Monday, May 10, 2010

What to do with our Old Walls?

Compared with the cottage, the house renovation has been so easy.  We have the wonderful Monsieur B as our project manager and when we have any concerns we speak to him and he sorts it. 

Until now.

To keep within budget, we limited what the builders and artisans would do for us.  One job we thought we could manage ourselves would be painting the walls in the dining room and my study.  So we began to remove the layers of old paint and crepi so we would have clean walls to paint. 

Well the old paint and crepi came off easily enough. It was just that the old plaster and render behind fell off as well. Suddenly we are down to stonework, some of which is damp and crumbling and no more than small bits of rubble and brick, not the large shaped pieces we had hoped for.

So where to stop?  And what to do now? Do we ignore the budget and go back to the plasterers?  Trouble is they are likely to be booked up for weeks (if not months) ahead and our furniture is coming out of store at the end of May.

We know that old houses are best lime rendered and lime washed so that the stonework can breathe, but we have little understanding of what materials to buy and how to prepare them.  It all feels very daunting.

Then through friends we meet someone who knows about old houses.  He comes, looks at the mess and shows us things we have never noticed: like the stone pillars of the gate to the veranda that have been cut down from an old doorway; and the beams in the gîte that come from old colombage - the holes in the beams were cut to take the wooden cross pieces between the mud and horsehair. 

He reassures, tells us what we can do and is coming to help. It feels like the arrival of the cavalry.

The Kitchen is in

(Started to write this in April. Forgot to post it.)

The kitchen is in, looking sleek and modern against our off-white freshly painted walls and the beautifully laid floor tiles. 

Two cupboards with shelves that slide out, either side of the big fridge freezer.  At last I shall know what we've got in store without having to scrabble at the back of the top shelf while balancing on a ladder.

Large pan drawers under the worktop offer a great space for pots, pans and day-to-day china.

The new black cooker, bought via the internet, looks better in real life than on screen.  The knobs and handles are dark brass, not the bright gold I feared they might be.  It sits in the fireplace flanked by cupboards.  The chimney breast is a bit low for Tod, but he'll manage to cook on the front jets.

The fireplace colombage had been sand-blasted to remove the sooty tar from years of wood burning. Some bits are still sooty. I thought it looked charmingly rustic but not with the new smart cooker and cupboards.  It just looks grubby. So we've asked for one of Monsieur G's workmen to come back and scrape out the dirty cement and repoint.

We (or rather I) have had second thoughts about the tiles for behind the worktop.  Having made a mistake in the cottage, I don't want to do the same in the house.  I find it hard to visualise the total effect of tiles, worktop and units. Each may look fine on their own but not together.  I like the tiles we first chose. They echo the reddish browns of the colombage but they are not enough of a contrast to the taupe of the units and the effect from a distance looks drab.  The colour of our off-white walls look better and so we've gone for the same in the tiling, plus a thin line of dark orange as a single band along the length of the worktop.  That took a lot of deciding.  The thin line of orange tile is called a listel in French.  I've no idea what it is in English.

We have to wait the usual "quinze jours, trois semaines" (two to three weeks) for the tiles to arrive.  Shame.  The tiler came this morning (Saturday) complete with his small terrier that Vita teases, hoping to get the kitchen finished.

The rejected tiles

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What a Week

Monsieur G and his workmen, lorries, vans and diggers completely took over the drive for most of the week as the "fosse septique" went in, the pipework was laid and then a large "bac à sable" (sand filter bed) and a drain were dug out on the other side of the drive in what used to be Serge's field. 

Friends told us they had planned to drop by but hurriedly drove on when they saw the controlled chaos.

As an aside, when he had a couple of hours spare,  Monsieur G also drove the digger back and forth over the rubble that we've been digging out of the ground around the cottage and at last we have a turning and parking space.  We no longer have to turn the cars up by the house and reverse back down the drive - alright in the day time but challenging at night in the pitch dark when it's hard to judge where the bank is on one side and the shed on the other.

