Ed's Latest Build - Post & Beam House in Northern Scotland
It has been what seems like a long and cold winter on site, working on different plots ranging from Peterborough, Belfast to Kent and even a week in Cornwall for good measure. (Luckily only five minutes from where my grandparents live)
The weather had been doing its very best to slow us down so when I was asked to do 10 days away building 2 houses in Scotland, with some apprehension I agreed. A team was put together of Gwillam as foreman and Finley, Kristof and myself as site hands. Kitted out with one of the companies new vans and loaded to the max with kit and enough warm clothing to last the trip we set off.
The first week we worked on a single story oak frame extension just outside Ayrshire. The gale force winds and driving rain tried their best to plague our work efforts but by 6pm on the Sunday the job was signed off. We left site after some banter with Ross the local builder who found it very amusing that we were working an hour and a half above Inverness in winter. So after a 6 hour drive we arrived at the Achness hotel to a warm and friendly welcome.
The Achness Hotel.
After a good night’s sleep we were ready for some breakfast and nearing the end of our time away, keen to get on and complete the last house. The narrow lanes were icy but even in the Highlands they manage to get the gritting lorries out. After a rather scenic drive with a few detours complements of the satnav, (apparently you have the same postcode for all the houses on one 6 mile stretch of road!) we eventually came across the plot which I have to say was probably the best position possible in the area apart from perhaps the neighbouring Scottish castle, and one of the loveliest settings I have ever worked in. I don’t know where else you can have a large river, forestry landscape, railway bridge and a castle in one view.
Manoeuvring the slings and ties to the frame.
We pulled in to the site and were greeted by the clients Richard and Jackie who seemed as keen as us to see their house take shape over the next few days. We promptly had our site induction with Gwillam then set about unloading approximately 20 tonnes of oak from 2 lorries.
We start building a house like this by first making an oak square dropping 2 posts in, joining with a girding rail followed by another post and rail to create an L shape which is self-supporting and safe. We then follow round to complete the first square bay and then adding bays off that. Keeping the process as safe as possible is always the highest priority on site. To make a building that will stand for hundreds of years we have to use the one of the nicest but heaviest timbers around so safety and awareness is important, but with 12 years’ experience working at Oakwrights between the team everyone knows what their role is. By the end of the first day the ground floor is up and we retire back to the Achness hotel via the picturesque town of Bonar Bridge. Home cooked food and a pint was the order of the night.
Gwill and myself guiding the tenons into the mortices.
A picture of me guiding in one of the ridges harnessed on to the scaffold tower.
The following day we set about adding the wall plates and lowering in the sling braces and ties before the trusses could be made up and lowered into place. The tie beams and slings could be pegged and lifted in as a single piece. This just left Wednesday to add the trusses and ridges.
Finley topping out the house.
On the Wednesday we started by checking the frame was true on the pad and all squared up, before we built the trusses on the ground ready to be flown in. Starting from frame 1 and working across we lowered in the trusses connecting each one by the ridges and ridge braces to add strength to the building. That evening with fresh fish delivered to the hotel and the locals enjoying a jamming session in the bar, we had a very enjoyable evening knowing we were nearly finished. There were even some bagpipes thrown in for good measure.
Up by the reservoir, from left: Kristof, me, Gwill & Finley.
The last morning consisted of pegging up the frame with about 300 oak pegs and building an oak balcony and porch, by midday we had completed the build and after walking round with the clients enjoyed a glass of champagne and topping out ceremony. (This consists of the youngest member of the build, in this case Finley, tacking an oak branch of a local tree to the ridge of the house.) This is the final part of our job which is always an enjoyable time.
Before we departed on our long journey home the boys and I went on a short trek up the mountain to see the local castle, which is now a youth hostel, also to see the small loch at the top and get some pictures of the beautiful views.
The view down to the oak frame from the mountain. The drive home wasn’t all bad either.
After a 10 hour drive home it was the end of our trip to Scotland and it had been a good week’s work, plenty of laughs and a good team made the work a breeze. Even the weather on the last day was blue skies and sunshine, which really showed why people holiday and even move to Scotland.
The boys and I wish Richard and Jackie the very best in completing their self-sustaining eco build and thank them for their very kind letter we received saying how pleased they are with their oak frame and the work we did for them. I hope they are as pleased with the final outcome as we enjoyed working for them.
P.S. We appreciated the help from Mr Smalley hammering in the final few pegs.