Saturday, 19 March 2011


Hi Ho ! Hi Ho ! its off to work we go!  The last few weeks have been all about digging. For once everyone was able to help as well since its not a technical job. Start them young , even if they cant walk all the way to work!

The road crew set to work filling some potholes on the track, using a 7 tonne pile of tarmac scrapings that got donated by contractors after  resurfacing the local Dalhousie bridge. Unfortunately they didnt donate their heavy roller so wellies had to suffice in flattening the piles

 The kids were not really up to the main job for the week, digging about 80 metres of trench around 2 feet / 700mm deep, to run a new LPG  pipeline. The heating gas tank needs to be replaced and I have decided to completely remove the existing tank from the yard to restore the view of the original stone buildings. My current plan is to eventually remove all of the modern buildings and paraphernalia and restore something like the original look of the place. Even with the digger I knew this would be a little mentally challenging since the ground is heavy clay with rocks near the road. The trench runs to the right side of the track up the hill.

Two days later I got to the bottom of the hill, by the  yard entrance and it was all looking a little muddier thanks to some heavy rain which of course kept filling the trench up as I went.

Despite the obvious road cones warning me (and passing footpath users) of the big wooden posts, I managed to impale the hydraulics on one just after temporarily removing the footpath sign to avoid damaging the digger. Doh !
Last time I did something like this (the infamous lampost removing incident on TV), the Council came round straight away. Due to Council cuts in Midlothian, it was only some young buck that came for a nosey this time.(That was a stag-geringly bad pun!)

After getting the digger fixed , I started on the opposite side, immediately uncovering a hidden drain, which promptly collapsed and filled up with loose earth blocking the kitchen drains.

 For some strange reason the manhole was made smaller at the top than inside - making it only clearable by a thin person of height 5' 10" or smaller. Which meant I could not delegate the job to April since I just fitted ! (I did consider asking Willow, but its probably illegal to let your kids clean sewers)

Starting the trench again, I was immediately grateful I'd unblocked that drain - since I dug into and burst the mains water suppling the house !. Luckily its not really high pressure, but it soon filled up the new trench - and then poured into the drain I'd unearthed. I was not amused !

The drains are bizarre ! They leave the kitchen and go right around the house, meeting up with various downpipes and toilets, take a detour to the middle of yard then come back ! 360 degrees all the way around the house before ending up about 10 meters from where it started ! Not something you want to jam with earth!

I managed to solder the leak closed  and then decided to finish the top of trench while the flood waters subsided. Within an hour, I'd dug through the mains pipe again ! !  I didnt have the tools to fix this bit, but it was mainly just flattened and mangled so didnt leak too much. At this point I decided that I will re run a new water main as well while I've got the trench open.

The previous owner dug the mains all the way across the field (below) to the nearest  supply on his own apparently - it must be 800m away and I bet he didnt use a mini digger either in  the 1955. Having said that he probably had a better shovel than the kids used for the road !

Who would have guessed digging was so much fun !

Friday, 4 March 2011

Tonnes and tonnes

Almost a month since the last blog post ! The time seems to have flown by and been  entirely spent shifting very heavy stuff. Tonnes and tonnes of it.The majority of it by hand as well !

First up was all that scrap metal pile - six tonnes  of mainly mild steel. Six thousand kilos sounds heavier I think ! At least I didnt have to unload it all by hand. The scrap man said it was the best pile of sorted scrap he'd ever seen and gave me a  lightweight wad of £20's in return !

Then I reclaimed the old welding plant from alien rock that we used to build climbing wall frames with a decade ago. After lugging it,  the gas bottle  and a load of old scrap into the shed  Dad set to work. A few days later the worlds most robust linkbox appeared ! It was rapidly loaded up with about 80 concrete slabs , that I'd chopped up into thirds. Thats a third of a slab on top below ! Only 239 others to pick up. Aaaargh !

All the concrete we are recovering goes out of the walled yard to the top of the hill for future crushing into hardcore for the track. Unfortunately the linkbox doesnt tip so we were having to unload all the pieces by hand as well. Exhausting stuff.

