Sunday, 7 August 2016


Since building the wall at the side of the house the old gate has been barely fit for purpose. As it happens we were wandering around around Snowshill Manor and Gardens a few months ago and spotted this:

Joe was inspired. It was also a good excuse for a trip to our local timbre merchants which is always a dangerous move. They have several rooms full of hardwood planks, oddments and off cuts - unique pieces that are perfect for bespoke woodwork; we always seem to come away with more than we went for.

On this occasion we found some sweet chestnut that is going to look great as a gate, particularly when it weathers in and goes all silvery in colour. We've come up with a design heavily modelled on our National Trust inspiration, though for a single gate rather than a pair: two solid uprights, with three horizontals, and 5 sets of batons filling in the gaps.

Joe's been slowly chiselling away ever since - in odd 5 minutes here and there - though that's not to say that a few power-tools haven't been put to good use where it makes sense. He's now most of the way through the mortise and tenon joints that will hold the main structure together and relishing the challenge of a some proper woodwork to keep him busy.

Sunday, 31 July 2016


I'm fast becoming convinced that my favourite part of our garden is the fruit. I love reaching that time of the year when you get a complete glut of one thing or another. The effort required to sustain them - pruning the trees, or tying up bushes, is minimal compared to the potential rewards.

At the moment this joy is coming from the raspberry canes as we go out every few days and collect another tub-full. Mostly we're just eating them, often with ice-cream. So good. There really is very little to beat soft fruit fresh from outside.

The hens, of course, would heartily agree. They are complete gluttons over all things fruity and always hang around while we're picking in case any manky bits get thrown their direction for them to fight over.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Mechanical Doorbell, Part 2: Bash

One of our very first posts on The Urban Cottage was talking about our slightly fantastical doorbell, created from bits and pieces found around the house (follow the link for a reminder). This has been quite a talking point and provides us with much amusement when we open the door to a new visitor to be greeted with "is that your doorbell?! Please can I see it?".

The intention was always to expand this beyond it's initial "ding" to also include a "dong" but a couple of years later we ended up skipping that plan (for now) and instead went straight for "bash".

A very tired cymbal, looking for a new home, has been lined up next to the guitar. A short section of pipe left over from the bathroom is then carefully positioned to catch the marble as it speeds off the end of the original shute and directs it into the cymbal. 9 times out of 10 this then bounces and is caught in an old weaving shuttle.

All in all an excellent addition - not least because the previous incarnation was only just loud enough. If you were in a far corner of the house you were more likely to pick up the sound of a marble hitting the floor than you were the guitar. The cymbal certainly solves that problem!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Scarf or Shawl?

My Regina Marie shawl is now completed. I'm really happy with this one; it's come out pretty much as I hoped for, the yarn has been great to work with and is still beautifully soft.

I made a couple of tweaks to the pattern as I wanted something that was more scarf than shawl; long and thin. Firstly I went for 32 repeats of the main pattern block, rather than 26. I wish I'd been braver and gone even further with that as I still had yarn left at the end, though I'm not sure an extra couple would have made much difference.

Then during the short rows section I knit four stitches beyond the gap on each pass so that I consumed the stitches more quickly to create a thinner crescent.

I don't know what the technical definition of a scarf vs a shawl is - but whatever it is I've made I love it.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Squawks from the Chicken Coop

This is Lemon and Pepper checking in with the Blog. Things are much the same as ever in the Garden.

There is grass to be scratched, dirt to be rolled in and sparrows to chase.

There are sudden sounds that are a bit scary and we have to make lots of noise about. That's especially important early in the morning when no-one is around in case they don't notice the scary things.

There are eggs to be laid. Not as many as we used to have to do - getting old has it's advantages. The downside is that getting the shells right seems to be a bit tricky at the moment, sometimes they're a bit thin and then we accidentally stand on them so they break. That's not so good.

And of course the best bit is still when people come out of the door with something tasty for us to eat. Corn is our favourite, but stale bread or apple cores are pretty good too.

Cluck Cluck.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Week on the Water

Last week we swapped our urban cottage for a few days in a narrowboat on the Llangollen Canal. A little chill out time was just what we needed and the pace of life as we pottered along at 3 miles an hour got right to the heart of that.

