Friday, December 9, 2011

Here's How We're Doing

A flurry of snow, beautifully clear skies, sunshine and a hurricane all in 24 hours. Work on site with the two holiday cottages has progressed well and we're pleased to dust off the blog to show you some updated photos.
The view here of the cottages from the east shows the two bedroomed stone building on the left of the photo and the four bedroomed one on the right. The larger cottage is finished partly in white render and will also have larch clad areas on the unfinished section you can see. The brown material visible is Pavatherm which is a compressed wood fibre board used as an external insulation material. That area will be larch clad which will age fairly quickly to a mellow silvery grey. The materials used fit very well with the local vernacular and have also been used on our own house. The red sandstone is well over 150 years old and is typically 2feet thick. The official naming of the two bedroomed cottage...

We commissioned a name stone which is placed high on the west gable of the cottage. I'm really pleased with the way the whole building looks now, the cleaned up stone is looking all the more splendid in the winter sunshine. For a quick reminder of how it looked check here.

Both cottages have access ramps and at grade entrances for wheelchair users. They also have plenty of big windows to maximise those views of our beautiful surroundings, being strong on energy conservation the windows are Argon filled double glazed with sustainable timber frames.The interior of The Old Dairy. The living space is a full height room with high level windows as well as ground floor sliding doors to the patio. You can just see the pipe which will serve the wood burning stove on the left.
The living space of the larger cottage is impressively large and, again, has big windows for big views.

The view below is of the Campsies (to the south-east) from one of the bedrooms.

One kitchen....

Solar thermal panels on the south facing roof....

and photovoltaic nicely generating electricity to serve both cottages.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Conic Hill and Loch Lomond wildlife

Last evening I had a lovely walk up Conic Hill on the eastern side of Loch Lomond. A quick midweek blast of exercise, some fresh air and a good opportunity to catch up on chat with friends. As summer winds down it is now getting dark around 9 o'clock but the trip up Conic is short steep hike from the Balmaha car park, ideal if you've got a spare hour or two. Last week we walked up as a family in glorious sunshine with a picnic so took ages longer and spent a decent amount of time enjoying the immense views in every direction. On the way down yesterday we met a few local coos, lovely large bulky Highland Cattle, a perfect Scottish scene.

Highland cattle are of course a domestic breed but the goats I saw on my previous lochside walk up near the north end of the loch are feral, there seems to be quite a healthy thriving population and are a common sight for walkers on the West Highland Way.

The next photo was taken rather quickly of an unknown creature in the water. It took a bit of time to realise we were watching a mink swimming just off shore carrying dead prey which appeared to be only slightly smaller than the mink itself. After swimming, the mink scampered across the beach and headed behind rocks to better cover. American mink have no natural predators, save man, in this country and are a result of the generations following escapees from mink farms as far back as the 1920s. The mink population have become a nuisance in parts but I was intrigued to watch it as I've never previously seen one.

And finally, has anyone any knowledge what this skeleton is from? Photographed just north of Inversnaid on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. I spotted it when walking day 3 of the West Highland Way. It seemed far too pristine to be real. Any ideas folks?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


... has been fairly rapid during the long days of a Scottish summer. Since pouring the floor slabs the timber frame has gone up in a matter of weeks, with work now starting on building up the old dairy's stone walls another 400mm to roof eaves level so our guests will have plenty of headroom upstairs!

Construction design is similar to the house, using an insulated timber frame clad with woodfibre board on the outside for extra insulation and to reduce thermal bridging. This keeps the wind out and, with the help of fancy tapes and membranes on the inside, the heat in. Heating is to be from a ground source heat pump and solar thermal panels, with solar PV offsetting electricity use. Inside we just have underfloor heating on the ground floor which will keep things cosy during the chilly winter months!

Over the next couple of months we should see the roof windows in and the roofs slated, then hopefully, the windows and doors will have have arrive so the cottages can be wind and watertight before the cooler and wetter months...roll on Autumn!

