We hope you are all well.
Last week’s blog was a description of limitations implemented in France to try and limit the spread of coronavirus. Since then these have become more stringent with anyone leaving their homes having to carry a certificate stating which of the limited justifications for travelling applies to their journey.
Almost a week into the initial 15 day lockdown and there is already talk of the measures being extended for an indeterminate period which comes as no surprise. From the outset I thought that whatever the result of the limitations, the movement restrictions would be continued. Had it worked in reducing infection, it would have been extended because it was working. Had it not worked, it would have been extended until it worked!
Listening to the UK government’s briefing tonight it seems, because a significant number of people are not complying with the social distancing, that similar measures may be introduced in the UK. Even in the normal course of life, I leave Kergudon infrequently but the last 6 days has proven to be as limiting and frustrating as I am sure it is necessary.
With the additional measures neither Lee nor Pascal has been able to work and so our deadline for Priory will be passed. Of course the urgency has diminished somewhat as we won’t have any guests for the foreseeable future either! Thankfully the last week has coincided with the first week of good weather we have had this year so we have chosen to split our time between continuing Priory and getting out in the garden.
Over the last 2 weeks Priory has had some progress. When Lee was with us 2 weeks ago plumbing was the focus. For me, the tasks which have made the most significant impact have been applying stain and sous-couche (undercoat) to our new internal walls and hanging a new chandelier above the lounge. Remember my hint last week?!
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we had moved the lantern we were using above the mezzanine level and the reason was we wanted to have something a little larger, and more dramatic, to light the lounge area. The problem we faced was hanging something to the apex beam above the lounge – 7 metres above the ground. It doesn’t sound much and is just about reachable using the entire height of our scaffold tower, but having used all the scaffold pieces I had none left to provide a barrier for me and, psychologically, it made the height much greater.
We didn’t take any pictures of me doing this – in case it didn’t work out well! However, with slow and careful movements we managed to get the lamp hung on its 3 metre chain and, when it has all its parts re-attached, and we have power in the gîte, it will look amazing.
The painting / staining has made a huge difference to the mezzanine level and new panelling in the lounge. Both are now ready for the coloured emulsion but my intention is not to do that until we have almost completely finished all the work.
We have been busy in the garden too, not least cutting the grass for the first time this year. Every winter we say that we won’t let it get as long as we did the previous year but then do. This winter we do have the excuse that, both, it hasn’t stopped raining since September and our lawnmower was being held by the maintenance shop which had closed down.
Despite (or perhaps because) it has been so wet, it has been a very mild winter and, as a result, the grass had never stopped growing. Even with both of us involved, it took 4 hours to do a single cut and we had to do it twice to get it down to a height that we want to keep it at for the summer. With the isolation rules in force the déchetterie is also closed so we can’t take the cuttings there but have found somewhere discrete to do some green fly-tipping!
We have also continued with tidying the boundary of Kergudon and thinning out the many self-set trees that have grown over the years. Some had grown next to the Hayloft terrace and were both blocking the evening light and threatening the security of the slates on the Hayloft roof. One was a large, double trunked, willow which grows like a weed here; another was the remaining trunk of a hawthorn tree that we hadn’t cut down before; and the last a three-trunked yew. Having cut them all, with minimal damage to the Hayloft, the idea is we will now trim them to create a better hedge to provide privacy but maximise the evening sun to the terrace.
Two other trees we cut down were self-set oaks just next to the Granary parking space. We cleared that area of the boundary in our first winter as it was just a mass of bramble and the dreaded Japanese knot weed.
Having cleared that area we left 2 self-set oak trees although knew we would have to take them out at some point. As they continued to grow in the subsequent years they now were a risk to our telephone cable and blocked too much light from the plants in the bed so they had to go. It also allowed us to test, finally, a new bit of kit we bought last year when we had lots of large sycamores felled – a garden shredder.
The blog post I made when we cleared the area showed the griselinia cuttings we had planted to create a hedge as well as us cutting the turf to make 2 flower beds behind Priory. Today’s photos show that the hedge has grown well, despite not getting a lot of direct light; and the shredded oak branches have made a great mulch on part of the well-established flower beds.
Having tested the shredder, and with the urgency of completing Priory a little diminished, assuming the weather remains dry, which it’s forecast to do, we may even make a dent in the large pile of branches left from the sycamores – and expose more of the lawn to cut …
We will likely continue to split our time between Priory and the garden next week and make progress in both as we continue to remain at home.
