Photo by one of our guests, Darren Waters.....many thanks for letting us use it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The donkeys arrive.....

Sally, the grey & white and Sam, the brown donkey arrived at the end of 2011, both were born during the summer on a nearby farm.
They are now settling in at Pant yr Hwch and currently getting used to their head collars and leads as the first part of their training....not sure who is training who at the moment!

Wooly pig, Ruby's first litter

On Monday 31 January 2012 Ruby, one of our two Mangalitza sows, gave birth to her first litter of 7 piglets. Despite the cold weather and giving birth in her outdoor pig ark, they are all currently doing fine.
The piglets are growing quickly and after just a few days are out exploring their surroundings.
The breed is not so far removed from the wild pig with the piglets having stripy coats which would help to camouflage them in the wild

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Featherdown Farm Days at Pant yr Hwch

To stand a chance of becoming self sufficient in the coming years we needed to look at ways of supplementing our farming activities. Over the summer of 2010 we talked about the possibility of setting up a tourism based enterprise.......we felt that the location of Pant yr Hwch and its proximity to the Ceredigion Heritage Coast lent itself to tourism.
The enterprise would have to fit in with our farming activities and have a minimal impact on the environment. With little knowledge of the tourism sector we looked to work with an established tourism business who shared our ideals. Our search led us to Featherdown Farm Days as a possible option.
In early Autumn 2010 we were visited by Featherdown to assess our suitability to become a Featherdown farm, we visited an established Featherdown Farm and discussed in detail what was involved.
Together we decided to go ahead, the next few months involved a lot of negotiation with the planning authorities, approval eventually coming through in March'11. It was then a hectic perion to get the camp site ready, tent bases prepared, water and sewerage for each of the 5 tents, shower block and farm larder in the old cowshed.......we just made it in time for our planned opening date of 27 April'11, which was the school half-term holiday after Easter .....just as well as we were fully booked!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Farm Livestock & Crops

Ann and I were taking a lunch break in June 2009, sitting on the gorse bank looking down over our fields one day whilst we were working on restoring the cottage, we'd been so busy with the cottage we hadn't noticed how quickly the fields were being overun with braken, thistles and nettles......we needed to get the fields grazed......the label on bottle of beer Ann had bought for our lunch had featured the Torddu breed of a rare breed by native to the area, renowned for its hardiness, disease resistance and easy lambing.....just what we were looking for!
We had fenced off our bounday some time ago so that night we went onto the net and found the breed soceity web site....and as luck would have it one of the members was looking to sell 5 pedigree ewe lambs. Olwen, Olive, Olivia, Olga and Opera duely arrived.....the breed society allocate a letter alphabetically each year and lambs that year had to have names beginning with the letter "O"
The sheep settled in well but 5 ewes on their own had a limited impact on 10 acres of rough grass so in October we bough a pedigree ram to run with the ewes with the aim of getting the flock up to 12 or 15 ewes over the next 3 years or so ....this we have managed to do with 16 ewes going to the ram in Autumn 2011.
Some of the land we wanted to clear in order to plant fruit trees, field vegetables, etc. so we though about getting one or two pigs. Whilst reading the local paper I came accross a small ad for a pedigree Mangalitza (more commonly known as wooly pigs for their thick coats) gilt (young female)...if I'm honest I didn't have much clue about the breed but a bit of web research showed they are a hardy, easy breed to look after. The local breeder, John Addis from Dihewid, who was selling the gilt explained they were highly social animals and that it would be wise to get her some company.....we were put in touch with another local smallholder who was selling some Tamworth cross weaners these we'd rear for bacon and ham. Once we'd got the paddock fenced off and put together the pig ark Lulu the wooly pig arrived together with the two weaners and settled in well together....we havn't had any fruit and veg waste since!
In the spring of 2010 we put up a 20' x 14' polytunnel and fenced off a small garden plot to grow some of our own fruit andd veg.......the polytunnel went up too late to get the full benefit of its potential in 2010.....we also didnt get the borders properly dug and it was a disasterous jungle of weeds.....for 2011 we put in raised beds and benching and whilst we've a long way to go there have been good crops of tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, parsley, carrots, cucumber, beans......
We bought 3 Silver Sussex point of lay hens and and a cockrel back in the Autumn of 2010. The flock was expanded in Spring 2011 with 9 Light Sussex point of lay of our Silver Sussex hens went broody during the Spring and produced 4 chicks....3 cockrels and 1 hen.
To complete our stocking so far, we were gifted 8 Call Ducks in Spring 2011 who spend their day on the farm pond....their contribution to date has been entirely decorative.....
Early Spring 2011 also saw us planting a small orchard with old Welsh varieties of apples, pears, cherry, plums and damsons.......unfortunately planting coincided with a dry spell and particularly busy time when we were getting the Featherdown tent site the trees did not get watered frequently enough and we lost quite a few.
The goal for our stocking and cropping is to be as self sufficient as possible, modern farm economics are such that a traditional smallholding like Pantyrhwch cannot be a viable farm business without diversifying. Historically Pantyrhwch had supplemented its farming activities with sand its traquility and setting lends itself to tourism and it was with this opportunity in mind that we began to explore possibilities over the summer of 2010.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Restoration Highlights November'08 to July'10.....