Monday, June 27, 2011

West Highland Way Day 3

A whole week ago now my friend and I were joined by another keen soul and enjoyed a splendid day on the West Highland Way. As we are walking this long distance footpath in stages day 3 was undertaken as a day trip - luckily its close enough to home for easy transport either end. The final four days of the walk to Fort William are planned for September when we are hoping for fine weather! Unfortunately we in the west of Scotland have had a wet May and June but last Monday's walk up the east side of Loch Lomond was blessed with warmth and a dry day. As we set off from Rowardennan the views were typically wonderful of the Loch and the hills, such a great vista. Familiar territory but changing views and different perspectives gave me such a great feeling.

After a short distance the path climbs up the lower slopes of Ben Lomond and as you gain a bit of height the views through the trees are inspiring; the photo above is of The Cobbler, an iconic hill in Argyll. Properly known as Ben Arthur it is just under the magic 3000ft altitude to qualify as a munro.

The path is not difficult in terms of navigation but day 3 of the way is regarded as the most tricky in terms of terrain. From broad forest tracks the route narrows down and becomes quite rocky in places, always needing to adjust your stride, and being sure to place your foot well. Just a few days beforehand the West Highland Way race runners took this path, setting off from Milngavie in the wee small hours. The fastest runner completed the Way in 16 hours 24mins. Aside from that being an amazing feat of physical endurance and fitness I'm amazed the pace could be maintained on the rough, rocky path north of Inversnaid.

Kath and Karen

As it was such a good day we had lunch on the shore, the water was clear and gently washed onto the stones, in all honesty I could have stayed there all afternoon, life seemed very easy and tranquil.

As we walked further north the narrow lochside path amongst the trees leaves the base of the Ben and moved into broader areas as we approach the top of the Loch, it is relatively narrow at this point and again this enhances the change in the landscape as you move towards the Highlands proper. We met people of many nationalities on the Way, one American couple on their first trip to Scotland had come over specifically to do this walk. With the variety of scenery and terrain the West Highland Way offers it's easy to see the attraction.

Just before leaving the edge of Loch Lomond there's a great viewpoint looking south, we spent time admiring it and then turned away to finish the walk and the day in the traditional manner with a celebratory drink in the pub.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pouring the Floors

The monster concrete pump pouring the floor slabs for the two adjacent cottages, this covers the underfloor heating which is attached to the steel mesh. With the heating encased in the concrete slab this provides a high level of thermal mass to stabilise the internal temperature of the properties. We used the same principle on the main house which we built 3 1/2 years ago and it really works well, alongwith the high levels of insulation and air-tightness.

For the most part since commencing the build the weather in this part of the world has been unseasonly poor with twice the usual rainfall and generally lower temperatures. As the concrete was poured on a warm, sunny, breezy day the builders then had to spray water onto the surface to reduce the temperature as it set in order to avoid cracking.

Water Supply

These two photos indicate a bit of the mayhem created by the section of new water supply pipework around the holiday cottages and to the main house; the collection of pipes which previously supplied us with water was a mish mash of different diameters, materials and depthes which had been added to, altered and haphazardly repaired over the years; some of the supply pipe was laid just below the surface of the driveway a couple of winters ago our mains water supply froze for 2 weeks. Thankfully the supply pipe is now at an appropriate depth. As you can see from the photos it was rather wet when the work took place, adding to the trench-like feel of the place.

The stone building is the 2 bedroomed holiday cottage, to the right you can just see the local hill known as The Dumpling, a quick 20 minute walk up for one of the best views of Loch Lomond.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Holiday Cottages Underway

So here we are starting a new and exciting adventure at East Cambusmoon. Three years ago we moved into our house, beautifully designed and immensely energy efficient, see here. We adopted a very low energy approach to the design and the construction detailing which focussed on significant levels of insulation, a high standard of air-tightness, strong passive solar design and a ground source heat pump for the heating and hot water, supported by a small PV array and mechanical heat recovery and ventilation. When we were at the design stage 4 years ago this approach was not widely taken but, even in the short time since we moved in, more people and architects are looking more broadly at how homes and buildings are managed environmentally. We joined the AECB and adopted their Silver Standard for energy use and carbon emissions. In truth the house has far out-performed this standard and even in the last particularly cold winter was warm all day every day at very low cost.

