mardi 2 février 2016

A rush on Monday to try and get everything finished. All the volige were fixed and most the missing wall panels too  The vapour barrier was hurriedly fixed and temporarily held down with battens (hopefully this will keep any rain out for the time being). We just couldn't finish the wall felting before we had to dash for the airport (no photo's it was that much of a hurry)...very frustrating. A few more hours and we would have had the building wrapped, a couple of extra days and we'd have been truly waterproof.

dimanche 31 janvier 2016

Some poor weather at the weekend slightly hampered progress, but the biggest problem was that the beams were too short! I ordered 3m lengths but forgot that the upper timber clad part of the barn gable is set back from the stone face. Also, here in the Ariege you must state the lengths of timbers ordered from the sawmill to the nearest metre. Usually if you order 3m you get 3.1m or 3.2m sometimes 3.3 or more. I ordered 3m and for once I got 3.0m!! I needed 3.09.

I don't have time to re-order, so after some searching I remembered I still had the remnants of the H.T overhead power cable assembly that came down in the 2012 snow storms. I cut it up to make some shelf angles, reducing the span sufficiently. I added a few extra bolts for lateral restraint and beefed up the bearers to stop them twisting. Not my first choice, but it works.

Lifting the ridge beam was also problematic as it was heavy, the ladder short and sky hooks were in short supply! Sandrine arrived just at the right moment and whilst her and Jasper hauled on a rope attached to a pulley in a sling looped over the gable apex, I climbed a ladder with the beam on my shoulder, somehow it was manhandled and nailed in place!

Today (Sunday) Jasper had a day off, whilst I tried to get the remaining beam, rafters and some volige in place in mostly pissing rain. 

Tomorrow is our last day and we need to get everything watertight, might be a tall order!!

vendredi 29 janvier 2016

Plenty of progress in the past few days. We ran out of steam a bit today, not helped by a cold wind and some drizzly rain. We did get the partition up inside (which you can't see in the photos) and fixing the top of the gable was tricky as until the ridge and beams are fixed the gable is still a bit wobbly.

mardi 26 janvier 2016

Gite works again

Back to France with Jasper...for a refill of light, sunshine and quiet. Hopefully we'll get the gite extension walls and roof erected, ready for cladding and slating, before we leave in a week's time. Weather is set fine for the week and more.

dimanche 24 janvier 2016

mercredi 20 janvier 2016

At last a respite from from the wet and stormy weather in the UK and some frosty dry mornings. Back to France next week with Jasper, who's going to be lending a hand with the timber frame.

mercredi 13 janvier 2016

Another beautiful day!

After moving most of the rest of the wood down to the barn - some on the tractor some on my shoulder, I mixed up some mortar and laid the sole plates (weighted down with rocks for good measure although they are strapped to the concrete slab).

mardi 12 janvier 2016

A strange day which began and ended with wintry showers - but the middle was warm and sunny! The wintry weather is slowly closing in though. Most of the day I was moving the timber, I've done about half of it. The bigger longer pieces had to carried one by one on my shoulder, the shorter pieces (3m) I could stack against the roll bar of the tractor and transport in the back box in bundles. 

I also dug and filled the foundations for the three posts which will form the porch/veranda of the gite and trimmed the holy bush which was becoming unmanageably large

Around 4.00 Paul came by to see the progress. He's 93 this year but still strong as an ox!

lundi 11 janvier 2016

Wood and weather

The materials for the barn finally arrived today. I transported the insulation and some of the smaller section wood to the barn by hand and by tractor. The wood in the picture below is still to move. I need to build a wood transporter to save my back.

A trip to St G for provisions, oil for the car and tractor, some cement and to see the D.D.T (planners). Apparently our commune (Aleu) is now under the Reglementation Nationale d'Urbanisme, so the old Plan d'Occupation des Sols (zoned land-use maps) are obsolete. Applicants must now make their case and await the decision of the statutory consultees...interesting times.

By the time I got home it had turned decidedly cold. The wind (of change) is blowing and the sky is clear...snow is on it's way!

samedi 9 janvier 2016

Sun at last

Yesterday, the weather was poor so I varnished some of the internal doors, then tried to fix the intermittent ABS problem on the suzuki - must be a broken wire between the sensor and the fuseboard but the sensors are rusted into the hubs and the bolts are made of tin - they'll have to be drilled out...might have to take it to the garage. No luck with passing on my books, so they had to go to recycling - I hate throwing books out.

