placed pullswitches, from the wrist-thick bundle of cables that encircle the house at gutter level.

So, in an attempt to untangle the facts, we spent some time a few days ago finding out which MCB does what at the main consumer unit (which is halfway up the stairs)

So, here’s a rundown of what we found:

  • Main switch – nothing to report
  • RCD, 63 Amps. Somewhat unbelievably, this immensely complicated tangle is protected by a 30mA RCD.  I find this both reassuring, and amazing.
  • MCB1, Type B32.  Label: Cooker. Connected to.. the cooker. we’re off to a good start.
  • MCB2, Type B20. Label: Ring Circuit.  Here is where I’d expect all the wall sockets. Turns out it’s only the sockets in the attic, and one socket on the gable end bedroom.
  • MCB3, Type B20. Label: Stairlift. We don’t have a stairlift, so I was expecting this not to be connected to anything.  However, it runs the washing machine, the kitchen sockets and lights, one hall socket, the stone extension bedroom sockets and the immersion heater.
  • MCB4, Type B16. Label: Sockets. This one’s not connected to anything.
  • MCB5, Type B16. Label: Sockets. This supplies half of the sockets in the living room.
  • MCB6, Type B16. Label: Sockets. Nothing.  Nada.
  • Another RCD, 63Amps.
  • MCB7, Type B16. Label: Outbuilding. This supplies a bunch of external lights and the shed, which has it’s own consumer unit and more wiring than we can wrap our heads around.
  • MCB8, Type B16. Label: Sockets. This supplies a random smattering of sockets throughout the house, plus the lights in the stone extension ground floor.
  • MCB9, Type B20. Label: Sockets.  This powers the electric toothbrush.
  • MCB10, Type B32. Label: Water Heater. Not connected to a thing.
  • MCB11, Type B6. Label: Lighting. This supplied lighting to 70% of the house
  • MCB12, Type B6. Label: Lighting.  Lighting for one bedroom only.

Photo 25-04-2016, 19 39 29

So there you have it. I’m no expert, but should lighting and sockets be separate? Isn’t 20A a bit much for a toothbrush?

Looking at the cableruns, it looks like any time they wanted a new socket, light, or switch they simply looked for the nearest piece of wire, whether it be above or below, for lighting, sockets, ring or spur – and cut into it to splice a new bit in.

It’s not really salvageable.  The house will need a complete rewire. But it’s awesome fun!

We’d have loved to have met the previous owner. He seems like he was a real character – everyone has a good word to say about him. And he’s created this crazy, wonderful, quirky house – which looks insane, but everything works. I suspect he was something of an eccentric genius and I wish I’d known him.

Imminent Chickens!

So, it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to keep chickens – and now we’re in The Dingle, I can finally do it! Hurrah!

So on  Saturday just gone, we headed over to Wynne’s of Dinmore, which is just a few miles away, and wandered around their farm.

They have, as well as everything chicken-related, alpacas for sale. Look at this dude! They look like 80s pop stars, they’re ace. But they’ve got batshit-crazy eyes and they just kinda stare at you, so we’re not getting alpacas.

A ginger alpaca and a blonde alpaca giving us the hairy eyeball

A ginger alpaca and a blonde alpaca giving us the hairy eyeball

We might, however, get a couple of pygmy goats because you’ve never seen anything so cute as a baby pygmy goat.

Anyway – we’ve ordered a chicken house, all the gubbins to get us started, and three Calder Ranger hybrid hens. I’m expecting a call today and I’m ridiculously excited. We’re hoping they’ll all arrive before the bank holiday weekend so we can get to know them.

In other news, here’s what else we’ve accomplished so far:

  • Settled in nicely
  • Cooked two meals in the Rayburn, which were delicious (lasagne and a tagine)
  • Let the cats out for their first explore (nervous, us?)
  • Taken out a dead stump and a dead apple tree
  • Planted our three trees: a Victoria plum, a conference pear, and an apple
  • Mowed the lawn many times
  • Got broadband sorted
  • Planted a miniature herbery (mint, oregano, curry, parsley – we’ll see if the mint goes mental)

We’ve not done much in the way of, well, anything yet. We’re going to live in the cottage for a couple of months before we make any big decisions… but we are going to start stripping wallpaper and Getting Stuff Done over the bank holiday weekend.

Watch this space…

Tagine in Rayburn oven

Our first Rayburn meal – a bean tagine. Delicious.

Stone planter containing parsley, curry, oregano, and mint

Our miniature herbery: parsley, curry, oregano, mint

What’s Next? Where Do We Start?

Both of these are good questions. Neither of which we can really answer yet.

