Welcome to my blog, where a 30-something couple from the UK renovate and extend an old cottage, build some outbuildings, raise some hens and grow firewood trees and vegetables on our Acre in Hampshire. It's a bit like a smallholding but without too many animals, so we call it a homestead - living within our means, relying on ourselves and having a wonderful life!


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Screed, Crayfish, Defenders and Demolition!

Firstly, apologies for a lack of updates recently - we've been really busy at AnAcreInHampshire. We have tried to get all the 'big and messy' jobs out of the way first - the thinking being that we might not want to knock down walls in a pristine, freshly decorated room. With the deadline of our Housewarming Party looming large, we have been pressing on whenever possible - and fitting work around our full time jobs isn't always easy!

The last of our messy jobs was to open up our landing - before we had a stairwell, and now we have a lovely open landing. This pic was taken mid way through the works - all the uprights bar one are now gone, and the void is drylined and being filled as we speak...

I've also raised the floor in our dining room - this comprised half of the space created when our large internal wall was removed, and there was a step halfway across the room. I took the opportunity to insulate under the new chipboard floors with 40mm Celotex - and a fringe benefit is that the floor no longer bounces when you walk across the room! This did leave the hearth surrounding the main fireplace about 65mm lower than the rest of the floor - not ideal. Que a trip to Wickes (other DIY stores are available...) to look at self levelling screed. We chose the deep base stuff - http://www.wickes.co.uk/deep-base-levelling-compound-20kg/invt/154050/ - not because it was most suitable, but bucause it was in the 'split bags' bin reduced from £17.49 a bag to £2.50 a bag! I've poured three 20kg bags so far and it needs at least one more to fill to a suitable depth to tile...

A new Land Rover also inhabits AnAcreInHampshire towers now - an ex-Police 110 TD5 Station Wagon. It is scheduled for a full rebuild with a galvanised chassis, Puma engine and drivetrain and new body and interior. There will be just enough of the original to satisfy the DVLA's restored vehicle regulations - another job to do before the winter!

Lastly, our new neighbor Graham reported an interesting find on a recent walk - a crayfish trap that was alive with American Signal Crayfish. I shot down to the spot and sure enough he was right - the trap mush have held 30 of the invasive species. This was just the stimulus I needed - I have submitted an application for a trapping license and have ordered an otter-friendly trap. When I next see our other neighbor I'll ask permission to fish - and then we are set up for a lifetime supply of crayfish for the barbeque! More reading here; http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/38045.aspx

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Glazing putty - mankind's most satisfying job?

Our ropey, dusty old carport is destined to become my workshop in due course - and we are rushing through it's refurbishment at the moment. Not only will this allow a covered area to build and fix things around the homestead, it will mean we can move out of the shipping container which is storing the majority of our worldly goods.

(As an interesting aside, the impact that the humble ISO, or Intermodal, Container has had on global development is quite remarkable. Well worth a Wikipedia search if you have a spare minute...)

We have given the workshop a new floor (damp proof membrane, sand and paving slabs) and a coat or 
two of white paint in the very dusty and cobwebby walls. Some nice (and cheap) eBay ledge and brace 
oak doors complete the job, but we had to replace a few broken panes of glass. Cue a self-taught lesson 
in puttying window panes!

I can't quite put my finger on what makes the job quite so pleasing - it must be the mix of an  
easy-to-achieve finish, with visible progress and the pleasure of a job well done. My mind wondered 
to an almost-hypnotised state, and the weight of a day at work just evaporated.

Kristy has decided that glazing putty is now a Blue Job.

Should you face the job, essential tools include a small scraper, some linseed putty, a cup of tea and the 
wireless tuned to Radio 4. Bliss!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Building Works

We already knew that we would like to make alterations to the fabric of the house - the kitchen and sitting room could be knocked through, the Cottage didn't have an upstairs bathroom and a new window in the sitting room and some french doors would make all the difference. We decided to do all the messy and intrusive jobs together before we moved in.

I had a good idea of the changes we would like to make - I had created some 3D CAD models in a super(and free) bit of software called Sketchup, so we were confident that the designs would work - both aesthetically and in practise.

I contacted a Structural Engineer and a Builder (both local - I like supporting local tradesmen and the economy) some weeks before work was due to start - I arranged a start date that could be delayed if the sale of the Cottage didn't happen on time. The Engineer was able to visit just after we completed, meaning the building could start less than a week later.

