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Stone walls and studwork

In the past couple of months the build has mainly been focused on the forming of openings and enclosures within the barn. Some of this work is very quick with immediate transformations of space, whilst other processes are at an altogether different pace. The variation in approaches and outcomes is largely down to the nature and qualities of the materials being used.


The stone wall

One of the major pieces of work within the conversion of the barn is the re-building of an internal dressed stone wall. The preparation for this was mentioned in a previous post (Hitting the ground… ) which involved structural, thermal and damp-proofing improvements. Then, the time came for the re-building the wall! The larger pieces of stone at the bottom of the wall were hardest to position due to their size and weight, but then gradually reduced in course size as they got higher up (mercifully!). The patina of the material was a delight to see, and as each piece of stone was laid, the tones and textures formed part of a beautifully unified whole. The markings in the face of the stone were all aligned, apart from one! Can you spot it in the picture? It wasn’t our mistake but that particular mistake was an original one.



Timber stud

Alongide this, the timber studwork for walls reinforced the overall approach of the build – the creation of a timber box within stone walls. Arriving at the end of the day, you could suddenly see the spaces for individual rooms and their interconnectivity with others. The vertical stud gave the impression of prison-like bars and the kids took this opportunity to pose in their bedrooms as inmates!

The timber floor joists were added giving us the 1st floor and an opportunity to start to see what inhabiting the higher level of the barn would be like, with visual connections to other spaces inside as well as outside.



Walls and Windows

Part of the conversion of the barn involved the creation of new openings within the existing external stone walls. 450mm thick stone was never going to be easy to get through! When the builders started the process it became clear that the quality of the existing construction (which we hope will be to our advantage in the long term) was going to be tough to get through. The solidity of the walls was incredible, with no loose rubble in between the inner and outer leafs, but one solid construction! Needless to say the team made it through in the end, forming the reveals, cills and lintels for the windows to sit in.


Having the first floor structure also enabled the windows at this level to be formed and the new openings immediately show the fantastic long and short views that will be created across the valley and beyond. Dean and Kev worked on the two new openings on the end elevation of the building simultaneously. Their dual hammering and seeming competition to break through the walls was reminiscent of a Swiss cuckoo clock!


Now that the openings are formed and prepared, we await the arrival of the windows and doors to put in them!!





Fun at the Farm!

One day we (the kids) built a den. It was so much fun! We made the den camouflaged (by putting moss from the other side of what’s going to be Leo’s house in front of  the swing in the courtyard onto both of our rooves, one blue tarpaulin one black) and used real nails. We used pallets for the walls and we made a treasury. Once, we made a fire by clearing out the prickly brambles from a stone pit. Also, we nailed thin polystyrene to stop the wind from coming in. In the den, there are three rooms: One is a room with a little stone opening and a table and two benches that we nailed together. We made the benches with a thin piece of wood and two small cuboids, which we nailed to each side. the next room is a treasury of slag from iron furnaces which we put on some shelves that we made by hammering nails into pieces of wood onto the pallets. The treasury also has a bench but this one isn’t as sturdy as the two in the first room. We have built the third room much more recently than the other two so we haven’t really put anything into it yet but we hopefully will very soon. We had so much fun that day because we knew that it will be there for a long time and we can always go and play in it whenever we want.

By Raymond (8) and Lydia (7)

Since then we had a super hot weekend with the gym mat being converted into a water slide. More recently the Connors came for a working weekend and the fun continued! Working weekends are the second weekend in every month. All help appreciated! Polly

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Pumping the Slab!

The third  area of floor that  needed a concrete slab proved inaccessible for direct pour-in so we hired an intermediary in the form of a large pump on the back of a lorry.



At one time there were six men involved – only Scott seemed prepared to take a headlong plunge into the ready mix as he waded about on an uneven surface with the concrete lapping about near the top of his wellies. I thought the others were waiting to rush to his rescue should he falter, but when asked what they would do if he fell in, they replied, without hesitation, – “Laugh!”



The process got more technical towards the end!


A Fine Job and no accidents!


Sowing the seeds of summer

The winter gardener reviews the successes and failures of the previous seasons’ crops, tidies the polytunnel, gets excited about seed catalogues and draws up plans for the crop rotation for the new growing year. Growing plans below from left to right – the outside beds, the polytunnel bed, the long outside bed. The brassicas (blue) like to follow where the legumes (green) were last year to take up the nitrogen left in the soil and the roots (orange) fit in the areas left. There are some odd vegetables like artichokes and sweetcorn which don’t belong to a category and just get put wherever there’s space.

Beds2017  Tunnel 2017

I particularly enjoy choosing the seeds we’ll order with Sheila. When reading about the properties of different varieties you can believe the promises of ‘prize-winning quality, rust resistance, and sweet tasting roots’ and imagine a year of perfect vegetable success untroubled by aphids and slugs and powdery mildew. The planning phase feels so hopeful.

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Above is the beginnings of our tomato jungle (and some pak choi seedlings) that occupies half the polytunnel each year. This season a cherry variety called Red Pear will be our main crop, with smaller numbers of Harbinger, Black Opal and a yellow variety called Sungold. I brought in the seed modules to the Byre and I think the underfloor heating provided them with lovely conditions for germination, forget electric propagators!