We hope you all remain healthy and, although we now earn our income by offering travellers and holiday-makers accommodation, we hope you stay at home and safely indoors.
Last week’s blog said that, by today, I’d have hoped that both the bathrooms would be finished other than the decoration. I also mentioned that the project was progressing more slowly than I’d have liked. You may know where this is going …
The last week has continued to progress Priory, and principally still plumbing. While the bathrooms are not in a ‘ready to paint’ state, they do now have the sanitary ware generally fitted. The plumbing has also included the kitchen, cloakroom and new water heater so progress is happening.
There have been 2 major additions / visual changes to the mezzanine and lounge area. Both of these look great but I won’t share photos just yet and leave that ‘hanging’ (there’s a clue) for a week or so.
This week the blog will be short and principally focussed on the current situation with the Covid-19 / coronavirus situation which continues to escalate.
As other European countries, France has seen the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus rapidly increase in the last 72 hours and, sadly, the number of fatalities too.
Previously the French state had banned gatherings of over 500 people and announced that schools, universities and nurseries would close for an indefinite period. Yesterday they went further and reduced the gatherings to 100 people although, in reality, are asking people to avoid all social contact. Now they have also shut all ‘non-essential’ business. This latter category is defined as ‘non-essential to the life of the country’ and, as it includes restaurants and bars, it shows how seriously the French are taking this!
There are a number of ‘cluster-zones’ across France where there are a higher number of infections. This includes the neighbouring département of Morbihan. However, one advantage of visiting this amazing part of the French countryside is that you really can avoid people as much as you want!
As part of the measures, the gym David works at has closed until further notice. At least this means there is another pair of hands to get on with some of the projects here! However, there is also now a risk to completing Priory on time as we will inevitably need some additional items and materials. The cooker and fridge freezer which are on order won’t be delivered under current restrictions (although should have been here 2 weeks ago!) Thankfully, we did a shop for litres and litres of paint a couple of weeks ago.
I fear 2020 will be an ‘interesting’ year. The minor disappointment of ruining what would have been a fantastic weekend of sport with the culmination of the Six Nations tournament and the first Grand Prix of the year, is likely to become a frustrating extended period of limited opportunities.
All that said, we do understand that the virus can be extremely dangerous to a percentage of the population. We hope these measures are effective in reducing the spread and so minimising the potential fatalities. Above all we hope everyone does manage to stay fit, healthy and safe.
I will continue to post blogs as we progress Priory and other projects and hope that normal life will be resumed as soon as it can be.
Apologies for not being able to post a blog last week. I was all ready and prepared but when I tried to upload some images to our website it was obvious there was a problem with our site editor. Our IT department (David) has found a way that I can post while WordPress sorts out the bigger problem. As such, this blog will have pictures of where we were last week as well as the state now – I hope it is obvious which are which!
Unsurprisingly, the last 2 weeks have been focussed on one project – Priory refurbishment. We have made progress but, as I guess is not uncommon with projects like this, it feels like slow progress and I’d had hoped to be have completed more in the last 14 days.
The most progress has been made in the, now 2, bathrooms with much of the plumbing in place and the tiling underway. I mentioned in the last blog I posted that we knew these spaces wouldn’t be enormous but we are pleased that they don’t feel as small as we thought they might. The white reflective tiles have also assisted in making the family bathroom feel larger.
The smaller, new, en-suite bathroom also feels generous for a shower room and although, not unlike many en-suite bathrooms, it doesn’t have natural light, when that is tiled we think it will also brighten the space. When building the new walls for the en-suite we have decided to retain some of the original slate, previously hidden behind the old lambris walls, as a feature to highlight the age and construction of the building.
We hope, just one more week and the bathrooms will be in a state completed all bar the decorating.
Where we have exposed slate in the bathroom, we have completed the panelling in the living area to hide an entire wall of it. When I posted these pictures on our Facebook page last week they caused some discussion as to where they were. For those who know Priory, the 2 walls we have clad are the back walls in the living space which were previously hidden behind large wooden, Breton, cabinets. One wall had previously been painted white, the other was slate. When complete, the previous slate wall will have a smaller table in front so you can see the panels but we will retain the older cabinet. Both walls however will have new lights incorporated making the space much brighter.
The later pictures show the panelling added with filler applied to the screws and any small gaps. Again, it now shouldn’t take too much to sand, re-fill, sand again and finally paint. The picture also shows some of the work our electrician, Pascal, has done, installing the new radiators which are fed off a new air source heat pump we will have installed outside. Perhaps not the most attractive item but no less so then the, now removed, old, ineffective wall-mounted hot-water radiators and far more efficient.
