The girl in the hard hat is back!

Apologies if you been missing the weekly dose of chaos and crazy builder antics. It came as something of a shock to discover that I haven’t posted anything in 18 months. Truth is, my work-life-balance got decidedly out of kilter and my life was all work, via airports, hotels and dodgy BA breakfasts.

Now that jet-set contract has come to an end, I’m finally back in the country and able to spend some quality time at the barn. Admittedly I’m also having to spend a disproportionate amount of time chasing up unresponsive recruitment agents at the moment. But whilst waiting for the elusive phone calls, I’ve decided there’s no harm in enjoying a bit of me-time and picking up the pen again.  I even keep trying to persuade myself that now’s the perfect time to start writing that bestseller – but given how hard I find it to get 1500 words out once a week, I’m probably deluding myself on that one….. (PS. Anybody who knows of any jobs going for an accountant with a side-line in blogging and plumbing – do feel free to get in touch…)

Anyway, I’ve decided it’s time to start up the blog again – but where to start? Well the obvious place, and being terribly British about it, is with the recent weather. I know, everybody now has proud horror stories of ‘hardships in the snow’. But let’s face it, I’m 900ft up a hill in the middle of Scotland. I bet I can outdo most of those stories…

Being as remote as I am, and a fair few feet above sea-level, I inevitably get a bit of snow in Winter. Whenever the weatherman glibly announces that “there’ll be showers in Scotland, possibly turning wintry on higher ground” – yep, that means me. But most years it’s not really much of an issue.

This latest weather front was a whole different animal – a proper beast you might say. What was a few inches of snow in London (paralysing the entire city and bringing the country to a standstill) was a few feet of the stuff up at the barn…

The track up to the house was impassable. Until the farmer got up there with tractor and snow plough, we were cut off from the world. The snow drifted up on all four sides of the house and all seven doors into the property were blocked. Short of climbing out of a window, I was trapped indoors!

Fortuitously, the day before this lot arrived I had had a bit of a mad shopping/cooking frenzy and stocked up the freezer, the wine rack and the gin store. Since I couldn’t get out, might as well just kick back and enjoy the view!

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That worked for about two days. Unfortunately, snow wasn’t the only problem. Temperatures plummeted (right down to -18ºC according to my neighbour). So it hardly came as a surprise when I woke up on day 3 of our snowy adventures to find there was not a drop of water to be had in any of the bathrooms in the lower part of the house. Frozen pipes!

At first I assumed the water supply into the house had frozen. I have had issues in the past with the pipe freezing outside in the pump house. But when I checked in the kitchen, the cold tap was flowing freely. On the plus side, that meant the outside pipes hadn’t yet frozen. Which also meant the bathroom in the cottage was still functioning. OK, I rarely go in there these days, so there’s several inches of dust, no heating and the mice have been having a ball (they’d even eaten most of the soap?!) – but there’s also a flushing loo and an electric shower. What more can a snowed-in girl ask for?

Well on the down side, somewhere inside the main part of the house it was cold enough for the pipes to have frozen, and I had know idea where. I was supposed to be heading back down South as soon I could actually dig my way out to Edinburgh, and I started to panic that there would be burst pipes and exploded joints somewhere inside the walls of the house when it all thawed out and I’d come back up a week later to find the entire house turned into an indoor swimming pool.

Still, it would be a while before I made it down the road, so all I had to do was to locate and thaw the guilty pipe before I left home. I decided it couldn’t be in the roof space above the living room as, fairly recently, in an attempt to speed up/retain the hot water flow to the kitchen, I’d been up in the loft wrapping another whole roll of insulation around all the water pipes I could find.

So the weak point had to be further down the house behind the upstairs bathroom wall. Before the pipes drop down to the roof space of the bothy and into the boiler room, they are effectively running along an external wall. And given the drafts that blow through the ungrouted, unsealed (and generally unfinished) tiling in that bathroom, chances are it had got cold enough behind the wall to freeze any exposed pipes.

Only one way to find out. I took out the access panel behind the loo and stuck my head in to take a look. It was blowing an arctic gale! Daylight was visible under the eaves on the East wall – a nice big gap perfectly aligned to the incoming wind from Siberia.

So I grabbed a large wodge of insulation and stuffed it into the gap. It didn’t seem to make much difference. So I decided I needed to plug all the way round the edge where the roof and wall meet.

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Minor problem – there’s not a whole lot of space back there. I think ‘contortionist plumbers’ were mentioned in that particular blog. I could barely fit myself in there, never mind a ladder.

And the apex of the roof that I need to reach was about 10ft at it’s highest point. Time to think outside the box.

Cue one extendable paint roller, one extendable feather duster, a roll of insulation and a reasonable amount of swearing.

  • Unravel insulation so it can be continuously fed into the gap behind the wall
  • Manoeuvre self, paint roller and feather duster into gap with insulation
  • Hook insulation over end of paint roller
  • Extend paint roller as far as it will go, without insulation falling off
  • Extend feather duster as far as it will go and use to push insulation into gap between wall and roof boards
  • When insulation falls off, swear loudly and restart from step 3.

Imagine using giant chopsticks while pinioned against a wall in a space less than a foot wide with an arctic gale freezing your extremities. You get the picture. I’ve never been good with chopsticks; I always ask for a fork in the Chinese!

Anyway, I shoved as in much insulation as possible. It still felt pretty cold in there to me, so all I could do is wait to see if it would thaw. But hey, I still had one working bathroom and an electric shower. Why worry?

Er, well, not for long. Next morning there was no water coming into the house at all. The pipes in the pump house had finally given up the fight against the Beast from the East. Now there was no alternative but to brave the elements and try to get some heat out there.

The only trouble was, I couldn’t actually get any doors open.

So that’ll be me climbing out of the window then. With an extension lead in one hand and a hot air blower in the other…..

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….wading through a couple of feet of snow.

To dig the shed door out of a drift….

Fortunately I’ve had a bit of practice at thawing out the pump house. Stick a decent hot air heater in there and after about an hour the water is usually running free again.

While I was out I decided to dig out a couple of the doors so I could escape the house like a normal person instead of climbing out of the windows.

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But I don’t know why I bothered – by the following morning it had all drifted back again.

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So I gave up on the doors and had a bit of fun instead!

So that’s it. My saga of the Beast from the East. Hopefully that’s the last of the Winter!

Next week I promise I’ll get back to where I left off, and give some real updates on the ongoing saga that is the building of my barn….