Cremating rabbits and other fun things to do at the weekend..

Before anyone gets on their phone to shop me to the RSPCA, they were already dead. I promise. I was just getting rid of the evidence.

I got off an overnight plane in from India on Friday morning. Trekked across London to the wrong side of the river, dumped my suitcase, logged on to do an hour or so’s work and then headed out the door to City airport – where my flight up to Edinburgh was delayed by an hour. On the basis that nobody can really sleep on a plane, by the time I got home to the barn, I had been awake for 44 hours, and so had decided it was going to be a long lazy lie-in and a do-nothing day in the morning.

The local wildlife decided otherwise. I was startled awake by an almighty bang and a loud screeching. I tried the old ‘head under the pillow’ trick to get back to sleep. But a couple of minutes later and it happened again. It seemed a couple of local ravens had taken offence to something they had seen in the house, and were suicidally dive-bombing the living room windows. The only thing that would stop them was me standing at the window in my PJ’s jumping up and down like a lunatic to scare them off.

It was 5.20 am.

Well since I’ve been so rudely awakened, I might as well get up properly, particularly as it was promising to be a gloriously sunny weekend; such a rare event in Scotland it seems a shame to waste any of it.

So I decided to do some gardening and happily spent a whole day weeding the front garden.

I suppose I should point out here that the photo shows an area of about 8 m² that I have successfully cleared of weeds in one whole day. I am in denial about the state of the remaining 2½ acres that need clearing…..

But all that fresh air, coupled with what now felt like chronic sleep depravation over the last few days, I decided I was definitely having a lie-in on Sunday.

The local wildlife voted against. Again.

It’s like living in a Hitchcock movie. The dive-bombing ravens returned at 5 am. I got up and did my bird-scaring routine, but this time I went back to bed afterwards. Peace perfect peace…… lasted for about half an hour and then the cows started.

While I was pottering around in the garden on Saturday, entertainment was provided by the local farmers and the annual pilgrimage of the cows to the high pastures. They were being brought up two at a time and offloaded into the field above the barn.

They were very clearly not happy about it and spent their time walking a circuit of the field, obviously trying to find a gap in the fences. Every time another two cows arrived, they changed direction and walked a circuit round the other way. All the while mooing madly. The grass in this field was clearly not greener!

They eventually fell silent at about 8 pm. But then decided that 6 am on a Sunday morning was a good time to resume their bellowing.

So I gave up and got up. Another gloriously sunny day. So I decided I’d work outside again. But this time I had a mission – to clear the garage. Following the discovery last week that the gable end wall to the garage was in danger of disintegrating, I’ve arranged to get it repaired. Unfortunately anybody wanting to work in the garage will have to be something of an assault course master. It’s a bit of a mess:

So my good deed for the day is to get it all cleared.

Being one of those “Well I might need it one day…” sort of people, I tend to hoard stuff. Including building materials. At some point I will need to get another skip, but in the meantime, I have a cunning plan for disposing of the polystyrene insulation boards. I’ll move them all up to the rafters!

It was while I was shifting them that I made my gruesome discovery. Underneath the polystyrene boards there appears to be a rabbits graveyard in my garage. I’m not sure whether they hopped in there of their own accord and got stuck and died of starvation. Or perhaps the insulation heaps were designated as the local old rabbits home, and all the corpses I found had just died of old age. Or maybe a predator had built himself a secret lair in the polystyrene and was snaffling rabbits as they hopped around my garden.

Who knows? But it means that all that dust and dirt that had been covering me as I manhandled the insulation up the ladder was actually the mouldering particles of long dead rabbits. Ugh… not a thought that sat well with the breakfast bacon rolls. Not to mention the fact I was now left with a dozen or so dead bunnies to dispose of.

I could be wrong but I think there might be a law against disposing of corpses in the wheelie bin. It traumatises the dustman, or some such nonsense.

So how else do I get rid of a collection of dead rabbits? Well I could dig a mass grave. Except, as I think I might have mentioned before, my land is mostly rock. We don’t dig holes in the ground up here, we chisel them. And sorry if this comes as a disappointment but I am not blistering my hands to bits just to provide a dozen very long dead rabbits a decent funeral.

Nothing else for it: Cremation!