Pascal has worked hard since we started this project as he is re-wiring the entire house and with most walls made of solid slate, we have had to find alternative methods of running cable that doesn’t require huge channels dug out of the walls. I will show you some of those as we near completion, but one of the larger tasks will happen early next week. Previously, we had a hall lantern suspended above the main space. It was one we bought in London when we were planning to refurbish our hall there but never got round to it! So as not to waste it, it became some of the lighting in Priory. We have now bought another, larger, suspended light that we will use in the main space, so Pascal has moved our ‘London light’ to the mezzanine dressing area where we think it looks great.
The mezzanine was also a focus the week before last when I spent a day sanding the new woodwork and plasterboard. This is the area that we think has made the most significant change and will look fabulous when painted and complete.
While I said I feel Priory is progressing more slowly than we’d hoped, we have now accepted a booking for April 25th so we have a drop-dead time limit! It is a lovely French family from Bordeaux who have stayed with us twice already, once before in Priory. We hope they will love the changes. While the progress may be slow, I do feel we are getting to the point that by the end of March, we should have all the ‘big’ things installed and ready leaving only days of cleaning and dusting – oh, and lots of decorating and painting!
More to report next week …
Apologies for not posting a blog last week. We, as all of the UK and NW France were in the teeth of Storm Dennis. Thankfully, here at Kergudon we have escaped any significant wind damage and, being high up flooding is never going to be a problem. With the exception of a few hours without power last Sunday we have got through unscathed.
We do appreciate however that having arrived a week after Storm Ciara, Dennis has caused or aggravated damage and flooding in many areas. We hope that people are managing to recover where necessary and things are looking brighter than they were.
While the winds have died down (apparently temporarily) with a few exceptional days it has remained generally wet and dreich. On one of those exceptional days it would have been good to get our lawns cut as, despite it being winter and wet, it has been relatively mild so everything is already springing into life.
However, last October we sent our mower to be serviced by a company that we have used before and had been recommended by a number of our neighbours. It is a company run by a couple of old-school mechanics who have evidently been tinkering with garden and agricultural machinery for years. We liked using them precisely because they were old-school and did a good job but they weren’t quick.
However, having not heard from them for over 3 months, which was even unusual for them, I started to chase them up. Only then did we find out that they had closed down and an auction house was in the process of selling off all of their stock. Despite our contact details being attached to our mower (and a chain saw they had had for an even longer period) no one had called us to let us know or arrange collection of our things. Thankfully, having contacted the auction house I was able to collect our things (in true French fashion, at a time that suited them more than me!)
On the upside, our mower had been fixed and we weren’t asked to pay for the fix, although the chainsaw hadn’t been looked at. Sadly, since then there hasn’t been a chance to use it and tame the grass yet.
Despite storms Ciara and Dennis trying to impact us over the last couple of weeks, it was a loud, low rumble we heard last Wednesday night that caused us most concern. Quickly dismissing some catastrophic problem with Priory having cut the main A-frame on the mezzanine, social media highlighted that Finistère had experienced an earthquake registering 3.4 on the richter scale with its epicentre about 5 kms south of Brest.
Thankfully earthquakes are fairly rare around us – far less so than damaging storms – and geologic change is glacial in its speed. Which leads us to work in Priory …
While my comment above is a bit tongue-in-cheek, sadly our builder Lee has been poorly for a part of last week so we had a limited amount of time to progress the big stuff. Thankfully, we have completed a couple of big things, principally las week we re-tiled the kitchen floor. One of the major changes we wanted to make in this project was to replace, actually cover, the old floor tiles as many had become chipped, cracked and generally unattractive.
Re-tiling the floor was the principal reason we removed the stud walls that created the cloakroom which made the kitchen appear so much larger. Rather than lift all the old tiles, we have re-tiled on top which required me to prime the old surface to allow the adhesive to adhere better. It even looked better just with the red primer!
While Lee was tiling, a job I couldn’t really assist with, I picked up my work to clear the far side of Hent Gorreker. Having not maintained the hedge I initially cleared in 2016, all the sycamore and hazels had grown new trunks which were greater in number, due to the coppice effect, and were getting tall. At least this time they were thinner and easy to bend so I have made an effort in laying a hedge – we will see how it looks and I will try and maintain it. It will at least ensure we get more sun to the end of the garden and by Stable in particular.
