Friday, 29 October 2010

The way things are

To compare with previous post, some idea of the challenge ahead can be see from this recent aerial photo

The modern tin sheds at the bottom of photo are about 30m long and had partially collapsed as well ! Ruin upon ruin ! They were my first challenge since they were close and full of easily reclaimable metal roof and timbers

The huge shed is mainly empty now but was full of rows of  poultry battery cages when I first saw it. They'd gone almost immediately when the site was partly cleared for the sale- off to the scrap man to be turned into something less unhygenic ! Theres still quite a lot to remove though...

The large ruin on right was originally the " excellent room on a level with the top of the greenhouse stage, where are deposited some beautiful specimens of natural history, and a few useful books."
The roof fell in about 20 years ago apparently and even the walls are starting to crumble badly. Not so excellent now.

The trampoline came with the house - thanks for that - the kids love it !

The way things were

Theres a lot to tell about this place ,so as  I dig it up (physically or metaphorically) I' ll just add it to the blog. Heres the first info I found when researching the previous history a few months ago. Its from a (fortunately digitised) copy of "The Gardener's magazine and register of rural & domestic improvement, Volume 1, 1826"

What would we do without Google ! 

Original version is viewable in full here Pages 252 to 258

Our house is (d) . Its quite amazing to think of all the work and effort that this site must have absorbed over the last 204 years.

All that remains of the "garden" is the ruins, weeds and a few holly hedges that might be left over from "(r) Line of variegated Hollies" on the map." (u) Four divisions of flued wall" still has a few of the pear trees. that would have enjoyed the warmth of the (now partially collapsed) heated wall

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A bit of background to how this came about

Its not every day you buy an 18 acre (plus 429/1000ths!) derelict former  farm sited in a walled historic designed landscape in a beautiful valley location within 30 mins of the city centre. From the outside perspective it probably looks a bit bonkers I'm sure. From the inside it looks even crazier since I have a clearer idea of how much work needs doing! I dont fully understand what has driven me/ us to this  but I hope writing it down might help figure this out (I keep a diary as well partly for the same reason)

I suspect its a dream that many people have to do something similar ( there were three other people bidding up the cost of this "dream" alone.) In a way it doesnt really matter what the dream is at all, just that it appears ridiculously beyond what might be possible given current circumstance.

After the first visit, where we walked around in shock with our mouths open like tourists in town,
I returned on my own the next day. While stood in the field and looking around at the ruins, sheds , acres of weeds,etc. I had a really bizarre feeling, which I've only really experienced while climbing occasionally in the past. A sort of overwhelming adreneline high caused by the knowledge that you are imminently about to "go for it" and damn the consequences, that its the right thing to do and you cant stop yourself.. In the full knowledge that you're about to bite off too much and maybe choke,  you still stuff some more in. A better example might be the feeling you experience a few moments before doing a massive bungee jump. Well I had that big-style and nearly completely bottled it,almost running screaming from the site yelling "No way too big, too much work, too long, too expensive, (insert favourite excuse here)"

Luckily I didnt, though I was somewhat negative on return to home. It was really thanks to Aprils' belief (in me ) that it could happen and that we could do it that we got to the offers stage and then secured the place the following week. I'm quite sure that I would have talked myself out of the story otherwise.

Of course (for those who already know us) the idea of doing up a place isn't new to either April or myself, its just this place is BIG! Our previous house had a 70 square meter outside amenity space , this has 70 THOUSAND sqm of outside space. As a city dweller for so many years it was an intoxicating feeling just knowing that, let alone walking around, drooling at the thought, "this could be mine, mine, all mine, mine I tell you !". We HAD to buy it !

Our previous place has its own story to tell ,Couperfield House in Leith , 

the restoration of which was filmed for Channel 4's "Grand Designs" during 2003/4. Its online here if you've not seen it.

The important thing was that it took 18 months of slog for us to build it, mainly by ourselves. After that we decided to have kids and I needed to build an extension so I took another 18 months to build the most overly complicated design I could in a miniscule 35 sqm.  

Nice though. The copper cladding alone took 6 months nearly of  my spare days (and now I cant find a photo of it!). It all reached a natural conclusion after Lundy was born. A 2 bed house, completely finished wasnt going to keep me entertained anymore. We sold up about 18 months later. I'd worked on every square inch of that property. You learn something from that kind of labour input into one building. From the very foundations to the last lick of paint, every step seems just miniscule as part of the whole house, yet amazingly and soul-sappingly-slowly at times, it does eventually get finished. This time I didnt have Aprils assistance either since she was incapicitated by children. (This is worth remembering, any wannabe self builders out there! - you need a "right hand (wo)man" )

Prior to that house we had a modest 2 bed traditional flat which came complete with carpet beetles, leaking roof, condemned boiler, etc.  I once punctured a water pipe and had to pay through the nose for a plumber. I needed a structural engineer to reassure me removing one of the cupboards was safe. At the time these challenges were the biggest I could deal with (or not!) and  my DIY skills were hardly much different from the average person I suspect . Like building the house one step at a time, the skills and confidence needed built up and this has taken years as well. 

Did I know I'd need all these skills in the future? Nope, I just LIKE learning them or (more frequently) NEED to learn them to get me out of some mouth-jammed-with-food-unable-to-breathe situation I'd ended up in.

Which reminds me of an even earlier story. I'm one of three partners at alien rock  (above) and when we started our business in 1994  it was in in need of major work (of course!). We had had the climbing wall frames designed, we'd ordered the one kilometer of steel section, hired the welding plant. We just had to start - and none of us knew how to weld properly !. The first welds I did fell off the metal when tapped. You panic, you fret , you just have to try some other way (swop the leads over !) and you learn something useful that takes you to the bigger dream.. Thats also where I met April for the first time- she rather liked me in my leather welding jacket apparently... ;-)

So, very briefly ,thats how I find myself , complete with family, in "another fine mess" as Oliver Hardy used to say. And he knew a thing or two about stuffing his mouth full I bet.

Lets get started !

I'm sure all bloggers probably start their first Blog with the same post so heres goes...

"Woohoo I'm a blogger ! " OK enough of that.

The purpose of this foray into blogging is to help share the story of the ongoing transformation of our "new" 200 year old, partly-derelict historic walled gardened house which was formerly part of the Dalhousie Castle policies just south of Edinburgh. I'll tell the story of why we bought it later.

I'd like to share the "trials and tribulations" that will no doubt befall us as well as hopefully inspire you what can be done by an ordinary family who find a dream to follow. I'd like the blog to act as an "open diary" relating to everything we try at "the farm" and I already suspect that I'll need to do a bit of soul-searching in how to do that in an honest fashion without leaving the excrutiating bits out too often

In time I'd like to use the blog for a few philosophical thoughts of my own which occasionally pop into my head ,especially when working alone and tired. Maybe they'll be mini-rants, maybe I wont be brave enough...maybe I'll learn something about myself and my friends (and future friends) will get to know me better.
"And pigs might fly" they say.

Well a farm would be as good a place to test that theory as anywhere. Lets get started and see !

Reuben Welch (with future input from April, Willow and Lundy !)