The painter also arrived and squeezed his van in somehow and tuned his radio to a loud talk show programme that seemed to last all week.  Too late to do the kitchen mind you.  We thought the kitchen units were being delivered at the end of last week or early this, so we decided we had better crack on and paint the kitchen ourselves.  Long roller poles to the fore (the ceiling is high and the walls large) we applied three coats starting Friday and finishing Monday.  We chose a greyish white and bought every pot in our local DIY store plus two large cans of undercoat.  By Sunday we'd run out and it was obvious we still needed that third coat. 

French paints have a reputation for being expensive and not covering well. Local shops don't carry the stock.  And everywhere is shut on Sundays.  (Part of the charm and the frustration of living in France.)  Not a good mix for deciding at the last minute to do some DIY. So Sunday we gardened and helped Ian and his young mate lug our big fridge-freezer and dishwasher out of their van.  They'd taken them out of store for us as the kitchen has to be built round them.  Monday Tod set out, further afield, for the extra cans.

In the end the kitchen arrived late Thursday evening and the fitter (who also did the cottage) came yesterday.  Tall, quiet and calm, he worked steadily through all the large cardboard cartons and we already have everything in place on the long wall under the window. It all fits round the fridge and the dishwasher and looks very sleek. 

He's back this morning fitting the remaining units into what was the chimney breast, either side of our new, big black gas stove that's been sitting in the garage on its pallet.  At last we'll have an oven that takes more than just a chicken and a small tin of roast potatoes.  We might even get the parsnips in as well.

And with all this going on, we've gardened all week under clear blue skies and dug out pebbles from what one day will be the cottage lawn to form a smooth surface to the new parking area.

And in the background, between the rumbles of the diggers, we've heard the nightingales tuning up for summer.

Fosse septique goes in

Bac à sable being dug

Drain being dug

Friday, April 9, 2010


Monsieur G asked me to come and see something and as we walked he explained.  Except that the key word - coule, couler, or something - meant absolutely nothing to me.  I think I'm making progress in French until I find myself in a situation like this.  He squeezed the sides of his little finger and I sort of gathered that it was the size of something, but what?

Then we were peering down into the trench that he'd dug across the drive that was to take the rain water pipe and the outlet from the fosse septique and gradually, with lots of using the same words, I got the message.  We knew that he had to take care digging around and under the pipe that carried our mains water down to the cottage.  He grumbled at how badly it had been laid, too near to the surface (what about frost?) and no coloured netting laid above it (a useful ploy to warn anyone digging up the road that there is a pipe below, each service has its own colour). 

It wasn't our mains water pipe he wanted me to see, but another old metal one that he'd cut through and that was leaking (so that's what couler means!).  And the little finger gesture?  The quantity of water.

The leak was slow, but persistent, a muddy brown colour.  I guessed it was coming from the well in Monsieur F's field up behind us.  Hard to believe but the cottage at the bottom of the drive never had mains water. It was only served by a single pipe from the well, laid below the lane, that lead to an outside tap. The flow is now no more than a trickle.  I hope the flow was better when Serge and his parents lived there.

We agree that Monsieur G will redirect the flow and lay a new pipe in the same trench that will hold our drainage system.  He'll put a tap at the side of the drive and perhaps, after it's rained heavily, there may be enough well water to use on the garden.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Things have been pretty tranquil at the house for the last few weeks - until yesterday.

Monsieur M hasn't been round much to do the electrics and the plumbing, but the tiler arrrived and has been working steadily.  I've been storing up pictures of his work to do a post.

Then Monsieur B, our project manager, announced that the ground work for the fosse septique and the drains would start this week. And suddenly the front of the house looks like a World War I battle field.