A huge pile of scrap wood  had accumulated  so we used that to celebrate Dads 65th birthday with a big burn up (about 12 foot high) Maybe we were celebrating finishing moving those slabs as well !

For a change from metal, concrete and wood, April suggested we start a small veg patch near the house for ease of watching the kids while working on it in future. Great idea, but first we had to dig all the turf off which nearly did me in. Obviously I had a terrible technique since April did the second patch in half the time !

This gave the opportunity to try the new rotavator, which of course was heavy and felt like it was going to pull my arms off (not to mention  chop my toes off!). Did the job though !

Next up in the heavy dangerous tools league was the new (eBay) hydraulic road breaker. There's so much concrete to break up I thought I'd get the proper tool for the job. Shame they dont sell an instant body building course to go with it (actually they probably do on eBay) because its a beast to work with for more than ten minutes.

 The worst tool to use for any length of time was the old Stihl saw, my hands were numb after about two minutes. The trench I'm opening up is for the services for the big caravan. I've just got this up on blocks and level at long last after our massive insulation efforts last month.

The caravan was originally going to be for Dads benefit, however a slightly smaller one appeared locally and after a short Sunday drive along the A7 main road at 10 mph it was ours. It has already been installed and connected up where the concrete stables were. The big caravan will be available for visitors or us when we need to do major work on the house. (Please form an orderly queue: gloves, tools and job sheet provided, sore arms and deep sleep guaranteed!)

In return for the caravan, we have lent some space out in the lower field , our first (visiting) big animals at the farm. It seemed appropriate that they were mules, a stubborn persistence will be what is required everywhere. The kids are a little wary of them (Mickey and Mary Doll) , in fact I even saw April make a hasty exit from the field at one point !

 April and the kids have been working hard as well. They have taken on the garden in front of the kitchen.

Its all been tidied up and parts lined with rocks to stop me driving the tractor over the flowers ! Various plants have appeared and hundreds of vegetables have been planted as plug plants ready for warmer weather- its still frosty regularly at the moment. However it has started drying out at last - its been a real mud fest at times, much to the kids amusement.

The dry weather has made it much easier for moving all the concrete floor from the old "silo" sheds where the big metal silo bins used to be. The ground had subsided considerably, thanks to very lightweight construction and the effects of rats ,which fed on the grain, burrowing under the floor edges. When I say "lightweight" ,its anything but "light" - its just not reinforced with metal rods !

 This made it easier to break up the slabs although every piece has to then be loaded by hand onto the tractor front loader which Dad then shuttles up the hill to dump on the huge pile that is appearing.

Yes, every single one of these bits of rock has been picked up by hand (several times) ,almost entirely over the last month. Not sure how many tonnes that would be but I can sure feel it on my back ! Dad's worn out -he is officially an OAP after all ! ;-)

Shifting it all has been a bit inefficient, as yet we have no tipping trailer, however we did recover the original farm trailer from the field - its in a right state, but will be restored at some point soon. Trouble is we'd then need to lift the concrete onto it !

I've been saving many of the 200 year old handmade bricks as they get uncovered. They probably came from the entrance archway area and had been used as hardcore. This really annoyed me until I remembered I'd done something equally misguided at our last house when I built the foundation for the garden wall with many hundreds of "old rubbish bricks" that turned out to be 120 year old handmade bricks (worth over £1 each!)   I also remember that I'd repointed the sandstone church wall at the back of alien rock in cement rather than lime mortar when we first got there- an absolute "NO NO NO!" in restoring old buildings. We learn by our mistakes I suppose !

The borrowed digger has proved most handy, I'd really like a bigger one at some point since there's so much to do, but this still has a load of power

We have almost managed to clear the concrete and hardcore underneath the "silo" slab area and have even found the original topsoil is still underneath some of it, which will be a real bonus for restoring plants and trees. One of the original sandstone walls (from an early melon house maybe) has just appeared today - about two feet under hardcore under the 12 inch thick concrete slab that was on top !

It looks as messy as ever but underneath all those tonnes and tonnes of dereliction something fantastic is waiting to appear.

I'll keep you posted as it does !