L’Orage, La Grêle et le Toit

Three days before my flying five day trip to the house, I received an email from my neighbours telling me of a serious storm affecting our region of France. Further investigation finds shocking images and video clips of high winds, huge hale and much damage to houses and cars.

So it is with trepidation that I approach my house in my hired Clio. I arrive to find my Mulberries battered and the majority of their leaves on the ground but the house and part finished barn roof look ok. I open the house expecting to find leaks and water damage but again all is ok. Looks like we have been lucky.

We have indeed been lucky, as the following days I see fifty or more houses with tarpaulins over their roof and in Riberac itself Les Pompiers are still installing others over damaged roofs. Fields of sunflower are tripped to the stems and cars are driving around looking like they have been hit hundreds of times with a hammer. 

La Grêle

One third of the barns roof remains incomplete and on this visit we hope to finish it. This impromptu visit has been arranged around the cheapest flights with completing the roof before the summer holidays the main aim. If I can clean the pool and get the house ready for our visit in late July it will be a bonus.

The first three days are fine and dry with the last day forecast to rain all day, so there is the motivation to complete it quickly. 

The first day, is a garden tidy as Sam is not available until tomorrow and the garden is a mess after the storm.

The next day we start to tile. This last section is the most difficult as neither eaves or verges are parallel or perpendicular and also we are ‘painting ourselves in a corner’ and there is nowhere to store materials. We battle on and and at the end of day one there is about two square metres left to tile. After an early morning visit to the builders merchants to buy a sheet of zinc, we started on the last push.

The last push

This was a difficult day as we had to protect the end of the roof with zinc and ensure where it joins my neighbours roof was water tight, it was also extremely hot!

After 8 hours in the sun, the roof was complete. Nearly three years of on and off work it seemed a bit of an anticlimax. A quick tidy and into the pool to cool down.

zinc and awkward cuts

The final day, as forecast it rained heavily. This gave me the opportunity to paint the remaining blue windows and doors back to Cooking Apple Green, tidy the house and stock up on provisions from the supermarket.

This has been a successful trip and now the roof is complete I can now start to plan the interiors of both barns. 

This is a renovation that will never be complete, but I like it like that!

Complete!

Quatre Saisons……

Four seasons in one week is very much the theme of our easter trip this year.

We know the weather can be variable in April but on this visit we have had frost, rain (lots of rain!), fog and glorious sunshine. None of this is a problem now as the house is warm when it’s cold, dry when when it rains (leaks around the chimney have long since been repaired) and when it’s sunny and the warm the garden is now complete for relaxation and sun bathing….so variety is the spice of life!

Le Port, the hamlet of seven houses where Frelon Cottage is located is now gloriously coming back to life. When we found our house, derelict and un cared for, it was not alone. Le Port was run down. Two derelict barns, one abandoned house falling down and an elderly population. We were not the first to start this process as Arnaud and his wife had started to renovate the house above ours.

New post box and neighbour’s hedge removal

Now, both barns are being renovated, the tumbledown house has been repaired and now contains a young family and Arnaud has sold his house to another young family. They are now busy terracing the garden and extending the house as they have recently had twins! Below us is another holiday home owned by two lovely Belgians, they have also started to renovate their garden taking down over grown trees and hedges and opening up views.

The result of all of this new activity is a tidy looking little community……

This trip was not earmarked for any major works to Frelon Cottage. Sam was not available to work on the roof other than one day and I needed a rest. So the aim of this visit was to relax and do little jobs passed over for larger projects…..hanging pictures, putting up coat hooks and the like.

Le Moulon a vent at La Tour Blanche…picnic No 3

On the sunny days picnics, usually containing goats cheese! were packed and visits made to places often crowded in the summer but peaceful and quiet at this time of year.

This trip was exactly what I had in mind on all all the frantic renovation trips……. now its time to draw on that investment and relax in our comfortable French house!

Brantome….picnic No 1
Uninterrupted views in all directions

Crochets et Chapeaux

Looking at Acuweather, the forecast for this visit was to be kind to me. The storms that have affected the UK so badly, have brought rain to SW France, but this is clearing and the majority of my stay will be fine and warm. The weather for this visit in mid to late February is a talking point as it is so variable. The extremes being snow https://freloncottage.wordpress.com/2018/02/ to sun and 20 degrees  https://freloncottage.wordpress.com/2017/02/  It is important for this trip as the main work to be done is the tiling of the newly built and felted Ping Pong Barn and Cave roofs.