Our new entrance will be up this bank 

Trenches in front of the garage

When we first started thinking about the drains we happened to mention to our architect that the floor of the garage got damp.  So he suggested running a drain down the bank alongside the garage. Seemed such an easy thing to say - "yes let's have a drain running down by the garage". Yesterday the trench for the drain was dug. Which entailed digging up two large buddleias, the stump of a large palm tree and a large concrete base for what was meant to be a barbeque area. Monsieur G was not impressed with what he unearthed.  The bank is largely builder's rubble thrown up against the side of the garage - no wonder water was seeping through the wall.  The new trench is reassuringly deep.

Rubble dug out from alongside the garage

The new drain along the garage wall

This morning, Monsieur G is in the digger making the hole for the fosse septique in front of the garage.  The hole is already more than the height of a man and he's still going.  Interesting to see how quickly the layer of clay gives way to solid sandstone.  That's why our house is where it is - on a solid outcrop jutting out of the surrounding fields.

The fosse hole

The new fosse septique

With the digger, two lorries (one shifting the dug out earth, the other carrying the new fosse) three, or is it four, vans and cars parked in the drive, there's no way we can get our cars past and down to the cottage. So Tod's left them up at Serge's barn on the top road.

Photographing the rubble I came across this piece of blue painted wall.  Phoebe tells me the farmers painted their walls and shutters blue to deter flies.  I wonder if it worked?

PS: all the cars, vans and lorries have just untangled themselves and the drive is clear. Eighteen minutes past twelve. Everyone's gone for lunch.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Plastering Progress

Monsieur C and his team have finished and the plastering looks great.  Really sharp.  And he worked so fast.  He had a large machine that squeezed the plaster like toothpaste on to the wall and then giant-sized floats to smooth it out.

The kitchen, especially, is a joy.  The walls were pitted and uneven, full of left-over bits of building, old nails, redundant electric sockets, cracked render, all covered in a fine and impossible to remove layer of grease and dirt.  Everything has been covered with insulation, then thin red bricks and finally a smooth sleek layer of plaster.

The insulation is so thick, we've reduced the width of the kitchen by some twenty-seven centimetres and we've had to modify the design of the units along the wall under the new window.

In our budget I'd forgotten that all the new surfaces - walls and ceilings - would need painting. Or maybe I'd naively hoped we needn't bother and just the plaster would be enough. But no.  Also the untouched walls in the dining room now look very sad compared with the new.  So we're getting a quote for painting the lot. 

There may be a problem with when the painting can be done.  French artisan builders like to plan their clients' work well in advance.  It's not unusual to have to wait months for a job to start.  I hope Monsieur B can be very persuasive.

Kitchen - before work started, being dismantled

Kitchen corner showing insulation and bricks 

Pile of  thin wall bricks (really brittle - awful for banging picture hooks into)

Thickness of  insulation

Kitchen plastered

Lounge plastered

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


So much activity at the house yesterday.

Monsieur C was there, plus helper, putting up the final bricks that cover the thick insulation in the kitchen, so that his plasterers can do the kitchen walls.

Two of Monsieur G's carpenters were fitting the new doors that will go from the new entrance hall into the lounge and the back of the house.

Monsieur M was steadily working his way through the myriad of electrical and plumbing connections he has to make.

Then we were up there with Monsieur B measuring the kitchen and bathrooms for the tiling and trying not to get in the way of everyone else.

And then Monsieur C's three children turned up and stood in the kitchen smiling shyly - it's half-term.

Vita thought all these people were VERY exciting!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wet, Wet, Wet

Saturday afternoon and yet again we've had an emergency water company engineer on site; this time up to his elbows in the manhole where the water meter sits.

I thought about getting my camera and taking a picture of his bottom in the air, but it seemed rude to wander off and leave him when he was baling ice cold water as fast as he could so he could get at the problem.  So we carried buckets and made small talk in French and English.

Fortunately the problem was the water company side of the meter.  Our side and he would have driven away.

Somehow the water company pipe coming into the meter had become detached and within minutes the manhole was full and water was flowing down the garden in the direction of the house and along the pipework into the kitchen.  We now have a very soggy kitchen floor (again).