After a couple of days of rain and grey and the mountains playing "peek-a-boo" the skies finally cleared today and by mid morning it was a balmy day. 

As the snows are late this year I had the chance to give the remaining fields their "short cut and sides".

Next from offcuts in the house and wood shed I built a couple of saw-horses...god knows how I managed to build the house with any!

The final job before dark was to move the 4 steres of fire wood below the barn which were in the way of future drainage works.

Here's the rug Susie x.

mercredi 6 janvier 2016


Back to France in time to take the latest ham out of the salt and start to air dry it. The amazing weather seems to have ended with my arrival and wintry showers are the order of the day. Snow in the mountains but rain here at Quelebu.

The wood for the extension won't be delivered until Monday which only gives me 3 days to build. I think I may have to resort to cutting everything to size ready for later assembly, especially given the weather forecast.

An odd day today - after visits from John and Hanno, a trip to St Girons to give surplus books to the secondhand book shop, but the owner wasn't in, then I went to the DDT but they were closed today, then onward to Cazalé to get wood for a new front door, but there was no room in the car (because it was still full of books). A visit to Minsou on the way back and by the time I got home the Rayburn was out and the house not so warm.

samedi 26 décembre 2015

Christmas lunch

Something a little different for a Christmas dinner this year Duck lyonnaise (recipe here). Very delicious and it was preceded by some spiced scallops with orange and chicory salad.

Susie and I definitely needed a run this morning!

jeudi 24 décembre 2015

This afternoon the sun has come out in Devon for what seems like the first time in at least 2 months. Whilst Quelebu has been lying under high pressure basking in sunshine for months, weather which is forecast to continue until February, Totnes has been enduring unrelenting gales and horizontal rain. Hopefully the weather in the Pyrenees will remain good through early January, allowing me to progress the gite extension ahead of schedule.

Merry Christmas to all.

dimanche 13 décembre 2015


On Thursday John helped me with the concreting again. We quickly put down the DPM, insulation and some mesh and by 1.00pm the floor was done. After some tidying up I jumped in the car and sped off to Pamiers where I picked up the windows for the main barn. I got back after dark and as it was a crystal clear night I covered the concrete over to give it some frost protection before heading over to John's for dinner with him and Ian. A roast dinner with plenty of good wine!

On Friday I fitted the windows without too many problems and after some more tidying and packing it was time to leave.

At Toulouse my flight was delayed by an hour then once we were on board we were delayed by another hour. I wonder if this is a ploy by Easyjet to avoid buying refreshments for the passengers which is obligated if the flight is delayed by 2 hours. It's the second time this has happened in the last few months.

By the time I got back to Bristol is was gone midnight and when I went to start the car, the battery was flat. Fortunately, the staff at the airport car park jump-started the car for free. The tank was nearly empty too but after a detour I found a 24hr garage and by then there was enough charge in the battery to restart the car after filling up.

The little problems didn't end there because when I went to upload the photos of the works at Quelebu, something went wrong and I lost all the photos.....UPDATE thanks to little bit of freeware called "Recuva", I've retrieved the files from the SD card in the camera, even though it claims to be empty.

mercredi 9 décembre 2015

More digging

To St Girons to collect sand then on with the block laying which I finished just after dark. Rain overnight which didn't affect the blockwork but turned the heavy clay into gloop! It was still drizzly in the morning so I finished off the shutters for the bathroom which had been awaiting bolts for about a year! 

After a trip to the Mairie, Danni and Serge's and Gilbert's, the rain had stopped so it was on with laying the drainage. The trenches were partly in stiff gloopy clay (think plasticene) or in sold it took all afternoon. Final levelling of the ground is impossible with the ground so sticky, so I'm hoping to get it done tomorrow, as John has volunteered to help with the concreting again in the morning.

 Drainage for the washing machine/shower, WC/sink and septic tank ventilation.

lundi 7 décembre 2015

The weather remains fantastically warm and sunny (28 in the sun) but with just a hint of frost at night.

On Saturday a trip to IKEA in Toulouse, getting proper beds for Jasper and Ruby's rooms.