The main difference between the projects are that the house was a new build and the holiday cottages are a conversion of two very tired farm buildings. Notwithstanding our intentions to replicate some of the approaches we took with a brand new building we are very aware that we are renovating an old dairy and byre and will certainly be retaining the architectural features the buildings; the red sandstone which was quarried locally, the arch over the doorway and the window recess with wooden lintel. Here we are creating two adjoining holiday cottages, one of two bedrooms, one of four. As we are in Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park we hope that some of the year-round visitors to this stunningly scenic area might like to come and stay in the cosy warm luxury of our holiday cottages. As you can see we're just starting the conversion works and we'll do our best to record the journey on this blog.

The building story so far has been one of rapid change. The roofs have fallen in and the rubble cleared out; in the stone building (which will have two bedrooms) the 'hole' for the sliding patio doors has been punched through and the stone stockpiled for reuse; in the larger unit, which was brick built in the 1950s, the walls collapsed so extra blockwork and labour will be required; floor levels were equalised as existing floors sloped. Then we get into the first stage of serious insulation - the floor. So much heat is lost through the floor, don't waste it!

In the past week 200mm of polystyrene and polyeurathane insulation boards have been laid throughout the buildings and on top of this will float 30 tonnes of steel and concrete in the 4 bedroom unit and 15 tonnes of the same in the two bedroom unit. Before the concrete is poured the underfloor heating pipes are installed; this is done by fixing the pipework (large diameter polythene pipe ideal for use with heat pumps) to the steel reinforcement mesh with tie-wraps. This approach works well with ground source heat pumps which have lower operating temperatures than the more frequently used shallow tray form of underfloor heating. The concrete provides the thermal mass necessary to stabilise the temperature and keep those cottages lovely and warm when needed.We're using Anderson Floorwarming for the underfloor heating, hot and cold water systems, installation of the ground source heat pump and solar. We are happily working with the same builder, subcontractors and architect as we did on the house so its nice to see familiar faces back on site.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

M74 Bike Ride

Today we joined the M74 Bike n hike ride along the new link road joining the M74 to the south side of the Kingston Bridge section of the M8. The contractors opened up a stretch of the new road to cyclists, runners, wheelchair users and families with kids on scooters, in buggies and in trailers to raise funds for a combination of 8 charities. Good PR on their part, nice bit of fundraising and good fun for us.

It was amusing to cycle under the blue road signs on the overhead gantry indicating Carlisle, the children wanted to know if we were cycling to the Lake District today? The route was only 14km long but we enjoyed the blast along the tarmac despite the wind making the return leg harder work for the children.
The new link road will open in late June, it will be interesting to see if it eases traffic congestion in central Glasgow and make the through route to Loch Lomond any quicker.

Monday, May 16, 2011

West Highland Way Day 2 - Drymen to Rowardennan

Day 2 (yesterday, Sunday) - an earlyish start of 8am for us, not because we're awfully diligent but Kath's husband's offer of a lift to where we ended day1 fitted with tee-off time at Strathendrick golf course. The forecast for the afternoon was heavy rain so it seemed like an ideal chance to get a few miles under our belts before the rain set in. Weak sunshine and very light showers barely penetrated the Garabhan Forest, the first section of today's walk, but it was lovely to be amongst the silence and calm of the trees and clearly hear bird song as we warmed up the muscles for the 15 mile section to Rowardennan.

Forestry operations have been ongoing recently so the tracks were muddy but at least there were no machines working today so no diversions were necessary.

As we left the forested area it was most exciting and rewarding to see Loch Lomond and some of its islands. We had a decent view although the mizzley rain never quite went away. The streams we crossed were in fine flow and everything looked green and vibrant. Our first proper view of Conic Hill and it seemed further than we had thought, perhaps because, for a period, you spend time walking away from it rather than towards it. However, we were soon at the foot of the eastern shoulder of the hill. Although I've been up Conic a few times it has always been directly from the car park at Balmaha so, like day1's walk, it was really good to see it from a different perspective.
As we climbed the shoulder onto the ridge the rain came down, paths were running as small streams, and as we tipped onto the top we were met with a strong wind which drove the misty rain directly at us. No stopping, no views to admire, we just put our heads down and dropped down into Balmaha as soon as we could. On day1 of the West Highland Way we encountered over 100 people, on day2 it was significantly less. Partly this will be due to differing start times but also many we met had chosen a low level option to avoid Conic Hill. Those who we met up the hill seemed slightly manic and happy and we had some nice wee chats with fellow walkers.

