November 26th marked a significant milestone as our one-thousandth day on the project, so we decided it was a good time to summarise the ups and downs of the self-building experience.

It all started back in 2003, as we were looking far and wide for a barn conversion project, and we were delighted to find this one just up the road from our previous home in Weston. We took possession of the barns on March 1 2004, and by then of course we'd read all the self-building magazines, watched the TV shows and had been to the exhibitions. As we walked around the site on that first day we began to realise the enormity of the task ahead, although we must confess we didn't really know all that was to come, for surely some degree of blissful ignorance is an essential requirement for the self-builder, along with slightly irrational enthusiasm and a tolerant bank manager.



Our first challenge was to get services on site, as we had no power, telephone, water or drainage. Obtaining these fundamentals required working through a labyrinth of bureaucracies entangling public and private sector enterprises; thankfully the frustration of that experience was countered by the pleasure of actually working on site as we learnt to drive diggers and lay drains, pipes and cables. By mid summer we were plumbed and wired and able to move on site into the ubiquitous static caravan in the field, much to the delight of the sheep, chickens and pigs who decided to move in with us.



Winter in the caravan was every bit as chilling as it sounds; the good news was that it is very easy to heat such a small space, but with absolutely no insulation it cooled down again just as quickly. We awoke many mornings to find the inside of the windows frozen over, which makes one rather keen to get on with the building work just to warm up.



Our focus in the first year was to get the bedroom areas built, which involved stripping and rebuilding the roofs, digging out floors and building a new wall to close the open-fronted barn. When clearing the floors we managed to recover about 3000 old bricks, half of which have since been recycled in the front wall. During this time we undertook yet more groundworks, with diggers, breakers and dumpers becoming regular visitors on site. We owe an apology to everyone in the village for all the noise and dust during that phase: we made an effort to delay our demolition until after 10am during weekends, but we did end up working late at night with floodlights blazing.



Summer 2005 saw us achieve the next milestone, as we moved out of the caravan and into the first few rooms of the barns. We were determined to be out of the caravan a year after moving into it, a goal we reached by the narrowest of margins. The deadline was August 1, so as the church clock was chiming midnight on July 31 we were grabbing the last few arm-loads of contents from the caravan and sprinting down to the barn, just getting ourselves in before the twelfth gong of the bell. At a stroke we had gone from trailer trash to squatters, living in a couple of draughty rooms in the corner of a building site. Progress!




The next phase of work was the most ambitious, most visible and certainly greatly satisfying: rebuilding the old stone barn on the road side. The task began with a healthy dose of destruction, as we knocked the rotten remains of the cedar shingles off the roof. We had heard from one of the village stalwarts that he recalled putting the shingles on just after the war, so they did well to last nearly 60 years. Bizarrely we had that discussion while watching our cherished old Beetle burn out on the side of the road...



Once the cedar shingles were cleared we photographed and labelled every old timber in the roof structure, so they could all be safely removed, cleaned and later restored to their original positions. While they were off we built a new front wall, recycling stone from window and door opens we'd created elsewhere. The builders did a beautiful job of the stonework, including repointing the entire building - inside and out - with a soft lime mortar. Next came the steel: in order to support the new roof a substantial steel frame was constructed, inside of which we reassembled the original timbers.



Outside was sheathed in a fireproof shell then the thatchers were able to start their magic. Every self-builder wants to be "done by Christmas", so our goal was to have the new thatched roof complete. The weather was kind so the thatchers achieved that with a few days to spare, and the weather gave us a further gift with a picturesque dusting of snow just after Christmas.




The next highlight came in January this year when we were pouring concrete floors. We had a delightful Saturday morning with a concrete truck straddled across the road blocking all traffic through the village as he poured concrete through a window into the roadside barn. Thanks to all those patient motorists for waiting as the concrete churned. The builders did a great job in the following weeks constructing the last section of roof linking the thatched barn to the central stables. That lead to our next milestone: the building inspector signed us off as having completed the external structure exactly two years into the project.



Since then we've been working indoors, building the ceilings beneath the thatch, lining the stables and fitting out the first sections of the underfloor heating before laying the floors. The builders have been busy manufacturing the glass bifold doors for the link and dining room, plus new stable doors, swinging glass doors and lounge windows.



One thousand days on we certainly can't claim to be near completion, nonetheless with the outside complete and the inside progressing we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. We've learnt all kinds of new skills along the way, met a lot of great people, and thoroughly enjoyed recycling some beautiful old buildings to create ourselves a home.




Green Farm Barn