Weekend Commuting

We had sold our previous home to enable us to be cash buyers, and were renting a property in Nottingham when we purchased on North Corn Park.

When we had completed, we traded in Suzy’s car for a 4×4 and bought a used but solid builder’s trailer on EBay. We had collected numerous tools from our previous Chapel Conversion, and still had a garage full of left over building materials that we knew would be useful for our new venture.

Removal companies won’t generally carry things like tins of paint or chemicals, and as access was restricted by a long narrow driveway at the new property we decided to move ourselves once again. We planned to travel up from Nottingham most weekends, and so began the new routine of coming home work on a Friday, then having a quick meal before hooking up the trailer (which we’d loaded up the night before) and heading for the A1.

Door to door, the journey was 134 miles and a typical trip in a car took around 2 hours and 20 minutes. Pulling a heavy trailer on a Friday evening we were lucky if it only took 3 and 20 minutes, which seemed much longer due to bouncing / speed wobbles if we hadn’t loaded the trailer quite right.

One of our first tasks at the house was to clear out the barn where we were going to store most of our tools and furniture whilst we worked on the house. It had been used to house turkeys previously, so there was a good layer of straw, manure and feathers to remove. Luckily it was quite dry though, and soon disappeared on the numerous bonfires. We also had to make safe another barn that was starting to collapse, as we were going to use this as a temporary fire wood store. Most of the first floor ceiling were unsafe due to water ingress, so these were removed and the timber joists/laths added to the quickly growing wood pile. The plaster ceilings were deposited into 1 tonne jumbo bags, along with plaster removed from walls so we could assess the damp patches and large cracks. Many thanks to our other neighbour Eddie, who took the bags away by tractor to fill pot holes in his driveway saving us the cost of several skips.

My sister Louise helped out with cleaning duties and lots of sandwiches, and Suzy’s Mum Anne was also a big help with the clearing up and ninja strimming skills.

We had several chicken coops in various states of decay / collapse, so these were only fit for the bonfire. Apologies to the passing motorists, who stopped apparently concerned about the size of the blaze.

Although we had a temporary water supply thanks to the neighbours, it was being stored in an open tank in one of our barns. Having seen the debris in the tank, we weren’t happy to drink the water so brought our own clean water up from Nottingham in 25 litres drums. It does make you appreciate how much water you typically use, when you have to carry it rather than just turning on the tap.

We were keen to install an indoor toilet and shower as soon as possible, so having decided on its location we lifted the flagstone floor in the pantry and started to excavate the ground to a depth of 500mm to allow for a new concrete floor, insulation and underfloor heating in a screed. It was going to be a wet room, so we also had to cast the screed on a slope for drainage.

Adjacent to the wet room was to be our utility room, which was also going to house our GSHP heat exchanger and all the pipework from the ground loops. We also cast the concrete floor in this area, although it was a slightly different construction as it didn’t include underfloor heating. We also constructed a dense concrete block wall between the wet room and utility room, so help with sound deadening from the heat exchanger and buttress the external wall which was exposed to the prevailing wind and showing signs of cracking. Huge thanks to my Dad Alan for his concrete / block laying skills.

Cracking is a widespread problem throughout the property, and the more plaster we removed from the walls the more cracks we found. We’d dug trial holes to expose the foundations, and luckily been advised by a structural engineer that underpinning wasn’t required. Most of the cracking seems to have been caused by either failed timber lintels, or lack of tying in at junctions and corners. The walls of the existing extensions appeared to have just been built butted up to the original walls, with minimal bonding between them. We carefully removed areas of lose stone to the internal walls, and rebuilt them using a traditional lime mortar and added stainless steel helical bars in the joints to reinforce areas of cracking.