Before re-tiling, we made the decision to move the support post from the end of the staircase and place it into the centre of the room. While it is not essential to the structural strength of the building it does help and is better centrally placed, especially having added a little detailing. It did mean we needed to replace the newel post at the base of the stairs. Having done this it should make getting furniture up and down the stairs so much easier! Also, on Lee’s advice, we have created a small step at the base of the stair that we will tile to match the floor, which has also evened out the spacing of the steps themselves.
Having retiled last week, this week we were able to rebuild the cloakroom and start to plaster the walls of the new bathrooms (now plural!) The tiled floor made the kitchen appear a large space than we remembered, especially with the small addition for the new fridge. However, re-building the cloakroom has made a dramatic difference and it appears small again, although it is still a good sized room.
On the other hand, now we have committed to exactly where we will divide the single bathroom to create 2 (not yet built so not visible in these pictures), both seem to be larger than we had anticipated which is great news. Another advantage of building new walls for the cloakrooms and bathrooms, we have been able to add insulation to them that was lacking before. We haven’t done this to make any difference to the heat as they are all internal walls. But, to be delicate, the insulation will minimise noises emanating to from the bathrooms to the adjacent bedroom and kitchen.
The final thing we managed to achieve was to affix the last plasterboard to the mezzanine level completely hiding the cabling. Having completed the plasterboarding, now when Lee starts some plumbing next week I can continue on my own with filling and detailing.
Next week, we will complete the plasterboard around the bathrooms and Lee will make a start on the plumbing so there may not be many photos to share. Thankfully however, it actually feels like we are getting to the point when we are approaching if not the final furlongs at least the last lap!
The last week has been one of those frustrating time when, despite working all week, when you look back at what has been achieved you get the feeling that it isn’t as much as we should have!
That said, we have generally continued to build rather than demolish, and add to the charm of the cottage. We have focussed on 2 areas, the mezzanine level and the front door.
Previously, the rear of mezzanine was clad in dark wood with a light box at about head height. We never found this terribly attractive ourselves, and, having bought a four-poster bed in our first year to be a(nother) amazing feature of this lovely building, it also made the mezzanine level a tight fit.
Having stripped off the old cladding, we exposed another A-frame which was built when the building was re-roofed, we think, about 15 years ago. It also became obvious that the lower cross beam of that A-frame would prevent us gaining any significant space on the mezzanine to push the bed closer to the wall.
Not being the sort of people to accept a minor problem like this, being highly-qualified structural engineers(!) we came up with a plan – move the cross beam.
Not only do these pictures show how many cables our electrician has had to install, and can now be hidden behind the new wall, you can see that we have raised the cross beam to buy us a few centimetres for the bed.
We think the A-frame is an attractive part of the building so we have decided to make it a feature of the new mezzanine, and have added a few additional supports to it – all purely decorative. We are really pleased with how it is taking shape and, when it is finally stained, painted and refurnished we think it will look amazing.
The other major task we have undertaken involved more deconstruction before replacement which was the front door of Priory.
In our first year at Kergudon we replaced the door that was there and had become very rotten, with one that our builder manufactured for us. What we didn’t do was replace the frame and threshold etc. As such, while it functioned, we have had a few problems with the door, including having to remove the tiles on the inside recently, and so we never felt it was the right first impression when entering the gîte.
This work has given us the chance to rehang the door with a new frame, new exterior step and new threshold. Thankfully we have been able to reinstall the door before Storm Ciara arrived although we still need to render in certain areas and make good so the work isn’t finished as yet, but already looks better with a lovely new slate step.
Over the weekend I have done some concreting. A small amount to level the step inside the front door which we will tile, and a larger area to increase the floor space of the kitchen generally. The reason for the latter is because we made a small error! When we were buying new electrical items for the kitchen, we saw an amazing fridge-freezer that was on such an incredible offer we had to have it. We knew that it was taller than the old fridge-freezer but we hadn’t realised by how much. The only way we could stand it in the kitchen was to extend the area of floor under the stairs which is fairly advantageous anyway and will look great.
Hopefully some great leaps forward during the coming week – assuming we don’t suffer any damage from Storm Ciara which has been blowing furiously all day. We appreciate that the storm is even stronger, and wetter, in other areas so we hope you all manage to stay safe and dry until it passes.
Despite mentioning the start of the Six Nations in last week’s blog, having watched the England / France match I won’t be mentioning too much about the game …
The week has, inevitably, been focussed on the Priory refurbishment and we have had both our builder and our electrician with us for most of the week. My hope at the end of last week was that the re-wiring would be near completion and we would be able to start re-building rather than demolishing. Thankfully, this has proven to be the case but this may not be the longest blog.