Still at least I could use the fire to clear a few other things as well. This is probably the tidiest my garage has ever been. And totally free of dead rabbits.


So there you have it. Suicidal ravens, homesick cows and a graveyard full of rabbits in the garage. A perfectly normal, peaceful weekend in the country….

The trees are coming down…

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It has been nearly 15 years since I first bought the barn, an oversized animal shed with 2.5 acres of land. And I think it fair to say that 99% of my time has been spent worrying about the building not the land.

There have been occasional, sporadic, attempts to plan a garden. Whenever the sun came out (which, let’s face it, is a fairly rare occurrence in Scotland) I would suddenly have an overwhelming urge to get outside rather than spend the day cooped up in a dusty old building site.

I once spent a whole weekend building a circular rockery/rose garden right in the middle of the front garden, beautifully planted with ground roses and fuchsias. Unfortunately I hadn’t really thought it through. It lasted one flowering season – then a lorry load of cement turned up to bury the underfloor heating,  and needing to get close enough to pump the screed in through the doors, drove straight over the nicely planted garden. They did at least have the sense to move the rocks out of the way, and some kind garden-minded concrete pourer replanted the fuchsia, but the roses were never seen again.

Since then, I’ve not attempted anything that might be impacted by what is going on inside the building. When my neighbour was building his cottage and was looking for somewhere to dump a load of decent grade topsoil, I took it and built a bank at the front of the house, which has subsequently been planted with a few shrubs and bulbs. And enticed by the rare appearance of some sunshine I did once order a load of materials to build a decking in front of the kitchen. (Naturally the weather had changed by the time I got round to constructing it..)

But that’s pretty much it. In reality, apart from putting in the boundary fences, the borehole and the miles of pipe for the ground source heat pump, I haven’t really made much effort.

In fact, it’s quite embarrassing to admit this, but until the Invaders from the South came up at Easter, I’d never actually walked through the half-acre of woodland I have out the back – it was an Easter egg hunt that finally got me in there!

However, I think that is about to change. As I get ever closer to ‘finishing’ the inside of the house, I am starting to think a bit more about the outside and a couple of things have recently drawn my attention to the fact I’ve been ignoring my land.

You may recall the blog a while ago about the gale force winds bringing part of one of my neighbours trees crashing down through all our fences.

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Well after that episode they decided to get the tree surgeons up, and the edict went forth that all three of these trees had to come down. It has left our landscape looking a bit bare and bleak, but apparently the central ash tree was rotten two-thirds of the way through; it wouldn’t have survived many more 90mph storms, and at 60ft high, would have taken out a large part of my barn as it went.

So now my neighbours and I are discussing what we should plant instead. We may be remotely stuck up a hill with the next nearest house about a mile away, but somehow taking down these trees has felt like an invasion of privacy.

On the plus side, it’s great news for my plans to put solar panels on the roof. Those three trees cast quite a lot of shade over my building. But now any panels will be able to soak up every little bit of sunshine Scotland has to offer. (OK, that may not be much, but it will all make a difference!)

So I got somebody up to talk about how and when I could get the solar power installed. While the GSHP is working well enough, it hasn’t really been tested through a proper Scottish Winter yet, so anything I can do to help to boost it is a pretty sensible thing to do..

From discussing the solar panels, we moved on to talking about a few plans I have for the garage, and while we were there, just happened to take a closer look at the gable end wall. I wish I hadn’t. I knew that some of the bricks in the wall were looking a bit the worse for wear, and that I needed to do something to get the downpipes to run right into the drains properly, but I didn’t realise quite how bad it had got. It is just water and weather damage. As rain seeps into the wall and then the temperature drops, the freezing water expands and, eventually, causes the bricks to explode. It is at least a double-skin wall. But when my helpful contractor chappy managed to get his hand all the way through the wall, I decided I didn’t want to see any more. I’ve sent him away to price up the job to fix the whole wall.

Is it urgent? Am I worried? Well if this wall goes, it will bring down the steel lintel that runs right across the front of the garage to the boiler room. Which will in turn bring down the wall of the boiler room. So the boiler room roof will come down. Which will take out the heat pump and the main power cable and the water pipes….

No, of course I’m not worried.

But I think it’s probably the first job I need to get done before I concentrate on the rest of the land.