So here’s what we’ve done since we pottered around on the mower:

  • Planted a Victoria Plum tree in the orchard
  • Crafted a compost heap out of sycamore poles and sycamore twigs (see below)
  • Removed approximately 3,265 stinging nettles from the steps up into the dingle
  • Tidied the front flowerbeds and admired the tulips
  • Disturbed two disgruntled bumblebees
  • Mowed the lawn again
  • Plotted the death of the courtyard weeds
  • Ripped all the benches and train set remnants out of the attic
  • Taken a delivery of wood
  • Mowed the lawn again
  • Drank some beer
  • Wandered around the woodland with our ecologist friends, who pointed out all the interesting flora and fauna
  • Erected a slackline in the orchard


And we’ve done a lot of thinking. And taken advice from other denizens of the village, who are a few years further on than we are in the house project arena, which includes living in the place for at least a couple of months before making any big decisions. I think that’s a good idea.

So, we’re going to plant a couple more fruit trees and start laying out vegetable beds, then get the place ready for the chickens. I’d like to do that this coming weekend, but we’ll see how we get on.

Now the attic is empty, that’s looking like a less scary project, too – so we’re going to start up there before too long, taking the cladding down from the ceiling, inspecting the roof, and making the walls a bit less gappy. Oh, and putting another window in up there, because although the space is huge, it’s a bit dark.

We haven’t got any decent pics of the attic yet, but I’ll take some tomorrow then upload them here so we can see what’s what.

Oh, and when the Rayburn is fixed (we met a chap in the pub who’s doing a proper job on it) we’ll sort out the stone bedroom. Which means putting the original window back, putting a new floor down, and stripping all the shite off the walls and plasterboard off the ceiling.

Watch this space…

And smile at our cute little plum tree :)Plum tree

A small, uncontrolled fire in the Stone Room

A good house move should always begin with a small, uncontrolled fire in your front room, I believe. Followed by a trip to B&Q to buy a fire extinguisher and some smoke alarms.

We had the Rayburn serviced today, and it’s a bloody good job we did. We were going to light it and get it going, then get it serviced… and I think if we’d done that we’d have had the fire brigade out. Seriously.

It’s actually making my blood run cold just thinking about this.

Anyway, thankfully we couldn’t figure out how to light it — the instructions are somewhat esoteric and we had enough other stuff to be getting on with, like removing approximately 53.7 tonnes of sand and crap from the house.

So in walks Rayburn Bob, who came to service our stove. He went about his business, gave it a good old poking, looking at, and servicing, and drank his tea.

“Can you show us how to light it, please? We’re total townies and we have no idea how to use it,” I said.

“Sure thing,” said Rayburn Bob. “You just stick a match in this hole here to light the cooker side, and this hole here to light the boiler side.”

“Great!” says I.

Rayburn Bob demonstrates by lighting said cooker and boiler. Then exhibits a sharp intake of breath.

“Oh, I don’t like the look of that,” says he, as liquid fire starts dripping in the lighting cavity. “I don’t like the look of that at all.”

At which point, he gets up and runs. Joe and I look at each other in mild panic, as we’re poised to take a photograph of the Rayburn being lit for the first time. Gotta save these memories, right? But it’s okay — our man comes running back in with a towel, which he flings at me and barks: “Get that wet now!”

Then he fires a fire extinguisher into the now alarmingly flamey cavity.

Uncontrolled fire in Rayburn lighting cavity.

Alarming drippy flame.


Potentially deadly inferno death with, Rayburn Bob starts packing up his stuff. “You can’t use that, I’m afraid. It’s been leaking oil into the insulation and it needs stripping and re-insulating.”

“Is that something you can do for us?” we ask?

“No, not me, I’m afraid. I’ll give you a couple of names though. And you’re probably looking at about £1,000.”

Sadfaces all around. We’re going to speak to a local chap who apparently takes Rayburns and Agas apart and fixes them often, and see if we actually do need to spend a grand, or if we can just pull out all the oily insulation and replace it with vermiculite, as an Aga-based friend of mine has suggested.

Fingers crossed, eh? Because it’d be nice to get the stone part of the house warmed up before the end of the warm weather. Which, it being England, will last for approximately 3 weeks.

Still, the rest of the house is warm-ish. The shower room is just about the toastiest room I’ve ever been in, which makes showers a delight. And the storage heaters in the hallway keep the landing pretty warm.

The living room is huge, though, and with the inglenook at the one end, it struggles to heat the whole room. Poor Maisie snake is a little chilly, I think. We’re trying to keep her as warm as possible.