On Sunday, I was digging foundations and waging war with the remains of the chestnut tree stump which was right in the line of the proposed wall - chainsaw, axe and pick axe were all brought into play, but the stump won. It's been twenty years or more since the tree was felled but the roots are hard as iron. Foundations are now poured and half the ballast for the next floor slab has been moved from road to barn. Block laying tomorrow.

vendredi 4 décembre 2015

Nice to have the snow back on the mountains

Back for another week. Hope to get the foundations and floor slab for the extension done on this trip. Today I ordered materials, transported more ballast and cement, burnt all the remaining bonfires from the hedge laying and made a ham. Usual early December weather, cold mornings giving way to warm and sunny afternoons.

vendredi 27 novembre 2015

ski-time soon

1m of snow at 2000m and Baqueira opens tomorrow! 

samedi 14 novembre 2015


Once the main digging out was over, the next task was to install the drainage pipe to take the water from the kitchen sink to outside the building (through a hole in the wall below ground level) and eventually to the septic tank. This pipe was laid in a trench and then backfilled. Next, the damp proof membrane, a tough polythene sheet, laid over the entire floor and turned up at the edges to keep out the damp. Then, sheets of rigid extruded polystyrene insulation to keep out the cold.

To level the concrete floor I poured a strip of concrete on either side of the barn (exactly level with each other) on the first day, then once it had started to harden, I was able to pour the concrete in between these two slabs, using a straight edge to tamp the concrete between them and thus get an exactly level floor. Short bars of reinforcement left protruding from the first slabs were cast into the second slab, ensuring that the floor eventually acts as a single rigid floor.

To get my two perimeter slabs exactly at the same level, I first had to construct and level shuttering boards which held back the wet concrete. The foam insulation boards were too soft to fix the shutter boards to and I couldn't fix them to stakes driven into the ground as this would have punctured the damp proof membrane. I improvised by suspending the boards from spars (left over from the hedge laying) fixed to the floor beams above (alas no pictures of this).

On Thursday the 6 tonnes of aggregate and 700kg of cement were delivered to the house. Now I had to transport it to the barn. I shovelled the aggregate into the backbox on the tractor (about 200kg at a time) transported it down the path to the barn, then shovelled it out. 15 or so trips later I had moved about half the aggregate and could start with mixing the concrete and wheel-barrowing it into the barn, where once each shuttered area was filled I could tamp and smooth it.

the first half (3 tonnes) of the aggregate moved, ready to start mixing

The first pair of preimeter slabs, levelled and level with each other

It was 6.00pm on Thursday before this was complete. Thankfully John had volunteered to help me on Friday as the second days pour was perhaps 50% bigger Than Thursday's. Nonetheless, it still seemed a daunting task and as I had to leave for my flight home by 5.00pm on Friday afternoon, I decided to make an early start. 

At 6.00am I took down the shutters from the previous day's concrete and started the transportation of the remaining aggregate. John joined me at 8.00 and by 9.30 we had it all at the barn.  For the pour I loaded the mixer with aggregate, cement and water, and John wheel-barrowed the resulting concrete into the barn and performed the preliminary levelling. We tamped the floor together and by 2.30pm we were done. Over the two days with loading and unloading about 20 tonnes of aggregate and cement shovelled and about 8 tonnes of concrete barrowed and poured. We were tired!

The central slab being slowly filled

All done

Another hour and a half of cleaning up and a few areas of stone filling later and it was time to shower, eat, lock up and leave for the airport. A successful couple of weeks work!

New doorway complete (this will be internal eventually and plastered over, so no worries about concrete in lieu of stonework)

Ready for windows and doors next time

After Gabriele's comment on the last post, here's the barn back in 2007...

A metre of collapsed roof and rubble inside...

...saplings growing out of the walls.

After the initial ivy and bramble removal

mardi 10 novembre 2015

More Digging!

After 2 days of digging and pick-axing through stiff clay and solid rock and extracting about 90 barrow loads of rubble, I have at last dug out the barn ready for the concrete floor. The 6 tonnes of ballast and 700kg of cement arrives on Thursday and I must move it the 75m from the road to the barn that day if I'm to have any chance of pouring the slab before I leave at 5.15pm on Friday! I had planned to fetch the insulation, DPM, drainage, etc in St Girons tomorrow and install it the same day, but I suddenly realised at 4.00pm when I was sat in the notaire's office that tomorrow is Armistice Day and so a national holiday in France. I hastily managed to get the materials before everything closed and had to strap the insulation to the roof of the car as I hadn't taken the trailer.

At the notaire's (Grig, Villanou, Seguy) I finally completed the sale of Pont de la Taule, it took them nearly 8 months to prepare the documents for a straight forward sale. To add insult to injury they'll hold onto my money for another week! Next time I'll go to Toulouse.