After that, who knows. As with the building of the barn, I do have a vision of what I want my grounds to look like, but just as it has taken me nearly 15 years to get the building how I want it, I suspect the garden is going to be another 15 years of effort.

The loo in the Long Drop…

It feels like my tales of plumbing woes are endless on this blog, but this, I promise, is the very last one. Because it’s the very last room that needs any kind of plumbing.

The Long Drop. I’m not entirely sure when it first got its name. It is a ridiculous room really, a metre long, a metre wide, and 4 metres high. Sitting in there feels a bit like having a loo at the bottom of a lift shaft.

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It has been sitting at the end of the corridor, neglected and ignored for quite a long time. Partly because there were plenty of other rooms to be getting on with, but partly because it is a room that has a few issues that I’ve been trying to avoid.

Because of where it sits in the house, the walls up to the first 6ft or so are technically below ground. And when Mr Incompetent Builder built the retaining walls, he appears to have skimped a bit on the damp-proofing. Since this part of the house faces up the hill, it  bears the brunt of the rainwater coming down. And the problem has been exacerbated by the foundations that were built for the conservatory on the cottage, that has acted like a giant concrete trough, collecting all the rainwater that poured out of the valley of the roof. (And let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of that in Scotland). With nowhere else to go, the water sat there, slowly seeping away through the cracks and under the building, straight down to the wall of the Long Drop. The resulting rising damp got so high it probably started to suffer from vertigo.

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With the recent construction of the conservatory, and gutters to take the rainwater from the valley away properly, the room does seem to have dried out, but it has retained that damp musty smell and feel, so I’m not entirely convinced the problem has gone away.

The other reason for avoiding this room is my age-old phobia ‘the-fear-of-the-sound-of-running-water-in-a-barn.’ The cold water pipe into this room is the one that randomly and inexplicably exploded apart a while ago. Fortunately I was at home at the time so I managed to shut it down before too much damage was done. But even though the stopcock was replaced, and even though it hasn’t given me any trouble since, I am terrified of touching it again.

Unfortunately, if I ever want this as a functioning loo, I can’t keep avoiding it. So this weekend I decided it was time to get it sorted. I’d already put some of the first fix pipes in place, and though they weren’t connected to the main water feed yet, all I need to do is put a loo in place, bolt a sink to the wall and connect up a few pipes. How hard can that be?

I started with the loo. Since it’s a fairly bog -standard (sorry, couldn’t resist) loo, it’s not that hard to fit. Bolt a couple of plastic brackets to the floor and screw the pan in place. A bendy toilet waste connector and a bit of washing-up liquid, and the toilet is connected to the soil stack. My only slight irritation here is that Mr Incompetent builder has stuck the soil pipe so far out of the wall that he appears to have assumed that I want my toilet sitting in the middle of the room!

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Since the pipe comes out of a solid brick wall, not much I can do to change it. I’ll just have to build a false wall to hid the gap.

Next job – install the sink. I shall gloss over the pain of drilling into engineering bricks with a blunt drill bit. Suffice to say I got there in the end – and I have the blisters on my palms to prove it. After that, fitting the tap was the easy bit.

Next the waste pipe for the sink. Again, Mr Incompetent Builder’s handiwork seems to be designed to cause me hassle. Every other waste pipe that’s been installed in the house is 40mm. For some reason, this room got special treatment and he put a 50mm pipe in. So I had to trudge out to the nearest plumbing supplies shop to get an adaptor to fit. But when I got home I discovered that my newly purchased adaptor fitted the 50mm pipe, but the ‘adapted’ end of it didn’t fit the 40mm pipe I had.

It appears that a 40mm pipe from B&Q is not the same as a 40mm pipe from Screwfix which is not the same as a 40mm pipe from Plumbcentre. Which confuses me quite a lot. I’m fairly sure that when I went to school, rulers were all the same size…

Of course, this probably wouldn’t be a problem if you had a complete design for the whole house and went out and bought all you’re pipes, joint and fittings in one go, like most sensible people would. But that kind of forward planning  has never really been my style. I’m more of an adhoc, free-spirit kind of girl, with a very random approach to building a barn. I buy my materials in bits and pieces, as and when I decide to do something – and then curse quite a lot when it doesn’t all fit together.