The carrots, broad beans and peas which were sown in the autumn have been on hold over winter in the tunnel and are now starting to grow in earnest again. We’ve been eating Russian and curly kale, lettuce and red cabbage throughout winter and the minimal Brussel sprout crop managed to provide enough for  group dinner on Christmas day.


Above shows the outdoor beds in their winter covering, sparse vegetation and carpet to reduce the weeding come spring. The blackcurrants and redcurrants in the foreground have been pruned to a ‘goblet shape’ by removing low and centre branches to encourage fruit. This fruit border is full of alliums, daffodils, tulips and crocuses yet to flower and mark the start of spring . One of gardening aims is to grow more flowers this year, particularly varieties suitable for a semi-wild garden and cutting, as we all enjoy having flowers in our homes. There will be sweet peas, delphiniums, cosmos, larkspur, cornflowers, hollyhocks, sunflowers, foxgloves and poppies to name a few.

The orchard is growing happily, now with crocuses flowering around the base of the trees. Sheila has taken to regularly inspecting the buds just beginning to open on the fruit trees and has developed a theory about the fat buds being the fruit producing ones and the narrow buds producing only leaves – we’ll see if she’s right come summer!


I realise this is a vegetable heavy blog and many readers might not be into gardening. Whilst I did grow up in a family that grew their own veg I hadn’t done much myself before we bought the farm. I’ve discovered it’s not so complicated, you do what is says on the back of the packet and if it goes well you do the same the next year, if it doesn’t you try something different till you discover what works in your soil and the micro climate of your garden. So hopefully this will inspire  a few of you to get some seeds, a pot and a bit of compost and grow something edible at home.

Hitting the ground…

Now inside the barn, we started to plan the removal of the existing timber floor that was not structurally sound. taking up the boards was simple enough with a scaffolding pole for leverage. The beams, however, were another matter! It required 4 people, 2 acrowprops, 1 mini-digger, 1 chainsaw and series of the ropes. By propping-up the beams and then sawing through them, then lowering the loose end down to the ground with the arm of the digger, we managed to complete the task. It was another example of problem solving, teamwork and brutally delicate work!


Once the beams were removed, we were able to deconstruct the internal stone wall, carefully taking the blocks (some up to 1m long and 220x300mm in section) down in the bucket of the dumper truck. Each cut block was set aside to be re-used at a later date.


With the barn clear of obstacles, we set about digging out for the foundation strips and organising the ground floor levels. Before embarking on any excavations of the ground we arranged for our archaeologist to oversee the work, checking for clues as to the previous use of the buildings.


Following the excavations we were able to create the 3 levels of the ground floor and cast the foundation strips. This meant substantial movement of earth around the ground area, which Paul made light work of!


The new walls started to be erected just above the level of the floor, so that we could then go on to cast the floor slabs.


The foul drainage pipework was also installed, with pea-gravel bed and connections formed through the hefty stone walls of the barn. After some shenanigans with pipe work for the district heating system (probably requires another blog to explain) we were ready to prepare the ground for the casting of the concrete slabs. After shifting more earth and compacting it to be a solid bed, 3 tonnes of sand was used to create the blinding (layer to stop any sharp stones tearing the damp proof membrane (dpm). Then we set about laying and taping the dpm, laying out the reinforcement mesh and resting it on the castles. With a willing team, this was achieved in half a day… ready for the concrete pouring!



This all took several months to complete, with over over 10 different builders involved!



From ridge to eaves

Following the completion of the new (reclaimed) roof covering it was time to move back inside the building as the winter weather set in. Having a water tight roof meant we could start insulating and and creating the internal roof finish.


In order to make the building thermally efficient, we are incorporating 150mm of high performance insulation into the roof. Due to the existing construction this needed to be built up in 3 x 50mm layers, one between the rafters, the second as full sheets below the rafters and the third, incorporated into a new layer of studwork. The overlapping layers help ensure a good level of airtightness, which is a particular challenge in a building where each structural element is a different shape. This was a substantial task that our builders seemed to complete in a short time!


Then it was the turn of the plasters to enter the fray and board out the roof, before applying the skim finish. It’s always a really exciting moment in the build, when you have some crisply plastered areas and it made the whole project seem substantially closer to completion (relatively speaking!).


There was just time after this to apply a coat of paint to the roof. This seemed like a really odd thing to do, considering that the rest of the building was untouched! However, it made sense to do this while the internal scaffolding (or the ‘dance floor’, as Joe calls it) was still there.


In order to keep maintain some way of accessing the roof space internally once the scaffolding was struck, we used some spare planks to fix between the trusses and strung a safety line between them. Whilst this was a practical move, it also created a safe high-level walkway that Greg could not help but investigate (when there was no work going on underneath) with the kids. Wearing climbing harnesses and helmets, the older children were able to walk between the trusses some 7m off the ground; a kind of architectural via ferrata!


With the internal scaffolding removed, the full glory of the internal space was revealed! You could really see and feel the difference that the roof lights made. The top-lit space picked out the existing walls and some of the stones that projected out from the wall.


With the roof now complete, it was back to terra firma for ground works!