I remain amazed at how many metres of cable and wiring are required to re-wire the gîte to abide by French regulations. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that, because we are giving Priory its own independent power supply, we are required to have an inspection before it will be connected to the grid. As such, our electrician, Pascal, is required to install all sorts of things that we wouldn’t otherwise need, including sockets for internet access despite them not being required as our internet is provided wirelessly.
French rules state that major appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers, have their own dedicated circuits connected directly to the fuseboard leading to additional cables. Also, because we expect to add more electrical ‘things’ in the gîte, and guests now travel with more electrical items such as mobiles, tablets etc., we have decided to add far more sockets than we had before which again add to the cabling.
You can see from this image where many of these will go in the new kitchen and, where it appears that large mice have burrowed along the walls, Pascal has drilled and channelled the walls for the sockets to be installed.
It has therefore proven advantageous that we have stripped off the lambris on the mezzanine level, and had planned to install some contemporary panelling in the living area, as this will allow us to hide much of the cabling, and the new heating system pipes, behind the new plasterboard.
The lounge looks the most different at the end of the week, although photos are difficult as there is no power in the lounge anymore and with all the furniture stacked in the centre it’s difficult to get a good view. We are conscious that, because of the age of the building the living area can be a little dark during the day. While the slate walls are attractive and the original 17th century structure, as there is so much of it we can hide some and add to the charm rather than detract from it and add some additional lighting.
We have taken the opportunity to add a little bit of insulation behind the new wall, as much to assist with the sound of the stud wall as much as improve the heat retention but every little helps! Next stage for these walls is to add the wood to create the panels which we may do next week.
We have started in the en-suite shower-room too, although have not made the same progress. Knowing that the room will not be the most generously sized, although ideal for a shower room, we have decided, in order to gain as many centimetres as we can, to remove all of the old lambris and move the soil pipe for the toilets. Something else where every little helps! The slate walls here are also very attractive but sadly we will hide these again behind plasterboard and tiles.
Mouse gave us a bit of a scare during the week as she had been decidedly off-colour and not behaving in her usual active way. We’re not sure what was making her unwell but, with a magic tablet and some time she is making a steady recovery to her normal self.
With the changes to the lounge and starting to replace things that have been removed, I am beginning to get the feeling that we are moving in the right direction. Next week hopefully we will continue to build more than we demolish and will have more to share on Sunday – and a better rugby result!
As hoped at the end of my last blog, the weather for the last 7 days has been a very welcome break to the previous 3 months of generally wet and windy conditions.
This has allowed me to complete some outside work as, while we are obviously far from complete in Priory, there is a very limited amount for me to do while Pascal, our sparky, continues to rip things apart to string miles of cabling through.
I did manage to complete the trench I’d begun last week which will eventually be used to lay the main power cable to Priory. I think Pascal had hoped to have done this on Friday while the weather remained good. However, only having hired the drill to cut through Priory’s thick slate walls on Friday morning, with the inevitable delay in being delivered by the hire company; and the fact that Pascal found it difficult to cut 2 large holes through an 80 cm thick slate and rock wall(?!) meant that he hasn’t been able to achieve this.
My outdoor work has been focussed more on cutting back the brambles and weeds on the opposite side of Hent Gorreker to our main entrance. Again, not that there isn’t enough for me to do in our own garden, the area opposite us is not tended by anyone so the weeds grown tall and block the light, and would block the view when I, eventually, cut the laurel at the end of Granary garden. We have an agreement with the farmer who owns the field, that we would control the weeds but I hadn’t cut them back for a few years. We think it was 2016 the first, and last, time I did it when the trees were even larger. This time we plan to plant a few shrubs on the bank which should, in time, assist keep the weeds under control and be more colourful and attractive than bramble!
As a couple of weeks ago, we had another day in Brest on Friday (one of the days Dave isn’t at work), buying more material for the Priory project. I can’t wait until the spending is complete but it will look AMAZING when finished.
The other major leap forward this week, albeit not one I can take any credit for, was our carpenter came back to hang the new Granary door – and it has made such a big difference both to the look of the building on the outside, and the amount of light getting to the inside. It does need another coat of paint on the outside, and our carpenter thinks he will add a sill to the bottom on the outside, but even now we are very happy with it.
