Little Crifts Cottage – clearing the ground

The old barn, sadly, was a hopeless case, timbers rotten through and barely held together by the equally rusted corrugated panels. It’s been some time since we’ve been happy to step inside it for any length of time, and I’m quite surprised that last winter’s storms didn’t do for it completely – they did however leave some quite impressive gaping holes, and, what with the increasingly obvious double-pitch roof ‘feature’, it was clear that the structure was becoming increasingly unsafe and something had to be done to deal with it.

The old barn
On one of the warmest days of the year, at the end of June, some good friends came to give us a hand to take the barn down. In the end, the old building put up surprisingly little resistance, the rotten timbers came away more or less painlessly at ground level after we removed the corrugated metal, eventually leaving just the concrete base slab. The corrugated sheeting was taken away for recycling. Any sound timbers and wooden cladding will find a use around the property somewhere, as will the door of the shed. The rotten and wood-wormed timbers will go for firewood, so there’s nothing wasted. In due course, the concrete slab itself will be broken up and form part of the hardcore for drainage around the foundations.

The barn's structure...   Demolishing the old barn   Barn down!

While we were demolishing the barn, we were also finalising the plans for the cottage, and drawings for building regulations approval were waiting to be finished and approved. It was only once these were agreed that we were finally able to get the builders with their little digger onto site to clear the foundations of the old barn and level the site.

The concrete slabThankfully, the barn’s old concrete floor slab was barely more than two inches deep in most places and laid straight onto soil, so it put up only the most cursory resistance against the digger – a lucky break for us, we had feared it was thicker and likely to be a lot more troublesome than that.

We had thought the site was pretty much level, but once the builders started clearing and setting out levels it very quickly became clear that it was anything but, and in the end about 50 tonnes of soil and rock needed to be moved to get the level site required for digging out the foundation trenches. There’s a bonus to this, which is that the cottage can nestle down a bit lower into the site, which will not only protect it from the prevailing weather in the winter, but also reduce the visual impact that it has on the surroundings.

The little digger at work

Fortunately, we had space for all of the soil and rock to be stored on site (we’ll use it for landscaping later), so we didn’t end up with an enormous bill for skips to take it away. Even more luckily, we avoided encountering one of the giant granite boulders which have a nasty habit of lurking just below the surface in these parts! The subsoil turned out to be nicely drained with a lot of broken up shale, which is what we had hoped to find and will save us a lot of potential trouble.

The levelling work took two days in the end and involved us cutting back close to both the old Cornish hedges and to the re-built wall at the back of the site, which leaves quite a lot more dry stone walling to do as part of the landscaping once the build is complete – it’s a good thing really that dry stone walling is a particular skill of Nigel’s, as paying someone to do it would really blow our budget! – he rebuilt the wall behind the cottage earlier this year, after it had been completely dug through and undermined by our friendly local rabbit population. He’s going to have quite a lot of work to do!

Clearing work complete

There’s something odd about having the ground clear – it somehow makes the whole build seem ‘real’ rather than something we’ve been planning and imagining for months. Do stay tuned – footings, foundations and the floor slab next!

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