The traditional system of tiling using Tuiles Canals, is to have rows of the canal tiles topped over the joint with Tuiles Chapeaux. On an old roof both the canals and hats are the same tile and just sit upon the volige boards using just friction to hold them in place. In reality they slip down over time causing leaks.

My plans regarding the tiling, after watching many Youtube clips of barn renovations in France, is to use new canal tiles that instead of just sitting on the boards, have tenons to hook over the battens thus preventing slipping. The hat tiles will be the old tiles but this time installed with wire Crochets to hold each in place at the correct overlap…..all clear so far!

Canals, chapeaux et Crochets

From my drawings of the barn, I estimate we need 1650 of each type of tile. On my last visit, I ordered and had delivered 1900 valley tiles. Before you ask……I had to buy 1900 canal tiles as that was the nearest full pallet number! By my reckoning, as we are using both types of the original tiles as hat tiles and that about one third of the roof had collapsed…….we would need a further 800 hats to complete the works. Using the local Google group, I had found a guy 5kms away who had these at 30 cents each……perfect!

So Sam and I set about mortaring the eave tiles in place. This is important as it sets the spacing of the rows and the fact they are fixed in place takes the weight of subsequent hat tiles. This turned out to be the most time consuming part of the process. None of this roof build is quick! But this is painfully slow!

Eaves secured, now tiling can start…..but the tiles need to get on to the roof, all 3300 of them. Luckily, as the barns are set into a bank the rear eaves are only about 1500mm from the ground but as each tile is around 1kg, it still meant lifting over 3 tonnes, bit by bit, by hand!

Slowly, slowly the roof started to be covered with rows of tiles. By the end of the week, we worked Saturday morning too, three quarters of the roof was tiled and nearly all the tiles were either laid or stacked on the roof ready for laying.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday were to be gardening days. The garden had been neglected over the pandemic but seemed to have faired well, but on closer inspection some pernicious weeds (couch grass in particular) have invaded some of the borders. After one and a half days of pruning, weeding and cutting back, I think I am back in control! On this visit I also appointed new gardeners to cut the grass…..I suspect they will be a little more thorough than my last guy!

To see the barn roof so nearly complete after two years of work and to be back in control of the garden made this a physically tiring but very productive and satisfying week……….oh, and I installed a dishwasher!

Wildflowers establishing and a replanted border

Vertical Flow

It’s ironic that the test needed to return to the UK is lateral flow when my flow on this trip to Frelon Cottage has been mainly vertical!

The need on this visit to pollard the mulberry trees, paint the upstairs shutters back to their original Cooking Apple Green after a mistaken flirtation with Provençale Blue and, most importantly, to complete the roof structure to The Cave and Ping Pong Barn mean seemingly innumerable climbs up and down scaffold towers and ladders. 

Three mulberries, Morus aba ‘Platanifolia’ were planted back in 2014 https://freloncottage.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/thief/ with the intention of pollarding the canopy in a French Style after a few years to establish (Pollarding is the practice of cutting woody plants back hard into old wood to restricts size or manipulate form). This job should have been carried out several years ago but an early spring leaf break followed by a pandemic has delayed this by three years. The trees are now too big and require drastic pruning!

Too Big!

This delay means that instead of lopping off smaller boughs, a chainsaw is needed to cut through up to 75mm diameter branches. After an entire day of scaling the tower and cutting and shaping, the trees were pruned and a huge pile of  green waste generated! The resulting appearance drastic and brutal but this will form the framework to which the trees are pruned each year, reducing size and creating a sculptural winter form.

Drastic and brutal!

On Monday my friend and ‘builder’ Sam arrived to build the remaining new rafters and help with the ‘felting and battening’ of the roof to finally make it water tight again. Like other areas of the roof previously stripped and rebuilt, disassembling of this section revealed more rot than was originally thought, making this rebuild very timely as the entire structure was an estimated two years away from total collapse.

Working mainly beneath Azure blue skies, we stripped the old rafters, head scratched and then rebuilt the new roof structure finishing in gale force wind and rain an hour before my intended departure.