This post is a work in progress....restoring Pantyrhwch to its former glory was a long job and is an ongoing far I'm up to Dec'09......
Bathroom....what bathroom!
The bathroom is located in the rear single storey extension (llaethdy) which measures 10 feet by 6 feet.
Draft layout plans were prepared for the bathroom, the aim was to protect the original fabric of the room and to keep the bathroom itself simple, functional and easy to clean. As the cottage would not have had a bathroom originally we were not constrained by tradition and therefore went for clean, functional, contemporary design.
A wooden framework was put up to protect the original lime plastered walls, and 6 large pieces of Welsh Slate were sourced from Penrhyn Quarry in North Wales. These were attached to the wooden framwork to form the two side walls of the frameless glass corner shower unit.

The Lime Company (TLC) Start Work on Phase 2
On 20 Feb'09 TLC started work on Phase 2 of the cottage restoration. External scaffolding was erected around the cottage on 3 March'09 and work commenced on removing concrete plasterwork and friable materials and lifting quarry tile flooring.
On taking down the brick range fireplace and oven, which was in poor repair, the remnants of the original "shimne fawr" and bread oven were discovered. The original intention had been to repair and rebuild the range fireplace and oven which had been marked as being supplied by Mejicks of Lampeter. However, the location of the beams and lath & plaster chimney hood for the original "shimne fawr" could be clearly seen and as a result we decided against the accepted convention of keeping what was there, albeit a later addition, and to reinstate the "shimne fawr".
This would involve reinstating part of the stonework which formed one side of the chimney, finding and cleaning out the original holes where the beams had been located and putting in two new beams above the fireplace to make the front and other side of the chimney, and then rebuilding the lath & plaster firehood.
The oak beams for the fireplace were sourced in March'09 from Dickmans Sawmills, cut from a windfall oak tree that had been growing near Newcastle Emlyn. A reclaimed welsh slate hearth would was laid and a wood burning stove with and insulated chimney pipe installed. This work was started on 20 March'09 with the chimney stack completed on 1 June'09.

April'09 Andy, restoration carpenter was on site to assess work required on roof timbers, stairs, doors and windows. All were sufficiently sound and could be repaired and therefore would not to need replacing. Andy would make a new front door more in keeping with the cottage to replace the existing modern front door. The Crittal steel window in the rear extension (bathroom) would be replaced with a new hardwood window matching the windows in the rest of the house. The small window in the kitchen extension would also need to be replaced.
Later in April Andy started work on repairing the roof purlings and rafters.
Entrance, Boundary Fencing and Old Tin Shed
Emyr and his JCB started work in mid-Feb'09 to improve the main entance off the main road and instal a new entrance gate. He also excavated soil which had built up at from the back of the cottage. During early March'09 the entance road was extended to provide access to the cowshed situated below the cottage.
Below the cowshed there was a very wet area of land and traces of what appeared to have been a pond at some time. As the JCB was on site we decided to digout a new pond below the cowshed, subject to there being an adequate layer of clay present. Luckily we did find clay and proceeded with digging out the pond on 6 April'09. The pond and surrounding landscaping work was completed on 17 April'09 and the pond was eventually full at the end of May'09.

