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While stripping the wallpaper I managed to save a wall’s worth of the 1930s wallpaper, which was hidden underneath the early ’90s stuff.


So this will be a feature wall as it’ll be a shame to get rid of some quite nice wallpaper.

Delving under the floorboards in the spare room turned up some treasures from the past. Two sets of workers have been under there, judging by the fag packets they left behind:


The first were from the ’30s when we think some rewiring went on (perhaps including a replacement bell system to summon the maid).


The second were plumbers who put in the hot water tank and all the pipes from the utility into the spare room. We found a message on the plumber’s Hamlet packet that indicated it was left there in 1990. We couldn’t find a message on the ’30s packets, so maybe they were left as rubbish.

a bit of simple DIY often turns into a full demolition job. I started to remove the old hot-water tank from above the range, in preparation for decorating the maid’s room behind our bedroom. We need the room to be ready for a WWOOFer who is coming for a month in August.

Removing the water means:

  1. Dismantling the boxing-in
  2. Removing the old hot water connection to the utility room
  3. Draining the range
  4. Draining the water tank
  5. Connecting the utility hot water tap to the hot supply to the kitchen
  6. Cutting all the pipes into and out of the water tank
  7. Removing the electric supply to the immersion heater in the tank
  8. Rebuilding the boxing-in around the cold supply to the utility room


Dismantling the boxing-in

I didn’t document much of this. Here is what is left after the initial work. I took out the outer part, then removed the water tank before moving onto the final part of the framework.


Removing the old hot connection

The range supplied hot water to the utility room, so I had to cut that connection and add a blank end where I’d removed the connection. That would allow me to connect the new hot water system to the utility hot tap. The old hot water system was now disconnected from the water supply.

Draining the range

Also known as flooding the utility room. The range has a back boiler that I needed to drain before I cut the pipes to the water tank (there is a small header tank driving the heating coil which is also attached to the range’s pipework). There is a valve and drainage pipe for this but the valve had seized and I couldn’t free it. So I cut the valve out and tried to catch the water. I didn’t catch much of the initial gush and flooded part of the utility. The gush slowed and I got most of the rest of the water. The best bit: I found the valve had an allen key hole that I could have used to open it and avoided the flood.

Draining the water tank

Naively I thought that disconnecting the hot water system and draining all the pipes and range would leave the water tank empty. Well that’s not the case as I found out when disconnecting the “in” pipe for the water tank. I quickly tightened the nut and retreated (with a fair bit of dripping into the utility for good measure). It was time to get the hose into the house and attach it to the drain cock (another new term for me). This is a forked valve: an exit to a hose connection and a washer that covers the exit until you open the valve at the other fork. However, after trying three different hoses there was no water coming out.

I found the answer on YouTube (rip the valve and washer out, then jam your thumb over the hole to keep the water going down the pipe).

So I spend 45 minutes with my thumb pressed over the open end of the valve where I had ripped the washer out. It wasn’t wasted because I got to catch up on Only Connect on the iPlayer app on my phone.

Connecting the utility hot water tap

An easy one. The kitchen hot water was already connected through the wall. I just had to open the valve and rely on the blank end I’d installed.

Cutting all the pipes into and out of the water tank

A fun one because I used an angle grinder rather than a pipe cutter. We now have metres and metres of all different copper pipe diameters. It’s probably our most valuable asset now. Cut pipes from range into the water tank shown.

The most complicated part was extracting the bent pipes through the ceiling. The plumbers had obviously put a slight bend on them, shoved them under the eaves, then caught and bent them in the room below. I got them out in the end.

I also had to chase the pipes to the range under the floor by removing floorboards along their run. The plumbers had removed section of floorboard as they’d laid the pipes so I lifted those sections to undo their work.


Removing the electric supply

More chasing about under floor boards. This time it was the whole width of the room to find where the wire came up from the switch in the utility room. The boards had been mangled in the original work so required a fair bit of TLC when laid back down.

Rebuilding the boxing-in

The final task was to box in the cold water pipe to the utility room. This is a “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” decision: the tap works fine so don’t start drilling through walls and routing pipes all over the place. The angles were all cut for the original boxing-in, so I just had to adapt the width and height a little (sloping insulation had reduced the height).


This was a deceptive job because it took me all day on Sunday (until 11pm) to build it, including tidying, a bit of plastering and installing the final bit of insulation. All I had to show for it was two vertical bits of wood and two sloping bits.

Conversely, putting the board on went super-fast; it’s all in the preparation. Here is the final structure.


So the first part of the sloping insulation is up in the office and it’s such a dynamic photo I had to upload it.

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Classic stuff. It’s held up by massive screws into the sloping beams and penny washers to displace the weight a little. Next is a layer of plaster.

Now that I’ve installed that, there is just this pile to work through.

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It’s the second May Bank Holiday Weekend, Whitsun as was and, in Dumfries & Galloway, Spring Fling Weekend. In my case it’s a sort of awakening from hibernation, blog wise. I’ve not posted since late last summer, mainly due to other things taking over; like the arrival of our fourth child, helping to set up a new local charity for refugees and standing for election. Now things have calmed down a bit, I’m hoping to get back to regular blog updates and share the duties with Matt a bit more, not least because he’s taken on his own extra duties by volunteering to be the South of Scotland Regional Host Contact for WWOOF UK.