During the week I accepted a delivery of 1800 new  valley tiles to mount upon the new battens to be capped with the original old canal  tiles to give the impression of an old roof but built with mainly new materials and methods. This tiling will take an anticipated further two visits, but now the roof is water tight, the pressure to save the structure is off,  I can now enjoy the process of tiling and completing this project.

This was the most physically tiring week of work since starting on this renovation, but possibly the most productive ever. I am now sitting in the Ibis hotel in Calias exhausted but exhilarated at our efforts, writing this, before booking my Lateral Flow test to return to ‘Plague Island’ !

For next time!

Testing Testing

After monitoring both the UK and French government travel restrictions we decided to take the chance and book Eurotunnel tickets for a three week break at Frelon Cottage.

We knew this was risky, but made the assumption that there would be more UK travellers in France at any one time, than there would be quarantine hotel places available in the UK, so it was unlikely the Government would place France on the redlist  (but with this Government, who knows, so it was still a risk).

This all meant we all had to have tests in both directions at an estimated cost of over £1000, but as we had not been to the house for over nine months it was worth the cost, and besides we all needed a holiday!

All looking not too bad!

I was last at the house in October last year and sort of suspecting another lockdown had done extensive tidying and gardening usually spread over the spring visits, even so the house and garden had been uncared for a long time. We have the grass cut and friends send us images of the house but still we were anxious at the condition and state of things at the cottage.

We need not have worried……after a trouble free journey we pulled up in the lane outside to the garden looking very nice….a few weeds here and there but very tidy. The grass had been cut and the wildflower areas sewn last year had done very well. Inside, baring a few cobwebs, it was just as I had left it all those months ago!

This trip was purely relaxation….no work on the house despite the ping pong barn roof still only half done. I say this but as the days went on and weather failed to impress, more and more painting and titivating was carried out! 

On a trip four years ago, Percy then 12, amused himself while I built a new floor in the Piggery bathroom by making a door for the Piggery itself. This door has just leant in the opening waiting to be fitted. 

https://freloncottage.wordpress.com/2017/11/

Like everything at Frelon Cottage, not as straightforward as it might seem! The chalk surround to this door, being in the oldest part of the house had disintegrated and needed to be rebuild.  Armed with an angle grinder, new chalk blocks and lime mortar Percy set about rebuilding this door way. Three rainy days later Percy fitted the door and it swung gracefully open!

Piggery door and Perc!

Finally, with a week to go, out came the sun and beaches, once more, became the focus of the trip!

Wildflower Bank, Knapweed and Yarrow

Confinement

It was essential I was able to get down to Frelon Cottage this Autumn.

Not because I needed a break, but as when we left in August I left the freezer and water still on. Also the lawn which had no irrigation due to the spring lockdown had died fully in parts and the wildflower area which had established to a certain extent, needed maintenance.

With all this in mind, I had been in contact with my friends in France and had been watching the news regarding Covid and any associated travel restrictions. I sensed things were closing in so travelled down despite a forecast of five wet days from seven. I did not realise just how close things were to closing in completely.

Arriving at dusk in torrential rain I was keen to jump out and see my new roof on the ‘The Cave’, but as I did so, something not quite right caught my eye. A pile of rocks, rubble and timber was stacked against by chalk piers and strewn down my steps into the garden.

Catastrophe

The neighbours above us are renovating a barn as a holiday home. On a whim, Ousmane took the roof of their piggery, a fatal error as these buildings are of chalk boulders are stuck together with nothing more than clay. When this gets wet, by a roof failure or removal, they collapse (as I found out with The Cave). This building with no roof had collapsed, I think, in this downpour, along one side into my garden.

The next day after moving a couple tonnes of rocks, I started on my other task to protect the house from the wet this winter, rubbing down and repainting the shutters of the windward side of the house.

Rainy day shutter workshop

Back in 2016 https://freloncottage.wordpress.com/2016/07/ I decided that the subtle green originally chosen for external woodwork was too pale and repainted with a bright Provincal blue. This turned out to be a mistake as it is, on reflection, too brash for this region of France, so as they needed painting again, Cooking Apple Green it is.