Lime mortars and plasters were originally used in older properties before Portland cement and gypsum became widespread.  Although lime mortar skins over quite quickly it stays chemically active for years, so if small cracks appear in the mortar allowing rainwater to penetrate, the lime reacts self- sealing the crack. It is also “breathable”, allowing moisture to travel backwards and forwards through the wall unlike cement. The other issue with cement mortar on soft stone walls, is that it is often mixed too strong leading to cracks in the stone rather than the mortar which should always be weaker than the stone or brickwork. Hard cement pointing also does not weather like stonework, which often leads to the stone being eroded at an increased rate resulting in unsightly pronounced joints and recessed stone facings.

We also needed a frost proof area for the borehole water tank, pump and filtration, so we decided to construct a blockwork enclosure in the corner of our barn. This would be an insulated box with a flat roof, giving us a useful area for storage above. Thanks again to Dad, the block laying maestro who even stayed on to finish the job solo when we had to go back to work in Nottingham.

In anticipation of our move, many friends and family kindly bought us garden centre gift vouchers for Christmas. We purchased several native trees, including Oak, Silver Birch and Rowan to supplement the existing trees. Strong winds and abundant rabbits meant that they all had to be staked and protected. As part of our self-sufficiency ethos, we also planted apple, pear, damson and plum trees.

After a weekend of hard labour at North Corn Park, we’d usually head back to Nottingham on the Sunday evening ready for a proper bed and hot shower. Unfortunately, most lane closures for maintenance are scheduled for Sunday evenings so the ever present orange cones and speed restrictions didn’t help our journey times.

The A1 was also closed completely several times due to repairs or accidents, and started to get to know the surrounding areas quite well due to meandering detours. After one particularly serious incident involving several heavy goods vehicles, the road was closed all night. The big articulated lorries were stranded from 9pm to 6am but after a couple of hours waiting we managed to turn around with the trailer and go back up the hard shoulder North until the next exit.

The worst trip of all was just a couple of weeks before the actual move. Whilst travelling back to Nottingham with an empty trailer, the 4×4 lurched a couple of times and then just died. Luckily the road was reasonably quiet and we managed to coast onto the hard shoulder. We tried to restart several times but the car was completely dead, and we had to call the RAC. Low loaders that could carry a Freelander and tow a trailer were apparently in short supply so we settled down to wait in the rain which has just started. After an hour we called again, and were told that no RAC recovery vehicles were available so a private company would be sent instead. After a further hour a driver arrived and we were loaded onto his transporter. Only a few miles down the A1 and the driver was showing signs of tiredness, opening his window, turning up the radio drinking Redbull, and driving erratically. When we made conversation (to keep him awake), he confessed that he had was close to the limit on his Tachograph hours and could only take us half the way to Nottingham.

After depositing us at the services, we again prepared to wait for the next driver to collect us. The services were closed apart from a vending machine and toilets, it was raining harder than ever and we couldn’t even start the engine to run the heater. After about an hour and a half, we had a call from the second driver asking where we were as he couldn’t find us.  After a few confused minutes of conversation, we realised that he was at the right service station but on the northbound side for some reason. Shortly after that he found us, and loaded the car and the trailer on his vehicle. Relieved to be on the final leg on our journey home, he started up his engine only for all his electrics to short out. All the external lights on his vehicle and our trailer were off, we weren’t going home just yet!

Eventually, after much swopping of fuses and calls to the driver’s office we were finally headed South once again. We finally made it home around 2.30am, some 6 hours after leaving Baldersdale.

To add insult to injury, we still had to pay a 3rd recovery company to take the Freelander to a garage the next day. Despite have a new cambelt fitted 3 weeks previously, the belt had apparently snapped and the engine was now a write off. Amazingly the garage that did the belt change denied all responsibility, and stated it was just a coincidence! The timing couldn’t have been worse as we were moving the following week, and it was now too late to book a removal company.

After much deliberation we decided to sell the Freelander, and had a tow ball fitted to my car so we could still use the trailer.

We had seen enough of the A1 to last us a lifetime, so were now looking forward to moving even more than ever.