Other signs of Summer are all around. We’ve had a spell of good weather, so the weeds are getting rampant and the flowers are beginning to bloom. I’m particularly enjoying the alliums I planted last year. Those pictures are at the end of the long border, helpfully weeded by our WWOOFer Ruth who stayed with us for a few days after attending a course on outdoor Classrooms in Gatehouse. Ruth taught Matthew how to scythe, so he’s taken to spending an hour or so of an evening scything down weeds and overgrown patches to practise his technique.

The kids have been making more use of the garden this year. We’ve finally got around to hanging up a hammock, although it needs a few tweaks, and the boys had a rare time tonight paying in the garden in their pyjamas. Not sure the sandpit was a good idea though – there’ll be sandy sheets in the morning.

Finally, summer means embarking on the big task we didn’t quite complete last year (owing in part to the wet weather) and that’s painting the rest of the outside walls. Yesterday, Matt, Kester and WWOOFer Song Jie applied fungicide to the rear wall (after Matt dug out the built-up silt around the walls). Today, whie I manned the Green stall at the Kirkcudbright Academy Half Marathon, Matt did a bit of scraping and then there’ll be some sealing and re-pointing to do before we paint again. It’ll look cracking with the shiny new roof.


A couple of our mature trees had rotten cores, so we felled them as a preemptive measure (Souness style, we got our retaliation in first). One was a horse chestnut that oozed black gunk out of a gaping hole. That is hopefully going to sprout from the base again and there are shoots there ready to go. I have also sown some conkers to grow some replacements if the sprouting doesn’t work.

The second tree is maybe a Lawson’s cypress or maybe a western red cedar, not managed to pin that one down yet.The leaves and reddish cones look like Lawson’s cypress but the really pungent wood suggest maybe western red ceder (the leaves would match that possibly). Either way, I’ll make something out of it rather than burn it.

It had holes in its base that we could get a fist into (on three sides). It was a fine tree and it’s a shame it had to go. So far our plans are to replace it with a damson and something else (a seedling horse chestnut or a magnolia perhaps).

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As the stump won’t regrow, I turned it into a noughts and crosses board. This has been on my wishlist since we moved here.

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K for the win!

I have been laying the insulation over the spare room and building a framework for boards. It’s been quite fun except for the large number of scratches I’ve got on my baldy head. It looks like I’ve been chewed on by a miffed tiger. Most of the scratches have come from the nails holding the slates into the roof. I’ve got some particularly bad ones from cracking my head on rafters and other large beams.

More than one person has suggested a hard hat, but if I wore one of them, I’d run out of space to move around. You can see it’s fairly cramped as it is. I actually considered using a bike helmet the other day. I’ll see if I remember next time I go up there.

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The photo shows all the stages of the project. The insulation is laid in three layers, two between the joists and one perpendicular to the joists. I’d attached posts to the ceiling joists to hold the framework for the boards above the top layer of insulation. The white sheet is a breathable membrane, which will keep dust and debris out of the insulation.

The first WWOOFers of the year are here and they planted some apple trees today. The two varieties are cider apples: Porter’s Perfection and Stoke Red. Our WWOOFers are American, so they call cider “hard cider” and apple juice “cider.”

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I was slightly pessimistic about getting a spade in the ground as we’ve had a couple of days of frost. We gave it a go and found the ground yielded pretty easily; the bracken blanket kept it at a workable temperature, I think. So off they went, into the orchard extension.

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We’ve grown out of the original west-facing slope and are now on a gentler south-facing slope towards the woodland planting. You can see a couple of the original tree tubes to the top-left of the photo above.

To protect the new plantings from the deer and allow me to form a low goblet shape, the WWOOFers erected wide chicken wire guards instead of using the narrow tree tubes. Once I’ve lopped off the leader I’m going to attempt some grafting. There is a rootstock planted just down the hill from these trees.

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With the roof works almost finished, we’re thinking about insulation. I recently discovered that the spare room/lounge part of the house, which sticks out from the main part of the house, was not insulated at all. This explains why the spare room is noticeably colder than the rest of the house. It’s also the first bit of the roof that’s finished properly, so that’s where we’ll start with the insulation.

I read up on insulating an old house using a Historic England document called Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings: Insulating pitched roofs at ceiling level-cold roofs. A snappy title for a very interesting read if insulation is your new obsession. It was clear that we needed a breathable insulation that wasn’t the existing pink fluff. Enter sheep’s wool.

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There are a few places that make sheep’s wool insulation and we went for CosyWool by Thermafleece, made in Cumbria. We got three pallet loads of it to insulate to 300mm depth, which is the biggest, thickest blanket I will have ever seen.

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To insulate the sloping ceilings at the front and back of the house (where the slope of the roof cuts into the upstairs rooms) we have some wood fibre sheets to apply from the inside. They are 60mm deep, which will give some benefit and still be relatively easy to handle.

The Historic England document has lots of excellent diagrams showing how we’re going to install the insulation.

After four months the stove is actually in. We got the surround from Cumbria Architectural Salvage; it’s made of slate though we sprayed it to protect it. With the surround in, the lounge has a better balance to it and the stove is framed nicely.

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The instructions we followed to install the stove are all on the Stove Fitter’s Manual web site. It’s a great resource and we’re very grateful for all the information it provides (we got the stove and lining kit from there too).

We painted the lower part of the alcove before putting the stove in. We couldn’t paint the upper bit because we plastered around the closure plate (the roof of the alcove) to seal it in. That will come in a couple of weeks.

Now we’ve just got to paint the lounge for Christmas.