Spring is here and we’re nearing ground level – April 2014

Work on site has been suspended since Katie became too round to work in the trenches in January, and in early February our daughter Rose arrived.  After a period of re-adjustment, and waiting for the site to dry out after the wettest winter ever, we started work back on site at the beginning of April.  This year, as well as being joined by friends on site, we were joined by our beloved van, condemned to a new life as the site office by the financial inevitabilities of MOT failure.



An old friend in a new job – the van joins the team…


Thus far, we have done two full weekends with the invaluable help of friends and relatives. Whilst I joined our work force, Katie (helped by Rose, kept up a supply for food and drink as well as supervising my tyre levelling efforts using her far superior experience in this).


Rose helping supervise the workers

The first job was to level the floor of the foundation trenches still to be filled.  John (complete with new bionic knee – see him go….!), and then Guy and Viv helped with barrowing and shovelling aggregate and laying a compacted layer of this on the bottom of the rough trenches.  The aggregate needs to be flat, level and compacted, but also at the correct depth.


John barrowing with the aid of luvverly gloves and hi-tech knee


Guy compacting the aggregate, the hard way (no wacker plates here – just ‘birder power’


A partially levelled trench

This we then levelled using the laser level to (hopefully) allow the tyre/gravel foundations to come to the right level at the ground surface.



Guy and Viv checking the levels – Guy doing what he’s told and Viv telling him!


Now that’s level, or as John would say… (Click on this link to hear John’s considered professional opinion of this work)

Once we’d levelled about half the remaining trenches, I decided to mark out the position of the walls that will eventually support the stairs, so that we could put in the foundations for these.  It was at this point I discovered my deliberate mistake….. The first time I’d measured these out, so that I could dig the trenches at Christmas, I had obviously had too much festive cheer, and had not removed enough for one wall.  So, armed with a pick and a shovel (rather than a mini-digger that would have made it soooo much easier) I had to remove another square meter of very compacted rubbish and clay to allow for the wall.












After this, a degree of re-levelling was required, resulting in the beautiful flat hole in the ground below:


After this, we could all return to work for the week, to recover, and reconvene on Good Friday for brick cleaning and filling the level trenches with tyres.

Good Friday morning saw the arrival of several willing volunteers, to set about sorting of the remains of a huge pile of brick rubble that was once a prime example of Victorian engineering – the old railway bridge. Built in the late 1800s, they didn’t stint on mortar, so the bricks take some cleaning.  John set to work on them with his huge implement (rubble breaker) and then the crack team of reclamation engineers (actually Caffers, Wrighty, Jim, Archie, Lulu, and Tony) set to work cleaning the salvageable bricks.




Six hours later, several large piles, totalling over 200 bricks, had appeared.  An amazing effort by all, especially Archie and Lulu.

Whilst our heroic team tackled the bricks, John abandoned his tool, and with me began laying out and levelling tyres in our newly finished trenches.  By the end of the day, we had  half filled one trench.



Some of the team admiring the day’s work


The day’s team (minus John – taking the picture, and Lulu)







Building on the momentum of the previous day, Richard, Sara and Lucy arrived on Easter Saturday to continue the tyre work.  Another long day resulted in the completion of one wall’s worth of foundation and half of another, to add to the haul of clean bricks.


This has been a great start to our summer’s work, and wouldn’t have been possible without the willing help of so many friends – thank you all!

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About scampifield

I'm a conservation scientist, working in UK, European and African habitat conservation with NGOs and academic institutions. I am interested in the impacts of land use on conservation and ecosystem services. My wife and I are building a new house, paying particular attention to the resources used in both its construction and daily running. Follow our progress on this blog as we attempt to marry up resource protection, conservation and sound construction.....

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