Day One of Building was very messy and dramatic - the internal wall had gone before lunchtime, and a steel beam (no longer called RSJs, I'm told...) followed a day later.

The stud wall for the new bathroom was next - I had quite fancied building this wall but we had plasterers on site anyway, so it seemed silly not to get it done in one hit.

Finally the openings for the french doors and the bathroom window were made - I think it will give the house a much more balanced look in due course.

We are currently waiting for delivery of our new doors and windows - the installer took pity on us having to live with a boarded-up house, and rushed our job through. I hope that we will have delivery inside a fortnight - fingers crossed!

We Have the Keys!

We had been so excited about this house for months - and today was finally the day!

A close friend of ours is a country Estate Agent and knew we were on the look-out for a new home with a little land, a moderate amount of seclusion and a lot of character. We were tipped off about the Cottage some time before it came on the open market - and this gave us time to complete on the sale of our previous home in West Berkshire. We had been dreaming about our new life for months before the Cottage was listed on Rightmove - and trying (but failing) not to get too exicted! The Cottage was listed with a 'guide price' which meant we had to submit a strong offer - inevitably the price climbed, but after a few (very tense) days we got the wonderful news that our offer had been accepted. It was above the self-imposed limit price we had set - but it was a decision made by the heart, not the head!

So we completed on a Friday, after much gentle encouragement of our wonderful Solicitor  The first saturday was spent grinning like fools and standing in wonder, amazed that we had managed to buy this amazing place!

A quick assesment revealed that we would have to tackle the jungle that the land had become. The Acre is split roughly in thirds - an area around the house which contains my workshop and a rickety lean-to, a fenced field to the north that used to contain Wallabys (yes, really!) and a paddock to the south which previously held horses. The paddock had been topped regularly, but the rest of the land hadn't been touched for about six months - the grass was literally waist deep.

My ancient Stihl brushcutter decided that today would be a good day to expire, so a trip to my favorite shop in the whole world Scats delivered a new Stihl FS55 Brushcutter to the Cottage. The strimmer line struggled in the deep dry grass, which was so long that it had collapsed under it's own weight. I bought out the three-bladed steel cutter which coped much better. Cutting 2/3 of an acre still took two full days - not helped by the 30 degree temperatures we were experiencing.

Inevitably we met a few of the residents of the long grass - Monty found them, and fortunately they had escaped the attention of the brushcutter. I rebuilt a mound of grass over the nest and a week later they had gone - the grass was undisturbed, so I hope they weren't found by a predator.

A huge pile of grass was produced by the brushcutter, for the cost of only a few litres of fuel. Our kindly new neighbour has a small farm, and offered to move our pile of hay onto his muck heap - we accepted this offer all to readily! We managed to completly fill the muck trailer with hay - I had no idea a small area of grass could generate quite so much biomass. It did bring on a pang of machinery envy for me though...

We also didn't have any running water in the house - and it wasn't until after lunch on the second day that we found the stop-cock! Kristy's head is smaller than mine, so she had to turn on the water...

Monty certainly enjoyed the fact we now had running water - he is very particular when it comes to drinking, and much prefers a running tap to a bowl of water.

Welcome to An Acre in Hampshire!

Here we go - the first Blog post at An Acre in Hampshire!

A bit of background before we get stuck in...

I'm Simon, and together with my girlfriend Kristy and our Border Terrier Monty, will try and document a few fun elements of our new life in Hampshire. We have recently bought a run-down farm worker's cottage with about an acre of land, and over the next few years will be renovating the cottage and messing about with the land. The ultimate aim is to create a beautiful family home with a productive kitchen garden, with a few animals knocking about for good measure.

We are trying to achieve our dream on a tight budget - we have streched outselves as far as we are comfortable (and a tiny bit more...!) to buy a great 'long term' home that will allow us to achieve all our plans and ambitions, with a little left over for projects. We are by no means experts - we are a normal 30-something couple both working in the public sector, but hopefully some folk will enjoy reading about our successes (and failures!)

We are trying to live a more fulfilling and self-sufficient life, enjoying home-produced food and fixing things, rather than relying on fragile supply chains and daily trips to the supermarket.

You will have to excuse a few 'off topic' posts about some of the other things in life that excite me. You may find entries about my Land Rover adventures, eco projects designed to 'do our bit' and save some pennies, some woodsmanship and bushcraft posts, stuff about tractors and tools, ramblings about my workshop and fixing things, land management, food preserving, home brewing - be prepared for anything!

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions - please leave a comment or let me know!