In between coats of paint and torrential showers, I began the process of scarifying and reseeding the lawn, strimming and weeding the wildflowers and helping Sam with stripping off the Ping Pong barn roof (unlike the neighbours, we are rebuilding immediately, rather than leaving it for two years and letting it collapse. Saying that, on stripping the roof I realised that if it had been left for a few months more it would have collapsed!)

Very rotten

By the end of the week all tasks were completed and I realised just how close I was to being totally closed out, as France introduced a new period of Confinement and I have now returned to the prospect of a lockdown in UK.

So no more visits this year and next year who knows?

Rebuilt ready for tiles

The Cave

Since my last post, life at Frelon Cottage had fallen into a nice routine.

Half term visits for maintenance and improvement, usually on my own, Easter with the family and dogs and summer for relaxation and as base for exploring farther afield.

Then two things broke that comfort. In late winter of 2019, I had a call on my phone from a French number, never a good thing as it usually brings bad news. The last two times being potential intruders as one set of shutters had been opened (it turned out to be the wind and me forgetting to latch them before leaving) and the second, a catastrophic leak with the new plumbing in the piggery bathroom (see earlier post).

This time it was not good news either.

We have three out buildings. The Big Barn, big and dry with a corrugated cement board roof, the Ping Pong Barn, a smaller barn named after its potential use and the Cave. The Cave is a smaller building attached to the Ping Pong Barn but cut into the bank with a timber a first floor above. It has been used a store for rubbish and wine bottles since we bought the house and has ben ignored, mainly because a portion of the roof fell in after a few months of ownership.

IMG_8527The call this time was my neighbour relaying the news that due to the extremely wet November and large hole in the roof, water had started to degrade the wall above his logstore and it was beginning to collapse.

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In February I went down and removed what I could of the wall but the entire roof was in danger of collapse.

IMG_8518Then second event to disrupt the comfort……..a global pandemic!

With European travel restricted and the French ‘Déconfinement’ preventing my friend and builder Sam from travelling from his house nearby to work on the roof, it stayed in this precarious state until our summer holiday in August.

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Prior to our visit Sam had disassembled the crumbling wall and section of roof above and rebuilt the wall. On this visit, working with him we removed the rest of the roof and started to reconstruct.

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The biggest challenge being lifting a 5.2m oak ridge beam into place 6m up. Bit by bit, inch by inch and by lifting one end at a time, all in 36 degrees, we managed to get it in place.

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The new ridge beam

When we left Sam was installing the new rafters ready to take the new volige boards and finally the reused old tiles. When and if I’m able to visit in October the roof will be complete.

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Sheep

Two major events dominate my early summer visit to Frelon Cottage!

The first is the completion, finally, of the Piggery Bathroom (more on that later) and the second is the rumoured and much discussed arrival of sheep to the field adjacent to the end of our plot!

For years, well since we have been in Le Port, the field at the end has been laid fallow, in rural French terms that means left weed infested! The down side being that we are in the windward direction and the thistle seeds et al infested our garden! But in the autumn, this field was sowed with grass and rumours started of the impending arrival of a flock of sheep. This was later affirmed but an email telling of the installation of an electric fence.

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On my arrival, I was greeted with the sound and sight of said flock in the paddock! We can now add the baas of sheep to the cock a doodle doos, moos and chirping of cidadas. A welcome addition: and far more pleasant than the shouting of cyclists and they pass through our village in Cambridgeshire.

The second event, completion of the piggery bathroom, has been the culmination of six years of planning. As mentioned before, this derelict part of the house was earmarked on my drawings to one day be a bathroom and during the early stages of the renovations, services, electrics and water were all routed there and there they stayed while this room, with patched up floor and no ceiling became a builder’s store.

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The piggery bathroom before

Over the last two years, the floor and ceiling has been replaced and during the Easter holiday the plumber came and connected the bath, basin and toilet and since then, a French joiner, Monsieur Gachet, has installed a new window and shutters.

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Piggery bathroom after!

On this visit, all that remained was to paint and finish the details. I say all that remained, as in French decorating almost everything is painted! This took all of my five days, not a problem as the weather was not great.

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The last morning the weather was glorious, the garden looked fantastic and I left in the knowledge that now every room in the house is now complete!

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Garden before

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Garden now!

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Six years ago’ ‘Look at him all excited planting trees, when his house is derelict’, they laughed!

A Third Country

After posting a new blog entry last week about my November trip, I am now back in the UK and posting about my latest visit.