31 March'09 Dilwyn, Brian and Eirian started work on the bounday fencing using pignet and a single strand of barbed wire. Boundary fence was completed on 9 April'09.
The old corrugated iron shed were cleared and the accumulated rubbish burned in preparation for the demolition of the sheds. The old Rayburn, which was beyond saving, was removed from the kitchen. All scrap metal was put to one side for collection by a local scrap merchant during March'09.
Electric and Plumbing Plans

In Feb'09 plans were drawn up for the electrical wiring and plumbing. The overall strategy was to keep these to the essential so that we kept the disturbance to original plasterwork and woodwork to a minimum. This was achieved by running the main wiring and plumbing in the floor along the back wall of the cottage.

Our outline plans were discussed, finalised and agreed with Matthew Penny Electicians and Peter Carruthers Plumbing in early March'09.

Ground Source Heat Pump

Our architect had suggested a number of energy efficient options for heating the cottage. With no mains gas, options were oil, coal, calor gas or electric. All were going to be expensive with negetive environmental implications, oil and calor gas also had storage issues. Another option was to install a ground source heat pump, whilst it had high installation costs it would give us in theory 3 units of heat for one unit of electric, the system works best with underfloor heating so we could do away with radiators in the cottage and as we were going to have to relay the original quarry tile floors we had the opportunity to put in the pipework.

There were concerns as to whether the cottage would be sufficienly insulated and draughtproof for the ground source heat pump to operate effectively. To counteract these concerns a ground source hear pump with a higher capacity than required according to the calculations was specified, larger than normal bore pipes would be laid (17 mm) and sheeps wool insulation would be put in the roof space.......on the down side there would still be an uninsulated limecrete floor, uninsulated solid stone walls and single glazed windows. Bearing this in mind the ground source a wood buring stove would be installed in the living room to supplement the ground source heatpump if and when necessary.
The plan had been to drill two geothermal borehloes for the ground source heat pump but due to the gravelly nature of the surface strata it was decided to drill a single geothermal borehole to 126 metres and to steel case the first 50 metres to stop the surface strata from caving in on itself. The groundloop was inserted into the borehole and works completed on 23 March'09.

21 March'09 we excavated two trenches, minimum 1 metre deep to take the pipes from the groundloop to the cottage. The phone line was installed in the same trench.

Water Supply
Pantyrhwch has access to mains water but this suffers from periods of low pressure. As we were anyway keen to have our own water supply we discussed with Teify Valley Water Wells the possibility of putting in a borehole for water at the same time as they were going to be drilling the borehole for the ground source heat pump.

Teify Valley Water Wells began drilling the water borehole on 10 March'09 and sucessfully accessed water on 13 March'09 at 150 feet. Installation of the water pump was postponed until the cottage plumbing was installed as there was a risk of the unused water pump silting up in the borehole.
The kitchen dilemma.......

It was a difficult challenge to design a kitchen to fit a room 15 feet by 7 feet! With installing a fitted kitchen it seemed that the space very quickly became overcrowded so we decided to think further with regards the kitchen, possibly using the space and working in it with temporary solutions until we knew exacly what we needed and what the minimal space allowed.
Getting more involved in the restoration work....
Not being entirely happy with the the restoration builders approach to reinstating the shimle fawr I decided to take on this work myself, with help from my brother, a skilled stonemason. Together we managed to completely rebuild the chimney using lime mortar and salvaged stone.
This was to be a significan turning point, from now on we would take a much more hands on approach to the restoration of Pantyrhwch.
By the end of May'09 the chimney was completed and we started to look for reclaimed roofing slates to repair the roof and for quarry tiles to replace those either broken or missing in the original cottage floor.
TLC continued to work on internal lime plastering, rough casting the more exposed gable walls and repairing the slate roof during May, Andy the carpenter was on site repairing the windows and putting in a new front door.
Having limewashed the exterior walls and laid the limectete underflooring TLC completed their contracted works at Pantyrhwch.
The extension......
In June'09 we talked with Tom Garrett, Broadleaf Timber to design the new extension on the north side of the cottage where the delapidated corrugated tin extension had been. Tom Bristow a local stonemason would build the extension using lime mortar, hemp lime blocks and recaimed stone found onsite. Broadleaf timber would make oak A-frames, windows and doors and the roof would be reclaimed Welsh slate to match the rest of the cottage.
Tom, stonemason, started work on the extension in July'09 whilst we started to work on the woodwork....stripping the old paint off the windows, replacing broken panes of glass and repainting.
In August'09 we laid the floor screed over the underfloor heating pipes throughout the cottage. Emyr was back on site with the JCB to clear the soil bank behind the cottage and to put in place large rocks to retain the bank.....installed septic tank and soakaway.
We needed more stone for the extension, so in September'09 we excavated the collapsed walls of the old cowshed to salvage stone to finish the extension and hopefully leave us with enough stone leftover to restore the cowshed. Towards the end of October'09 the roof timbers went on the extension and the doors and windows fitted. The roof was slated and the extension finished by mid-November.
In October'09 we started to relay the quarry tile floors in the cottage, starting in the bathroom, We also put in a small wood burning stove in the parlour and the electricians started their final fix. By the end of November'09 the electricians had completed the wiring, the Dowling wood burning stove in the living room had been installed and the quarry tiles in the parlour had been laid.
In by Christmas!
By mid December'09 the plumbing was completed, our private water supply was switched on and the ground source heat pump was connected up and working. The cooker and fridgewas installed in time to spend our first Christmas and Pantyrhwch......still loads to do!