Dropping down into Balmaha you pass through some lovely native woods with plenty of bluebells, young ferns and gothic-like fallen trees. I really enjoy a stroll here and its immensely accessible from the Balmaha side without going to the top of the hill.

A reviving coffee stop at the Oak Tree pub and we were on our way north alongside the Loch. The path is mainly through the wooded edges of the loch, sometimes with short bursts up slopes to viewpoints and sometimes with boots crunching on the shoreline beaches.

The photo below is at Millarochy Bay.. And this one is at Sallochy Bay, about an hour south of our journey's end, when the sun came through and finally beat the rainclouds away for the rest of the day.

We both found the last part of the walk pretty tiring. Its like being a kid again, quite literally thinking 'are we nearly there yet?!' Day2's walk has a little sting in the tail, a couple of final short sharp inclines just to eke that last bit of effort from our warm heavy feet.

The view from Rowardennan looking north. Loch Lomond is a beautiful place indeed.

Most people we met were stopping in Rowardennan for the night, some were undertaking the next 7 mile section to Inversnaid without stopping, and we, like others, were heading home to make plans and dates for continuing the rest of the Way.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

West Highland Way - Day 1 Milngavie to Drymen

One winter's eve, in front of the stove, with a glass of wine to hand my friend Kath and I decided that 2011 would be the year for us to tackle a long distance footpath. Not just any route but our local West Highland Way, a 97mile wander from the outer 'burbs of Glasgow through lowland valley to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and then north through the beauty of Highland Scotland, across the wilds of Rannoch Moor to the edge of Glencoe and then finally via the Devils Staircase and on to Fort William and the bottom of Ben Nevis, our highest mountain. Today we took the step from fireside ramblings to real ones.

At the start in Milngavie. There were masses of people starting the walk today, Saturday being the most popular day to start. We are walking the route in weekend 'chunks' as neither of us can take a full week off work at the moment but some were starting out with full camping gear for a week of walking. Lots of people, lots of approaches.

Sometimes getting out of towns can be the trickiest part of a route but the waymarking and the path for the whole of today was very clear and to be honest the map was kept in my pack the whole day.

The early part of the route took us through pretty woodland, the sun dappling through the trees and falling on swathes of bluebells, campion and other wildflowers.

After the Carbeth road we entered a wider and more open valley with wide views, big sky and first views of Ben Lomond, the Cobbler and beyond. We only live a short distance from here but it was so interesting walking on a footpath in a different part of the valley to the road we may usually travel. Its also fun taking a slower pace and having the enjoyment of absorbing your surroundings.

The photo below is of Dumgoyne hill, at the bottom of this hill is Glengoyne Distillery which is, I believe, the most southerly of the highland malts.

Throughout today the path provided easy walking, some of it on disused railway line routes. There are various places en route where you can stop for lunch or visit a cafe or pub and it would be very easy to leave a car at either end of the route to make it a linear day walk.

This marvellous looking sheep (anyone know what breed?) looked on as Kath adjusted her boots to prevent them rubbing her ankle. We're both treating this weekend as a warm-up for the route further north and what we relished most was the knowledge that because we live close by we would be heading to our own homes at the end of today.
As the walk goes through the hamlet of Gartness (good for watching the salmon leap at the right time of year) there is a very sweet sight offering tired walkers replenishment at an honesty shop outside someones house.

As you approach the final couple of miles of any walk I'm sure appreciation of the view is heightened by the wearniness of your muscles, this view below is looking back to Dumgoyne hill which at the start of the day lay ahead of us. We've had a fun day. Really enjoyed finishing the walk into Drymen and jumping into the pub for a large glass of wine each. We called a lift home for the 4 mile journey and a relaxing evening.