lundi 30 juillet 2007

Pigs and building

Another fantastic hot day. Kevin and Imogen went to the caves at Laboiuche which gave me a chance to progress the barn a little further. About 2/3rds of the roof is now decked, should get the rest finished tomorrow.

Emily and Justin came over for dinner and it was a great evening, though I think Kevin found our main topics of conversation -pigs and building - somewhat amusing.

samedi 28 juillet 2007


All rafters now up and fixed, some tidying up tomorrow then plywood to fix, nearly watertight!

vendredi 27 juillet 2007

Kevin and Imogen

Imogen and Kevin are having a great time. Imogen has been helping with the animals everyday and with the barn, as well as climbing her first mountain, going swimming in St G and playing in the mountain stream with my friends' children...and there's still caves to visit and a donkey trek to come.

Off to St G market tomorrow as I have friends coming for dinner on Sunday. Hope to make some progress on the barn tomorrow and get some, if not all, the rafters in place.

mardi 24 juillet 2007

East gable

East gable now complete. Kevin and his four year old daughter Imogen are here until the end of the month so I will only be part time on the barn from now on, but should still complete more or less on schedule.
Imogen will be helping with the pigs, chickens and vegetable harvest of course!

lundi 23 juillet 2007

East gable

East gable and window are now fabricated and partially installed - should finish tomorrow morning. Ran out of nails but John got me some on his trip to St G. Next will be some grouting under the beams then the rafters!
The tanin from the oak mixed with rain, produces an strong acid which is eating through the concrete. Once the roof is on and the oak is kept dry all should be OK.
Lunch at Claude and Susan's today - watched the Tour de France on their TV as it passed through Castet d'Aleu. A couple of riders fell on the descent from the Col du Port.

dimanche 22 juillet 2007

West gable

The west gable structure is now complete (it will be boarded eventually). Took until 2.00, so decided to call it a day. Weather has been lovely and spent the afternoon tidying the shed and and scything field no 2.

samedi 21 juillet 2007


Yesterday it drizzled all morning. I took advantage of the poor weather to move the 22 rafters down to the barn one by one. In the afternoon the rain stopped (mostly) and I managed to build the remaining panels for the west gable.
Today dawned clear and went St G early to get some maize and soya for the pigs, plus some cement and shopping. By 9.30 a storm was brewing and I just managed to get the goods wrapped in paper bags into the dry of the shed before the heavens opened. I spent the morning playing guitar as the thunder rolled outside.
With no let up in sight I took the chainsaw to some of the remining oak, cutting it to rough length so that I could prepare the door opening in the shed. A let up in the rain let me install the door frame and some of the gable. Hopefully tomorrow I can finish it. Ideally I would like to get both gables up tomorrow but the forecast is not good.

mercredi 18 juillet 2007

Heavy lifting complete

A twelve hour day in cooler conditions, but both the big roof beams are now in place. The lifting only took half an hour but the logistics of moving temporary staging, the crane and setting it up four times took all day.

mardi 17 juillet 2007

Home produce

Just dined on the first home produce - french beans, spring onions, potatoes and some chicken and garlic (no I didn't kill a chicken, that alas came from the supermarket). First time I've ever grown vegetables, should've done it years ago.


After shopping in the morning and deciding that the spuds should stay under for a another week, I couldn't resist the temptation to quickly put the floor in. After the efforts of the last few days, it was light enjoyable work even though all the joists had to be carried from the house and it was really humid today, though not so hot as the past few days.

The yukka in my garden is in full bloom, I never knew what the flowers looked like.

lundi 16 juillet 2007


Rupert dropped in after his motocross event in Spain and gave me a hand putting the last two floor beams in and lifting the first gable studwork panels into place. Tomorrow will be a rest day from the barn - potatoes and french beans to harvest and shopping in St G to do. Next the floor and the last big lift of the roof beams, before the gables can be finished and the roofing can be started.

dimanche 15 juillet 2007

More lifting

Another scortching hot day (35 ish) with a hot gusty wind. Got up early and cleared the inside of the barn in the cool of morning. I worked out I could lift the two huge beams for the roof single-handed if I used the crane I built last winter and could get the pulleys to work. Up to now I 've hardly used it because there's so much friction that it's next to useless. It came pre-equipped with a nasty polyproplene rope which twists the bundle of ropes between the pulleys into a tight helix. Closer inspection also revealed that the rope was too big a diameter for the pulleys - more friction. After some thought I fetched my climbing rope some slings and jumars.
The crane was re-equipped and voila a magnificent crane was born. Moving the beams to the base of the wall was the hardest task but the bits and pieces I used for moving the Rayburn came in handy. By lunchtime I had both the beams resting on the wall. By 4.30 when help returned, one of these was already atop the wall. With John, Patrick and Camille we made quick work of the remaining beam and were able to position them ready for lifting the two beams below. These were carried into the barn and tomorrow I should be able to lift them into place. The roof beams still need to go up another metre or so on to the studwork gable walls (which are already built and awaiting placement). Not altogether sure how to do this yet, but I think once the floor is in it'll be easier.
My hands are black with the tanin from chopping the beam joints yesterday and a bit sore but the end of the heavy lifting is nearly in sight.