The Llangollen was a lovely canal to spend our time on. Travelling almost exclusively through countryside rather than towns and cities, the highlight of the journey for us was the day we spent reaching the source of the canal. As the Vale of Llangollen started to open up around us, we passed over the longest and highest aqueduct in Great Britain - the Pontcysyllte. Not for the faint hearted as there is a shear drop from the edge of the boat. Definitely stayed seated during that one.

From there the canal got narrower and narrower, winding it's way along the valley edge towards the town of Llangollen and a final unnavigable section where we had to switch to foot. Finally we reached the horseshoe falls; a perfect semi-circle of waterfall that separates the water for the canal from the river Dee.

We were with my brother, parents, and my parents 18 month old labrador - Monty. It was great to spend some time with family, both working our way through the series of locks and swing bridges, and settling down at the end of the day to a glass of wine and a game of cards. Monty also seemed to enjoy his week, providing us with much amusement as he checked up on everything that was happening, hared up and down the towpath and did laps of each lock - though also providing us with a few heart-stopping moments as he ran over the lock gates or leapt from the boat in pursuit of someone who'd dared to get off the boat without him.

A really good week.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Oiling the Floor

One of the biggest projects we undertook while we were "off-air", was a transformation of our living room. I might have mentioned before that when we moved in we painted almost every wall in the place - but did little else, and now we're slowly working our way back through each room giving it a little more time, care and attention.

The living room for us is a place we spend much of our free time. It's somewhere for sitting with a laptop and planning our latest project, making music, doing crafty things and whipping up a blog post, and when all that's done it's also the place to relax and pop on the TV. The design of the house also means that this is the main thoroughfare - the only way of getting from the front door to the kitchen, conservatory and upstairs.

And it was a struggle. The furniture we'd brought with us from our previous house just didn't fit. Well, it fitted physically - but that was about it. The room isn't tiny (though by no means large), yet it felt cramped, crowded and messy. You had to zigzag your way around it all to get through the room, and more than a couple of extra people was a squish. After much debate we decided to go all out in getting this room sorted and that meant a couple of new bits of furniture.

(As we weren't thinking of blogging this we failed to take any "before" shots and as it turns out we've taken hardly any photos in this room over the years. To give you a small idea of what it was like here's the best of the bunch; a christmas photo of our decorated tree sitting in front of the piano, and a shot of us playing a card game on the floor with all the furniture pushed to the edges. Sorry if that's not much help!)

Changing our large three seater for a corner sofa, along with passing on our acoustic piano for a much more compact digital version allowed us to rethink how the room works with startling results. There's now a clear path from one side of the room to the other, space to pack in a few extra friends, and even some clear floor space for laying out that tangle of yarn that needs unpicking. The new piano is a marked improvement on the old one, inspiring much more regular playing even if we do still both have a definite fondness for the mechanics of a traditional instrument. More than anything, the room feels like it has doubled in size despite having almost as much stuff in it and that's all down to the change in layout.

Much much smaller piano, plus a clear path from the front door on the right to the kitchen on the left.
The understairs cupboard is more accessable and a new chair that can be both tucked
into a corner and pulled out into the main seating space.

But all of the above is a complete tangent - I was going to tell you about the floor!

There was one major flaw with the living room when we moved in (in our opinion anyway), and that was the cream carpet. I'm not adverse to using pale coloured carpets in the right place - but the highest traffic room of the house is definitely not that place. It constantly needed hoovering, and even then was never quite clean.  We were also starting to have problems with the chipboard underfloor having rather a lot of bounce to it. It either needed replacing or reinforcing before we found ourselves with a hole in the floor.

Our solution was to install an engineered oak floor, something solid that would wear well over many years as well as taking the pressure off the ageing chipboard. However, as we were fitting the planks into place we noticed that the finish on them was very uneven. There had been foam strips between the planks to stop them being damaged in transit and where the foam had been was much paler than the edges of the planks. After a few months of back and forward with the flooring company they agreed to send us enough of the hard wax oil they had used so that we could refinish the floor.

Uneven colouration can be seen around the edges of the central plank.

And so we found ourselves, just a short while after finishing the decoration of the room, emptying all of the furniture out again so that we could put a fresh layer of oil down. Fortunately, it has been completely worth the effort. The finish is much more even and the wood has a much warmer feel to it.

Transformation complete.