Renovation Blog, Part Three: Navigating the Arctic Tundra

I’ve been a bit slow to write up the next blog, the theme of which was going to be our first couple of weekends camping out in the new digs. In the blur of the last month, a whirlwind of decision making ahead of the contractors moving in to start work, my recollection of our first few visits are slightly foggy. Nevertheless, there are definitely some highlights that stand out (and lowlights – by the second time we headed out to the house, we’d learned from chilly experience that a storage heater would be a very wise investment). I’ve also never been so grateful for my hot water bottle which I carried around in my hoodie kangaroo-style, underneath sedimentary layers of other clothing. The house hasn’t been heated for quite some time and, we think because the previous owner passed away and understandably stopped responding to bills, the gas was also switched off – I did do my best to crack out the arctic puns but Jan was having Nunavut, rolling up his sleeves and getting to work right away! I’d initially deemed wearing two jumpers under a hoodie and socks thicker than a Giant Sequoia sufficient defence against the chill. I was wrong. Needless to say, both of us clung to the puppy that night, a source of heat greater than the sun, who diplomatically rotated between our sleeping bags. The second weekend, however, we came more prepared, armed with a storage heater lugged up from London, the hot water bottle and a kettle to make hot cups of tea. Bliss.

What did redeem that first cold night was the discovery of the baked goods on offer in the pub-cum-café-cum-deli that exists a convenient (read: dangerous) stone’s hop from our front door. I’m delighted to report that it serves freshly baked cinnamon knots, roughly the size of my fist. The Danes would approve – I’ve never forgotten the sheer scale of the pastries we hoovered up in Copenhagen. Viking fuel, indeed. Anyway, you can bet that every morning we’ve woken up in the new digs, I’ve been first in queue.

First night in our new home!

The first weekend we went up to the house was mostly making plans for what we wanted to do on the next visit. DIY-wise, there wasn’t a huge amount that could be done ahead of the work carried out by our wonderful contractors, but we also couldn’t resist the urge to do something. One DIY task that we probably started on too hastily was sanding down the many layers of paint that covered the stairs and window frames. Luckily, only one had been partially sanded down before we realised, post googling heat guns as a way of quickly removing paint, that the presence of lead might pose a problem. Uh oh. Lead, as it turns out, was a legal ingredient in new paint until the early 1990s and, even then, the sale of previously manufactured lead paint was permitted to continue. Many houses built before 1978 contain lead paint and this house was built approximately 200 years beforehand with enough layers of paint to sink the Titanic. Ho hum – thus arose the first of the many surprises we had expected to encounter during this project. After googling what to do, we quickly sprayed water over the whole area in the hope that it would weigh down the powdered sugar layer of white dust that had settled over the hallway. Luckily, we had some heavy duty face masks and so hopefully didn’t breathe too much of it in. We also washed everything down very thoroughly around the area before sweeping up the sodden dust (note to future selves from the ghosts of Jan and Lizzy past: don’t sand lead paint, ultimate DIY faux pas. Our bad.) Lead dust is very adhesive so, post clean up, everything we were wearing went into a black bin bag and straight into the washing machine on a high temperature. When the repair work is finished, the contractors will also use a special industrial Hepa filter to hoover up everything so that we can give the space a good wash down pre furniture going in etc. On our next visit, we tested paint covered surfaces throughout the house for lead and, sure enough, the main culprits were the doors and window frames. Luckily, the wooden floors were lead free which will definitely make the restoration process much less of a faff! As for the doors and windows, they will be taken out and professionally stripped and restored to their former glory before reinstallation, hopefully sometime before winter. Brrr.

Waging war on the lead dust: a warming sight for any new neighbour who spotted us stalking through the house dressed like an extra from Chernobyl into the dark of night.

One task we could get on with, free of the fear of causing irreversible bodily damage, was stripping wallpaper. Oh, the satisfaction! This was actually quite a pretty print in the spare bedroom but it was very old and stained and we were still itching to start on some sort of reno work. Doused with soapy warm water, the wallpaper came off like a dream (credit goes to Jan for deciphering the perfect removal technique). I’ve recently discovered Desert Island Discs (cant believe this has been in existence since the 1940s?! I only just got the memo) and so we listened to the astronaut Tim Peakes wax lyrical about life in orbit to the tune of Queen’s Greatest Hits whilst we got to grips with Planet House Reno. Ada was in seventh heaven making papier-mâché out of the remnants.

Eyes on the prize

She’s also been busy charming the local fish and chip shop into giving her a few chipz – these were snuffled up even faster than I could get the kettle on. We were happy to learn that our new town is very dog friendly and, going off the levels of Ada adoration (adaration?) we’ve encountered so far, I can well believe it! Hoping that this will translate into making new friends more quickly too – even in London, we’ve been amazed by how much more people talk to each other when you have a dog in tow. We’ll be sorry to leave the whippet commune that has formed here in our local park (Ada has had a better social life than us over lockdown) so it’s encouraging to know that there will be plenty of other pup pals for her over in Wiltshire too. Pup’s gotta play!

In between wallpaper stripping, we’ve also been heading out to explore the countryside. This town is on the toe of the Cotswolds and it’s already been so lovely to step out into the rolling hills and fields. The air is currently very fragrant with the smell of wild garlic which carpets the local woodlands. I foraged for some last time we were there to make into a pesto sauce type thing at home. Next up: mushroom hunting in the autumn! Hopefully alongside my parents-in-law who, like many Czechs, know far more about mushrooms than I do. No slow death by liver poisoning over here, please. The other great thing about walking in this neck of woods is the constellation of tiny villages dotted over the fields, each with its own local pub. Thus, you can motivate any tired/reluctant walkers by hovering a frequent carrot stick-cum-frothy pint (or cream tea as a back up option) in front of their nose to keep pace going.

View from the local pub which sits next to this aqueduct, a hot spot for wild swimming!

At this time of writing, the contractors are now well underway and it’s been exciting to see our renovation plans slowly come to fruition. Our next trip up there will be over the bank holiday weekend and I can already smell those cinnamon knots! Until next time.

Bye for now!

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