samedi 14 juillet 2007

Barn progress

A very long day today and probably the hottest of the year (beating the 34 degrees in January!). In the morning all the oak beams had to be cut to length and all the joints cut with saw, mallet and chisel. As the beams are so heavy this had to be done where they lay - in the hot sun. I had just finished at 4.30 having started at 7.30 when the cavalry arrived for the lifting.
Unfortunately, Philippe and Jean-Michel are both on holiday so we were only six plus Yves and Michelle who weren't up for lifting. Yves gave good advice about the technique for getting the beams on top of the wall and after some very heavy work by 7.30 we had the ring beam in place and one of the internal floor beams.
Hot and tired we called it a day but amazingly Patrick, John and Camille have promised to return tomorrow afternoon to get the last two floor beams in place. Phillipe has guests and Justin leaves for holiday. I think with some preparation and bringing my A-frame hoist into action we should manage. The two intermediate roof beams may have to wait for next weekend or some lateral thinking.

jeudi 12 juillet 2007

Beams relocated

The final pour took place yesterday after the last wall was rebuilt and the new doorway formed.

After a spot of pointing early in the morning, Yves came over and we discussed how I might transport the oaks beams from the house to the barn. He called his brother who has a '76 Toyota landcruiser truck (with a 1,000,000 km on the clock) but indestructable and ideal for off road transportation to see if he could help. Then I remembered that Philippe who has the sawmill at Biert (the next village) has a trailer which lifts and suspends a tree trunk underneath it for transporting to the mill. After a quick phone call, he agreed to hire it to me for the afternoon for 15 euros.

I collected the trailer with the suzuki and when Yves brother arrived we managed to stack the beams before lashing them together and hoisting them below the trailer. In two loads of about tonne each all the beams were transported down the steep field to the barn. This will save masses of manual work on Saturday as now we only have to lift the beams and not transport them too.

Potatoes are now ready but harvest will have to wait until after the barn raising. The french beans are progressing well too. The hard dry clay is forcing the onions/shallots onto the surface so a bit of soil breaking and raking was required. Sweetcorn is now about 18 inches high.

The bracken continues to grow at a foot a day despite all my scything. One of us will have to give up or die first and it's not going to be me!

lundi 9 juillet 2007

Rain stops play

Thunderstorms raged all night and into the early morning turning the site into a quagmire. Mud made the scaffolding slippery, rocks difficult to handle and generally slowed proceedings. Half the final wall is rebuilt, so I'm a bit behind.
Barn raising is planned for Saturday at at 4.30 so I'm doing the rounds and asking neighbours for help.

dimanche 8 juillet 2007

Barn again

After some wall building on the third wall (it was a bit low) the third concrete pour took place yesterday, got caught in a short thunderstorm at the end but once I'd started I had to finish. Today I moved the scaffolding to the final wall which will have the door at first floor level. It had a precariously leaning gable, before I demolished it.

Now the straight scaffolding is against it, I can see that it still bows in the middle by perhaps 6 or 7 inches. Not too much cause for concern as the wall is over two feet thick, but I decided to rebuild the top two feet to get it straight and plumb. Made a start today after repairs to the lower wall, I think this will take at least all day tomorrow, so hopefully the final pour will take place late Tuesday.
I've worked out that I can place all the beams without recourse to cranes if I can get all the beams to the top of the wall and I reckon thats possible with 8 men. So I need to drum up support for next weekend and some barn raising!

jeudi 5 juillet 2007


A return to more normal July weather today - hot and sunny. This morning the second concrete pour took place then some tending of vegetables in the afternoon. Thinning the carrots and watering the potatoes which are nearly ready to harvest, perhaps another couple of weeks. The oak beams were cut to length in the late afternoon, but from weighing the offcuts, even the short ones weigh 170 kgs each.

mercredi 4 juillet 2007

Barn update

Wood arrived today, unfortunately the lorry driver couldn't drop the beams in the field so they're beside the house with the rest of the mountain of wood. I may have underestimated the weight of the oak beams! Transporting and lifting them I now think will need a mobile crane or a JCB so I'm going to have to replan the sequence of works to minimise the time when I'll need it - and find one of course!
Today I fitted the joist hangers, took all day to drill 12 number 15mm holes 65mm deep for the bolts - the famous mega hard Aleu microgranite. Even managed to melt a tungsten drill bit.
Scaffolding is moved and shuttering struck ready for levelling and another concrete pour tomorrow. Thatch quote has arrived and hope to place an order shortly.
I will have been here full time for exactly a year tomorrow. Its good to have the blog to see what I've achieved in words and pictures.

lundi 2 juillet 2007

Barn update

The stone walling to the barn is now complete and the first of the formwork is in place for the concrete which will top the wall. I'll pour the first 5m length tomorrow.
The first Ceps and Chanterelles where picked this evening and will liven up my steak (together with a little garlic).
A fox is prowling around so the chickens are confined to quarters for the next week or so.
Deer have devastated my leeks, though they left the brussels and carrots.
Also saw a pretty big whip snake (1.5m long) basking on the wall of the ruin. The bedroom window stays shut tonight!