As we have for many years, we marked Burns’ Night last night with a fabulous meal of haggis, neaps and tatties that David prepared. While not being Scottish in any way, it is a good excuse for having haggis, which we love, and a ‘wee dram’. However, another ‘tradition’ we have kept this year is a dry January, and we didn’t even break it last night. However, with the start of the Six Nations next weekend we will certainly be having a drink, and it’s February by then anyway so we are allowed!
While we didn’t take a photo of our Burns supper, we had some B&B guests stay last night who were the first to Instagram the Kergudon breakfast! They really enjoyed themselves and loved Hayloft – let’s hope an Instagram’d breakfast is seen far and wide!
With the rugby next weekend may not be the most productive but there will hopefully be more to share. Both our electrician and builder are back so, I hope, the re-wiring will be nearing completion and we may be in a position to start building things again and not just ripping them out or cutting holes in them! Sadly, the dry weather has already come to an end and we seem to be back to the wet, windy winter patterns. Let’s hope this one doesn’t last 3 months!
At the end of last week’s blog, I mentioned that the forecast was looking particularly bad for the start of the week just gone, and so it turned out.
Storm Brendan arrived on Monday which, despite stronger winds than normal and lots of rain, didn’t prove too disruptive. It was the storm which hit us on Tuesday that was considerably more damaging as the winds were stronger and the rain heavier. This storm didn’t have a name. I still can’t fathom what conditions need to be present so either the UK or the Irish Met Offices name a particular storm but it was so bad with us, it must have caused disruption to at least the south west of the UK and probably more widespread.
Sadly, the frame of the serre we bought last year didn’t cope and has completely collapsed so needs replacing – the perils of trying to buy something a bit cheaper as a ‘temporary’ shelter. False economy again. Thankfully however, despite many of the outlying hamlets around Sizun losing power we didn’t suffer a power cut at all, or lose the phone line, although we were expecting one or the other if not both!
Thankfully we were able to stay indoors and progress the Priory project.
Our electrician, Pascal, arrived on Monday and has set about the rewiring with gusto. Being an old building with thick slate walls there are a number of challenges he faces with the wiring, especially in the living area, although he hasn’t started there yet, so we are looking at the most attractive ways to hide the new cables throughout the building.
As we are having a new power supply provided, before we can connect to the grid, we will have an inspection by the electricity company so Pascal is ensuring he follows all the rules to the letter, which, while obviously safe, means there a number of things that we perhaps wouldn’t have had otherwise and the house now has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese!
While Pascal has been working, I have completed a couple of useful tasks. The first was to finish breaking up and removing the slate step in the kitchen. While we knew that the step wasn’t original, we weren’t sure how large the slates would be at the base, or whether they would be sat on a concrete base or straight on the ground. Thankfully, there is a solid concrete base beneath that we can tile onto and incorporate that area back into the kitchen.
You can also see in the picture the new Granary door which I had painted in the autumn. Our carpenter returned today to put the door ‘kit’ back together and he will return tomorrow to install it. It will look so much better than the current one.
The second inside job I had to complete, as I mentioned in last week’s blog, was to remove the lights and cladding on the mezzanine level which will be replace by something much lighter and more attractive. From this picture you can see a fraction of the new cables that Pascal is threading throughout the building and that many of them will be hidden behind the new facing we will create behind the bed.
The weather changed markedly yesterday as high pressure replaced the series of depressions we have experienced since last September and we have a couple of perfect crisp, cold, winter days. Thankfully, we had preempted this and had wrapped and moved our banana plants so they are far better protected than they were last year.
It has also meant I could work outside over the weekend, although my work has sadly been in the parking space on the north side of Granary and out of the warmth of the sun.
We had a new electricity box installed last September which, once we have been inspected, will provide the power to Priory. But, there are many metres between the new box and Priory and the cable will need to be buried underground so I had a lot of digging to be done.
Having dug a number of trenches around the gardens, not least the foundations of Grange, I knew that it is not easy to dig here with heavy clay sub-soil and lots of slate and quartz in the ground, and Pascal told me the trench needed to be a minimum of 45 cms. I did know there would be one soil pipe crossing the parking area, I hadn’t expected to come across a number of other, redundant, pipes and I even found the old concrete septic tank (visible just by the closest pipes in the right hand picture) all of which made the job slower.
However, after 2 days digging while I haven’t quite got from the box to the Priory terrace, I should only have a day’s worth of digging left to complete the job.
The weather looks like it will hold for most of the coming week so I should be able to finish the trench and progress a number of outside tasks while Pascal continues the wiring. Good weather always makes me feel we are making good progress!
