My House Is 500 Years Old
We Are In Devon, In The UK
We bought an old house ten years ago, in this countryside area of the UK. The idea was to have a holiday home, but a couple of years ago I gave up my job in London to move here permanently.
We are only 260 miles from London, but surprisingly, many people who live here haven't been to our capital city, or, they went there once in 1975 and didn't like it.
The map shows our location within the UK. Our local village has a history going back 1000 years and overlooks Dartmoor - an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Dartmoor is about 400 square miles of National Parkland and is about 8 miles from my home. It is famous for lots of things, some of which are :
The Walls Are Made Of Mud
Our house has mud walls (known as cob) and originally, when built in around 1500 would have had a thatched roof made of local water reeds, grasses or even turf.
When we bought the house, there was no thatch left on the house, having been replaced by "Cornish thatch", (which is a bit of an in-joke). There is a rivalry between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and in Devon a Cornish Thatch is a term for a cheap and nasty roof!
Some time back in the 1960s, the thatched roof was in such bad repair that the then owner presumably couldn't afford to re-thatch, so organised an asbestos roof. Asbestos was used back then for this purpose. The photo shows how the house looked when we bought it in 1998 with this type of roofing.
The first thing we did was to get permission to have the asbestos roof removed. The planners were quick to agree to this as they are goaled on encouraging the restoration of ancient houses. The asbestos had to be taken away by a specialist firm who deal with this risky substance. It's a large roof - there was tons of the stuff.
Our Dear Queen
Planning Permission and an Annoying Bloke Called Nils
I have had some interesting meetings with planning officers and conservation officers.
One of the first of these fine men was a chap called Nils, who moved me to tears. And not because he recited some heart-rending sonnet. It was because he said I had to keep and restore a decrepit 1970s conservatory that had been built to lean against the back of the house.
The current thinking (in council planning circles) being, that a 1970s alumininium frame deserves to be preserved even when found leaning against a 16th century wall. When I protested, Nils reminded me that technically I didn't own the house - that in reality it belonged to the Queen. I think that might have been when I started to cry. The Queen, as far as I knew, hadn't been helping us to pay the mortgage.
Installing the New Thatch
A New Thatch
Five years ago we spent £60,000 (about $120,000) on the new water reed roof. The price included the restructuring of the timbers underneath.
Back in the 1960s they had altered the roof to suit an asbestos covering so we had to rebuild it (without touching the ancient timbers) to receive a new thatch. The thatch we used was imported from Turkey which we were assured was the best you could have and might last the longest.
But What About The Rain?
Once the new thatch was on, I asked the Master Thatcher (a special guy who is an expert in thatching), what stopped the rain getting through. (I had just realised to my horror that the only thing between me and the sky was going to be 50 cm of grass).
He said he didn't really know but gave me a demonstration where he poured buckets of water onto a bale of reeds and sure enough, the water flowed over the top and off, as opposed to through.
If you go into our roof space you'll see there is nothing between the sky and your head other than a bunch of grass. It's not lined in any way. The local birds love it, the local insects nest in it, bats hang upside down on it, and the mice eat through it. Other than that, it's brilliant.
The Next Phase
There is no kithen here - I currently use two ring stove - the type you find in a camping store. I am living without a kitchen - just a room with a microwave and a camping stove. I suppose you might say that is a kitchen?
The next piece of work planned for the house was going to cost around £200,000, ($400,000), so we needed to keep cool, count to 10 and book into therapy.
The Main Garden Area
Recent projects have been focussed on easier to achieve, external projects - mostly in the garden. I built a walled garden with raised beds and turned some of the fields (the house came with 13 acres of land) into a wildlife haven for water birds.
Now this sounds extravagant, but in fact it doesn't cost much to hire a man with an enormous digger to hack out a few 4 metre deep, holes in the ground.
Admittedly they are rather large holes in the ground and it did take him a few weeks, but it was something to do whilst we contemplated whether to give up and sell the house, or struggle on and make something of it.
So Then There Were Ponds . . .
Once the holes were dug, it was just a matter of waiting for them to fill up with rainwater. The ground around here is solid clay, all holes are naturally waterproof. We didn't have to line the ponds - that would have been entirely out of the question due to cost. It rained the winter after we dug them non-stop and before we knew it there were vast areas of blue where before had been uninteresting, damp fields.
The garden lies on a gentle slope and there are now 7 ponds of differing sizes (from 2 metres in diameter through to 50 metres in diameter) running through it. There's a pump that moves water from the lowest pond, underground up to the small one at the top of the garden. Then the water runs and falls over a rock cascade back down again.
We only switch the pump on in the summer if we have guests or are out in the garden for a party or similar.
Once the ponds were built the garden became a magnet for wild deer who would come and drink at dusk. There are often badgers, foxes, rabbits, hares, deer, otters, frogs, toads, pheasants, newts, herons, ducks, geese and all manner of other water birds in our garden now.
White Stag In The Distance
The Walled Garden
Garden Lawn Area
Well, the last phase of work on the house is due to start this summer. When it is completed I will probably want to move!
Actually, I'm planning is to open the house up to visitors at the weekend and hold short, but intensive weekend web building courses with fine dining and fine wine, in fine surroundings.
I'll keep you posted . . .