Parting with our architect and starting work.....

Going back to October/November'08.....

When we bought Pantyrhwch in early 2008, we saw it very much as a renovation project, gutting out the cottage and extending it to become a modern eco-home. We selected our architect on these principles but as we spent time there planning what we were going to do we started to realise how "untouched" the place was and maybe we should keep as much of it as possible intact.

This caused our architect a headache....renovation and extension works would require planning and Building Regs.....these would in turn require us to take out or make make major changes to many of the original features.....roof, wall's, floors, windows, doors, stairs, etc. Keeping the cottage original would also have implications in terms of what could be achieved in terms of insulation and energy efficiency.

After much thought and compromise, in October'08 we took the major decision not to make any changes to Pantyrhwch and only to repair what was already there. This meant there was no longer a need for architectural services and we amicably agreed and settled the architect
's fees incurred to date. The architect's input had not been wasted as he'd given valuable guidance on the ecological options for power, heating, insulation, water, sewage, etc. and these have been incorporated into the restoration.

During October'08 we contracted Cliff Blundell and The Lime Company of West Wales (TLC) to undertake the restoration work. The work would be done in three phases:

Phase 1: Remove cement and friable materials from exterior walls and internally, remove modern materials (hardboard ceilings, concrete fire surround, paint,) and friable plaster. Making surfaces ready for repair. Take down the delapidated modern brick/concrete block extension on the north gable end.

Phase 2: Dig land drain at rear, repair internal plasterwork on walls and ceilings, apply 3 coats of limewash, instal skylight in kitchen, replace lintels and cills, and repair walls around kitchen and rear extension (llaethdy) windows, install sheeps wool insulation in roof space, remove quarry tile foor, lay limecrete floor and relay quarry tiles.

Phase 3: Erect scafflod and protective hessian to all exterior elevations, remove friable materials, repair and repoint lime mortar, harl 2 coats of lime roughcast to gable ends and rear ectension (llaethdy), apply 5 coats of limewash to all elevations.

In mid November'08 The Lime Company of West Wales (TLC) started work on Phase 1 which was completed by the end of the month.

With the initial work completed we agreed to meet up when I returned to the UK for Christmas to review the next phase of the work and to visit some of TLC's past and current projects.

Where did the time go........

Its a surprise to realise that our last blog was in Nov'08, over 20months ago......I was still working overeas and planning the restoration of Pantyrhwch, which shows how all consuming the project time left for blogging!
Fortunately there was time to keep notes scribbled in a diary and for Ann to take pictures of progress. Over the months the blog got forgotten, until today, when Viktor a good friend from my time in Ukraine, and my only blog follower, found the blog for me again and I've promised some updates.

We need to sort the pictures, the one above is from Sept'09 after most of the major restoration works (roof, chimney, walls, windows, exterior woodwork, etc) had been completed. Odly when this photo was taken it was a nice day.....most of the summer was very wet and progress with the restoration was hampered. Took this one today.......
Future posts will aim to fill in the blanks with the interesting bits from Nov'08 to July'10..........!!