Unfortunately for everyone, as the rain came to an end in mid-March, a different sort of storm was brewing. I have to say, we treat our social media and our blog as a bit of a respite from the ”C” word, but the fact of the matter is, COVID had changed all of our lives in a matter of weeks.
So with everyone’s plans halted and changed so suddenly, all across the globe, how was life here at Jameswood?
Cal and I couldn’t have found ourselves in a more privileged position when Covid arrived in the UK. We are living rent-free in a caravan that sits on our own land. Although there was no longer an income coming in from bartending, our fixed living costs were low. Neither of us were high-risk, and though we had family members who were, all our close family and friends have been able to stay at home for the duration of the lockdown. To top it all off, we have a beautiful set of hills to access straight from our backyard, which gives us an incredible escape during our government sanctioned exercise.
I want to preface this post by saying that Cal and I are deeply grateful for all the frontline workers who have been keeping us safe during the pandemic. Thank you.
Of course, with the shutting of major retailers, including our chosen building supplier, getting materials for the project was going to be a challenge. As rumours spread about impending restrictions, and when France declared their country was locking down, Cal and I sprung to action. We wouldn’t be able to make the large timber order needed to frame our house, but while others were stockpiling toilet paper, we were filling the van with as many building supplies as it could safely handle. The plan was to keep building during lockdown – what else would there be to do?
Fortunately, we had incredible friends to keep us company and help us with the house during our lockdown. Kate and Jake had arrived to surprise Cal for his birthday just a day before a UK-wide lockdown was announced. They had lost their job in Switzerland due to the pandemic and were now living in their beautifully converted van. They decided it was best to stay put and became a part of our household for the duration of the shutdown.
When Kate first saw the back of Jameswood, she described it as dingy and dank. She wasn’t wrong. The patchwork cement that had been applied to the building over the years was dark and dirty. What’s worse is cement could actually do damage to our traditionally built lime-based building! Historic Environment Scotland advises not to use cement on lime-mortar buildings because it can trap moisture in the walls and speed up deterioration. It can also contribute to damp in your living space, which can be unhealthy, and cause your house to heat inefficiently. For these reasons, we had planned to chip off all the old cement, and replace it with lime.
The week that Scotland locked down, we were finally blessed with beautiful, sunny weather. Dry weather is PERFECT for repointing a building! We couldn’t have asked for better timing. With plenty of sand and lime, sunny days, and a global pandemic in full swing, there wasn’t much else to do but start chipping!
We would take it in turns chipping away at the tough cement that covered Jameswood’s walls. Underneath this envelope, a beautiful array of stonework was emerging.
Following behind the loud chipper, someone else would patiently carry out the task of repointing Jameswood.
While lockdown didn’t effect progress on our restoration, it was presenting us with an unexpected challenge…
The pool had shut.
We had an old tub in the yard, and a wood burner with a built-in water tank, which a friend had given us when we first moved to Jameswood. Cal and Jake found some old copper pipe that had been harvested from our derelict home, and with some resourcefulness and clever tinkering, the two engineered us a beautiful wood-fired bathtub in just a few days!
My first go in the bathtub must have been the best bath I’ve ever taken. The luxurious Victorian roll-top was filled to chin-level, and instead of cooling down like a regular tub, the fire would keep the water toasty. Even when the electric shower arrived, we continued to treat ourselves to a bath every so often.
I love sitting in the water on a calm evening, listening to the birds go to bed, and watching the bats come out as the sky turns a burning orange. We have decided our tub is now a permanent fixture at Jameswood, and looking back, it probably wouldn’t have come to fruition if it wasn’t for our sudden lockdown, and a kind looking man selling us a broken electric shower in a parking lot.
Another slightly less pressing concern of ours was the absence of flour and yeast from any grocery shelves in Dunoon. Last summer, a Workawayer had built us a beautiful wood-fired pizza oven, which was made out of reclaimed bricks from the house. Cal LOVES pizza, and had grown accustomed to weekly home-made pizza nights. He was devastated that he couldn’t share this tradition with his best friend Jake.
So, the shutdown really wasn’t all that bad for us. Since we work from home…on our home, government sanctioned lockdowns kept us busy on our restoration. We cherished the time we got to spend with Kate and Jake, who would otherwise have been off on their own adventures in Switzerland and beyond. We were blessed with beautiful, summery weather, and we had breathtaking remote places to explore when we went out for our daily exercise.
I wanted to thank everyone who has thought of us during these difficult times. Cal and I sincerely hope everyone is staying safe and healthy at home, and again, want to thank all the front line workers who are helping us get through this pandemic.
Thanks again for joining us, as we take on the restoration of Jameswood Villa.
Xx Claire (and Cal)