I mentioned at the end of last week’s blog that once we had completed taking down all of the Christmas decorations we would start emptying Priory of all its furniture and furnishings in preparation for its refurbishment. And this is exactly what we have been doing this week.
We did manage to pack away all of the decorations on Monday and stack them in the corner of the store room. I am convinced they are taking up more space but we didn’t buy many more this year. I was even organised enough to have left some of the things that I want to repair at the top of the pile although whether I am organised enough to get round to doing the repair in the course of the year remains to be seen!
The remainder of the week has all been about our Priory project – in some form and, you may wat to have a look at the pictures on our webpage to see what it used to look like. Initially we spent a day just emptying out anything which could be carried and have stored it in various places although principally Granary. We have managed to sell the lovely Breton beds we bought about 10 months ago for the first floor twin as that room will have a king-sized bed when we have finished. They are not going very far as our friends who run the campsite at the Lac du Drennec have bought them for one of their glamping tents and they will look as good there as they did for us.
The plan for the refurbishment is to replace the fittings which have become a little tired and dated, principally the kitchen and bathroom; to install a new, much more efficient heating system; rewire the entire property and provide it with a power supply independent of the other properties; and create an en-suite bathroom from the first floor king-to-be bedroom. The division of the current family bathroom will make 2, admittedly compact, bathrooms but we believe having an additional shower room will be much more attractive.
To achieve our plans we needed to rip out the kitchen and bathroom and effectively take them both back to bare walls. Our builder, Lee, arrived on Wednesday and the real demolition began; we even managed to cut the new access from the bedroom into the new en-suite bathroom and, as it matches the style of the bedroom door, we will recycle the door from the old downstairs loo to use here.
Both David and I had our favourite moments when the pieces we least likes were ripped out or dismantled. For David it was dumping the old sink in the déchetterie yesterday as it was an odd material that marked very easily and took ages to clean. For me, it was breaking up the kitchen island which, while providing worktop room, was otherwise a complete waste of space as it had no storage incorporated (had we not decided to refurb the whole gîte we would have added some cupboards underneath).
Another of my least favourite parts of the kitchen was the seat in the old fireplace which again served limited practical purpose. That has now gone and I have started smashing up the slate step below which will take a little time. Our new kitchen plans will make better use of this space – indeed the whole room we believe!
As we are re-wring Priory we have dismantled the four-poster bed on the mezzanine as we plan to replace the dark wood and lighting behind it with something much more attractive. It will also allow our electrician to hide the wires behind and should allow us to move the bed a few centimetres closer to the wall – every millimetre helps as we know it is a little tight to walk along the end of the bed.
One thing we have asked Lee to do is construct some cabinet doors so we have access to the electric water heater in Priory as, at present, it is blocked in and very in accessible. Sadly, as he started this, we discovered that the heater wasn’t working properly and needs replacing. Thankfully it had still been providing hot water so our last guests were able to shower, but it had developed a slow leak that would have got worse over time. We don’t know how old the heater is although we assume about 15 years so was probably nearing shelf life anyway.
This was added to our shopping list for Friday, which was always planned to be spent in Brest choosing a number of things for the project so it made what was always going to be a painfully expensive day into an even more painful one. At least now we have lots of things on order to allow us to progress and refurbish – including having bought a new dishwasher for us finally ours having packed up before Christmas.
We are really excited about how Priory is going to look when finished although that feels like an awfully long way off at the minute. Tomorrow our electrician arrives and, we hope, begins work in earnest. He is fitting the new heating system which will use an air-source heat pump so should be very economic as well as doing the rewiring. We are now reliant on him making rapid progress before we can start rebuilding things – that and waiting for delivery of everything we ordered on Friday.
Thankfully there are lots of things I can progress inside next week as, looking at the forecast, the next few days are going to be particularly wet and windy – no fun.
Happy New Year to everyone. We hope that you all marked the arrival of 2020 as you would wish and the New Year has begun well.
We have had a gentle week and saw the New Year in with our guests in Priory who invited us for a few drinks which, inevitably, led to us staying for midnight! Thanks to them.
Things have calmed down here, guest-wise, with the last leaving yesterday morning and we are back to just the 2 of us. That has meant that the work has started in earnest but more of that later.
I mentioned last week that the last blog of the year has traditionally been a summary of all we have achieved I the previous 12 months but that I hadn’t been back through my blogs to remind myself (we find it so easy to get confused about what we have done when!) I hope you don’t mind but I thought I’d do so today.