Still there is a degree of bendiness in plastic pipes, so with some strategically positioned supports (aka a bit of wood wedged under the pipe) and copious quantities of sealant I got the waste connected.

So that’s it all done. Moment of truth time – time to turn on the water……

I started with the hot water a) because it’s just one run to the hot tap so not too many connections that could go wrong, and b) because I’m too nervous about the previously exploding cold feed pipe to want to touch it just yet.

I opened up the stopcock for the hot water and hared downstairs to check the results. Blissful silence. All the pipes appeared to be holding. I turned on the tap. Water came gushing out, just like it’s supposed to. See – how easy was that!

I opened the plug to let it all drain away. Hmm, a couple of small drips coming out of the connection between the waste pipe and the trap. Minor issue. I can fix that no problem. So I disconnected the waste from the sink again, to see if I could nudge all the waste pipes into alignment. Needing to get rid of all the water that sitting in the bottom of the trap, I emptied it away into the sink.

Er yes…. that will be the sink from which I had just removed said trap. So I poured water straight through hole in bottom of sink all over wood floor – a total muppet moment!

The air turned briefly blue while I mopped it all up again. But a bit of re-alignment of my strategic bit of wood and generously applied sealant, and the refitted waste trap was leaking no more.

So now I can’t put it off any longer. Time to open the cold water feed. But this time when I came back into the room there was a jet of water spraying out of the underneath of the cistern. Mad dash upstairs to turn the water off. Back downstairs to play the contortionist plumbers game, trying to get a spanner into the space under the cistern to tighten the connection.

Upstairs again (fortunately it is only 6 steps up into the kitchen where the stopcocks are – I’m not having to dash across the whole length of the building), turn on water. Back downstairs….and this time I came down to hear the sound of the cistern filling. Well that’s OK then. All sorted right?

So I thought. Until it had finished filling and the float valve shut off the water supply into the cistern, which increased the pressure elsewhere, causing one side of the T-joint connector to separate from the pipe and water to start gushing all over the floor……

Another mad dash upstairs to turn the water off. Another bunch of towels to mop all the water up. (Well at least I’ll have a clean floor at the end of all this!)

When I checked the pipe fitting, it looked like I just hadn’t quite pushed it together enough. So I rammed pipe and joint together as hard as I could and went and turned the water back on. At last, blissful silence again. I appear to have a fully functioning WC. Woohoo!!

By now it was too late to do any more, so I lit the fire, poured a G&T and chilled out for an hour or two for the remainder of the evening. Just before heading up to bed, I decided to check on my handiwork. Opening the door, all ready to admire my newly plumbed-in toilet, I found…… a fountain of water gushing up the walls. The same joint I’d had to fix before had separated again and the escaping water was rapidly creating an indoor swimming pool.

Mad dash up the stairs to turn off the stopcock, throw a whole heap of towels on the floor and go to bed in a sulk. It was a fairly sleepless night; I kept waking up thinking I could hear water – even though I’d turned it all off – and when I did get to sleep, strangely enough, I dreamt I was drowning.

In a slightly calmer frame of mind the next morning I examined the joint. When I took it apart it was clearly faulty – the little metal teeth inside the joint were missing. Relieved to find that I’m not in fact too incompetent to join a couple of pipes together, I went and found a replacement connection. (Well doesn’t everyone have a whole bag of leftover unused plumbing kit in their garage??)

This one seemed to work. So I could spend the rest of the day doing fun things like building the false walls to hide all that nasty pipework. But even though I’d spent the whole day in the room, and there had been no evidence that the pipes were about to explode on me again, I was still very nervous when I went to bed.

I kept waking up and just laying there listening. I even got up at 3 am and went down to check. And then I woke up in a panic at 5am because I could hear the sound of water. I got all the way downstairs before I realised that actually it was raining outside, and that was what I’d heard.

Well like I’ve said. When it comes to plumbing in this house, I am totally paranoid.

But needlessly so in this case. I mean, OK, so it needs a bit of decoration, but I believe the Long Drop is now functional!

(But I admit it, I still don’t entirely trust those pipes. I did wimp out as I left and turned off the cold water supply to that room – well I’m not going to be there for a week or so, and I’m still a bit nervous about it. I don’t like unplanned indoor water features….!)