And the cats have taken to living on my knee when I’m working in the daytime, which is nice, but… somewhat inconvenient.

Anyway — we’ll post the outcome of the Rayburn investigation here. I’m fairly hopeful because it’s only a few years old, but I know nothing about them, so who really knows…

Top safety tip kids: always get your oil-fired stoves serviced before using them for the first time, if your house has been empty for the better part of two years…

Onwards and upwards!

Nasty, brutish and short – the life of a vacuum cleaner.

The vacuum cleaner had clearly been very bad in a past life.
It came out of the box full of hope and enthusiasm, smiling with red, plasticky joy. It took one look around and realised that its future would be short and brutal.

Sandblasting the inside of a house makes a significant mess.

The chap doing the blasting was excellent. He worked really hard, pulled long hours, and did a great job. Years and years of horrible black (and white, and yellow) paint has been removed from all the internal timbers in the house. And it all ends up as a fine dust, in the air, on the walls, in the carpet.

We spent yesterday cleaning up the house after three days of internal sandblasting. We got the kitchen looking quite nice, and certainly clean. At least we can have tea.

I moved to the rear lobby – and the hoover started its work. Years of spider construction projects were destroyed in moments. Civilisations were uprooted.

criminal hooveringWe then moved into the main downstairs room, where the new hoover spent a couple of hours working non-stop, and was emptied perhaps twenty times. There’s plenty more to get out of the carpet in that room, but we were running low on time.

All of the carpets on the first floor were cut into strips, rolled up and thrown in the skip. There’s no point trying to save those carpets – newspaper laid under them were dated 1980, and they’d clearly had a tough time. Under the carpet were significant carpetty strata, probably going back another 50 years.

Vicky will spend today sweeping and hoovering the first floor. I really don’t expect that hoover to see it’s first birthday.

Tomorrow will see us both back there, cleaning some more and getting the house ready to move into. There’s a lot of electrical wiring that needs clipping back to the freshly cleaned timbers. The house needs a complete rewire anyway, so it doesn’t need to be a permanent job, but removing the dangling hazards would seem to be wise, otherwise I suspect I’d come downstairs one day to find the hoover had ended it’s bitter, harsh life.

On Saturday we move in.

It’s Ours!

“Crikey. It’s quite big, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

It’s dawning on us that we’ve not just bought our dream cottage (yes, we got the keys just in the nick of time), we’ve also taken on an acre and a half of woodland. And an outbuilding that’s probably going to fall down in the near-ish future.

But that’s all fine, because this is a great big adventure.

We have the keys – we got them on March 30, two days before the deadline – and so far we’ve accomplished the following:

  • Got the chimneys swept (all in great condition – hurrah!)
  • Ordered an oil delivery
  • Sandblasted the interior of the house… all 45 black-painted timbers (yes, that was more expensive than we thought it’d be)
  • Moved the motorbikes and the contents of the garage over
  • Made, remade, and remade a whole bunch of plans
  • Got very excited

We actually can’t quite believe our solicitor and mortgage broker managed to accomplish what seemed like an impossible task: get the whole sale completed within two months, before the Government bent us over for an extra £8,000 or so in stamp duty.

So I’d like to recommend Amy at Express Mortgages. She’s some kind of a mortgage whisperer, I think. Tell her I sent you.

And Mark Cooper at Brindley Twist Tafft & James Solicitors in Coventry. He appears to be a sorcerer of some description. They’ve both been absolutely amazing.

Always go with recommendations, even if they’re slightly more expensive (in fact, these guys weren’t that expensive). In the end, they’ll pay for themselves. Plus your stress levels will be massively reduced.

The only other thing I have to report right now is that it was my birthday at the end of March, and Joe got me a chainsaw. Look:

Chainsaw Win!

Disclaimer: this is a posed photograph with a non-fueled, non-running chainsaw. Do not, under any circumstances, use a chainsaw in this position. Or wearing jeans. Or in any way like this at all. M’kay? Good.

Old Photographs

The landlord at the pub over the road (yep, that’s right beer fans! We have a lovely little village pub right over the road!) gave us some old photographs of The Dingle, which was lovely of him.

This one is from the 1960s, we think. Before the land on the left became somebody else’s land, witha  house and garden. The bottom window in the stone part of the building used to be a door:


And this one is from earlier – maybe the 1940s. It used to be the village shop, and you can see where there used to be a door and a window in the stone part of the building, and where there used to be a second window in the black and white part of the building. We’ll be putting those windows back in at some point:


We’ll also be building up the height of the dry-stone wall at the front, and putting the gate back in. And we’re rebuilding the porch in oak frame.

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