Before I re-read the blogs I thought it would be obvious we have had a work-year of 2 halves. I knew that the autumn had been a lot less productive than we’d have liked, and previous years, as the weather had been so wet. What I had forgotten was that the first half of the year was the complete opposite with exceptionally dry weather and we were concerned for the garden as our water butts ran dry.
The year started with completing my new man shed which, on New Year’s Day 2019 was really only a wooden frame open to the skies. Finishing the building was a relatively quick task and allowed me to try new skills, including rendering the walls, but fitting it out and filling it with my things took a bit longer …
The finished result has proven a real benefit throughout the year providing me with a larger and much more organised space to work. It has also provided Mouse with a drier and warmer space to live and have a permanent home.
One of the projects I was able to complete in the shed was building a new bar for the games room. You may recall we bought an old kitchen island off the internet and had to drive all the way to St. Malo to collect it. Having done so we initially thought it had been a complete waste of money although, having been able to adapt and use certain parts of it, it was the right thing to do. It has also seen a lot of use since its completion and, we think, makes the games room even more fun to spend time in.
In the late spring we had the opportunity to do something that we had wanted to complete for a couple of years – refurbish our chambre d’hôte, Stable.
Stable was the last of our accommodation we completed in 2015. While we had greatly improved things, we still had thoughts of making it better yet which we managed to realise this year.
A, well many, coats of white paint to the ceiling; a painted bed frame and new headboard; new shelving to house the fridge, microwave and various deco items; and a new lambris wall with better lighting has made a huge difference and we are even happier with the space. Most pleasingly we have had many more guests stay in Stable including 9 nights over Christmas and New Year.
Outside, we have achieved some major tasks the largest of which was to clear the old chicken run and grade the bank at the rear. This was made far easier with our part-acquisition of a mini-digger which was good fun to operate and will get a lot more use in the coming years.
One task which has made the greatest difference is felling the large sycamores on our south west talus. While we didn’t do the felling itself, safer to leave it to a professional, it has created a lot of wood to clear and split to season as firewood. With our new serre where the old chicken run used to be at least we now have somewhere dry to stack it.
Smaller, but no less useful, tasks included making a gate to secure the back lawn from the Granary parking space; re-staining the exterior of the Granary windows to protect them for the next 5 years; boxing in the vulnerable pipework in the bike room; and scarifying the orchard as an experiment before we do all of the lawns.
One of the more significant things we have ‘achieved’ which took a reasonable amount of administrative time even if we have nothing obvious to show for it, was getting our Carte de Sejour, or residency permit, which puts us formally into the French system prior to the UK’s departure from the EU.
While we are pleased with what we have achieved in 2019, despite having a slower autumn, the list of what we want to do in 2020 is no less daunting (or shorter!) and again is a mix of interior and exterior with some major projects on the list.
This week has principally been taking down the Christmas decorations in all of our gîtes – always a little depressing as the house looks so bare for a few days. As, for the first time all 4 gîtes had to be decorated, it has taken a little longer to take the decorations down.
We did our traditional New Year’s Day walk and, again, chose somewhere new for us to walk. On a recommendation from a guest some months ago, we headed to the delightfully named hamlet of Kerancuru in the Forêt Domaniale du Cranou. It was a lovely walk, again a but muddy underfoot, but it is always interesting walking somewhere new and this forest had a different feel to our own as there are more deciduous trees. Kerancuru too was a very pretty little hamlet – Dave has his eye on a new house!
Our other tradition that we maintained was a New Year’s Day ‘high tea’. I’m not sure how we started this but it is a great excuse to drink champagne and finish, or indeed start, some of the things that we hadn’t eaten over the festive period.
Once the decorations are all down – tomorrow – we start emptying Priory of everything in preparation for the major refurbishment we have planned. That is the first project of 2020 which we plan to complete for Easter – especially as both of our family gîtes are unavailable until the work is done as Granary will become a storage space and lay apart store.
Priory is only the first of the many projects on the ‘to do’ list for this year. Others, in no particular order, are clearing all the wood created by felling the sycamores; clearing the laurels at the front of Granary’s garden; clearing the wood in the old veg patch and grading the talus in the same way as we have behind the old chicken run; building a pond and waterfall; staining the exterior of Grange; and, oh yes, finish emptying the garage bays and clearing the pile of gravel delivered some time ago …
Hopefully, this time next year my summary will be able to look back on all (well some) of these having been completed.
Finally, today is a special day for Dave and me, as it marks our 5th anniversary of arriving at Kergudon as its new owners. Things have changed considerably since then – but there is still so much left to do.