Driving down after over nighting in Calais and sampling probably the best chips I have ever tasted, from ‘Friterie Claudia’ in the town square, I realised that this may be my last visit to Riberac as a citizen of the European Union. A situation that puts our Easter holiday here and long term future in the balance.

Still we continue on with the renovation. This time the piggery bathroom floor, garden tidy and movement of plants not my designer’s eye and resowing of the bare patches on the lawn, amongst other tasks!

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After much deliberating about style and harmony with a rural French cottage and having ruled out encaustic and porcelain pattern tiles, I have decided upon good old ‘Terre Cuite’. But as is normal, I am not laying in a straight forward way but in a 45 degree bond with a framework in larger tiles. This is not for masochistic tendencies but because none of the walls in this small room are square or parallel and this bond will detract from this. To further complicate I am also laying an insulation board and electric under floor heating.

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The weather for this week was in the high teens and sunny everyday, in contrast to this visit last year when it snowed and settled, so working inside and not being tempted by the gardening is difficult.

Laying the insulation and heating mat was straight forward , as was the frame of larger tiles, but then came the 45 degree infill. This was Ok to start with but the cuts, oh the cuts! These took the best part of a day.

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From experience of the downstairs room we have realised that to point/grout up without staining these soft absorbent tiles it is best to seal and impregnate the tiles beforehand. As this takes an hour to dry and needs three coats, it gave ample time for garden work in the sunshine.

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Next day, like a mad Patissier armed with a large piping bag of jasmine grout (this colour as research has shown that traditionally this would have been lime and the dust from cutting the tiles giving a pinky white colour) I set about this monumental task! One whole day on hands and knees the floor was complete and ready for more sealing tomorrow…..but wait, I leave tomorrow at 14.00!

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New window will be fitted by the next time we visit

Up at 06.00 to seal the floor, sow the grass seed, tidy and clean the house, I still managed to leave on time and trundle back up to Calais. Arriving at 21.30, too tired to sample the delights of Friterie Claudia, I retire straight to bed happy in the knowledge I have achieved all that I set to complete this week.

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Rising early again for breakfast next morning and on the 08.06 Eurotunnel train back to the UK, I planned to be home by 10.00.

I may have been dozing but as the train pulled into Folkstone, did the announcer on the train tannoy really say “We will shortly be arriving………don’t forget to put your watches back forty years…..”?

Irritation

It has been a year since I last posted; I guess that makes me not a prolific blogger! *

The reason being, is not a lot has happened at Frelon Cottage save for relaxing in the sun, cheese eating and wine drinking.

The summer just gone was the hottest and sunniest since we bought the cottage. All great for holidays, we managed two summer visits here this year, but not great for my newly established lawn. Hence the main project for this autumn’s visit, to install pop up irrigation.

The garden area, over 600sqm was surveyed on a balmy evening on our last holiday using my laser and then drawn up on the CAD system in the office and an irrigation system planned to cover all areas in two separate circuits.

All parts purchased including one hundred metres of 19mm pipe, I headed down to the cottage. I must be getting older as I now often choose to overnight in Calais to break up the journey, as I did on this occasion.

The weather for my visit was set fair and due to be above average temperatures. All good, except the main job on this project is to hand dig 100m of small trenches to take the irrigation pipe. This job was made all the more tiring by the barrow loads of limestone rocks and roofing tiles just below the surface. As it was around 24 degrees by lunch time each day, I trenched from 8.00am until 1.00pm, stopping of course for tea at 10.00 and to admire the early morning deer that wandered into the lane.

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This left the afternoons to continue to work on the piggery bathroom, which last Autumn had a new floor and ceiling and this visit is being prepared for decorating with a view to completion for Easter.

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After three mornings all trenches were dug and pipes installed. Job done……well no! The trenches need filling and the voids left by the rocks meant that more topsoil from a pile at one end of the plot was needed to fill the excavations level.

By my last day the garden area was all level again and ready to be scarified and reseeded. By 18.30 this was all done and now, once again we wait for nature to it’s work, this time aided slightly by nine pop up sprinklers!

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* although written at the time 28/10/2018, I lost my password and the recovery email was obsolete. I had given up on posting further but today I found the password stored on my phone! So we are back on! Just in time as I am heading down this Saturday!