Strange that it should have happened just after our plasterers arrived and tried to use their pressure equipment for spraying on the plaster.  But the water engineer thought that the new pipe our side of the meter might have settled in the ground and in doing so tugged the meter out of its connection - maybe it was a combination of the two.

Anyway, he sucked on his teeth and muttered about the previous workmanship (doesn't every plumber when they come to fix a problem?) and added another joint to the meter to give it a bit more leeway.

We're seeing the floor-tiler and Monsieur B at six this evening to talk kitchen and bathroom tiling.  We'll have to ask Monsieur B how we can make sure the kitchen stays dry.  New tiles and new kitchen units don't go well with the occasional flood.

A Water Leak (or Two)
(And down at the cottage) Water, Water Everywhere

Monday, February 1, 2010


Our first winter we struggled to keep any warmth in the house and finally bought special aluminium foil insulation and just rolled it onto the floor of the loft to give some sort of protection.

We struggle to keep warm in cold weather because when we look up at the beams we see the bare wooden slats of the loft floor.  In the days when the loft was used to store hay just having the bare boards was an excellent plan.  The hay insulated the rooms below. 

Lounge ceiling showing floor boards of the loft

Now, we are having the house insulated properly.  In the lounge the insulation will cover the cross beams and we will just have the two main beams showing in the new ceiling.  In the dining room however, we think the cross beams make an attractive feature and so the insulation is being fitted between the beams.

Lounge ceiling insulation

Dining room ceiling insulation between the cross beams

The bedroom (which was a cow shed) had little or nothing below the bare roof.  The new insulation feels like a duvet has been thrown over the room and already it feels so much more cosy.

Bedroom ceiling insulation like a large duvet

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Roof

The roof over the garage and one of the bedrooms had a different type of tiling, which broke up the lovely line of the slope.  Also, rain got in under the tiles when it blew in from the east.  So we decided the roof needed changing to match the rest.

Like the cottage, the new tiling consists of a flat under tile with two curved tiles lipped over the top.  They match the old roof tiles pretty well, though we may need to paint some of the pinker ones with yoghurt to encourage the mold to grow quickly and dull them down.

The builders removed the roof just as it started to snow and worked through heavy rain to complete it - fortunately the silver underlay went down before the worst of the weather.

The original roof with the change in tiling over the garage and bedroom

The roof removed during the snow

The stages of building the new roof

The finished roof

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Kitchen is Transformed

The old plasterboard between the kitchen and the study has been removed and the bare struts of the colombage between the two rooms are visible.  These will be covered on the kitchen side by fresh plasterboard (because we want smooth walls in the kitchen - easier to keep clean) and left open in the study.

The heavy beam across the kitchen now has a more robust post supporting it. The colombage that was on the righthand side of the doorway has been moved left so now there is a straight corridor through to the back of the house, rather than the strange dog leg that went past the study. 

To the right of the new corridor there is a small piece of colombage with brick filling between the vertical struts.  We're going to keep that visible to show how this part of the house was constructed.  In moving the struts around we were left with a narrow gap, which one of the builders has lovingly filled in the same style as the original.

The hole for the new kitchen window has been made and the lintel is in place.  We had fun deciding the exact position of the window.  It will be above the sink and directly opposite the chimney breast.  That was the easy bit.  The window is in the west wall which has two other windows further along the house. We wanted the tops of all three to be in line - for symmetry.  But it was not that easy to measure, because the house is built on a slope and the wall has wisteria all over it. So one of the builders went up a ladder and using a spirit level drew a line from the existing windows to where he thought the kitchen window should be.  But it looked wrong. 

We all had a go, with tape measures and spirit levels and pieces of string. That's when we realised that the roof  line wasn't straight.  It dips over the kitchen. And the study window is crooked. So we decided to make the hole for the kitchen window slightly lower and hope for the best.

A big chunk of the white wisteria had to go, which I regret.  I'm hoping that we will be able to train the new growth back. Imagine, warm summer evenings in the kitchen looking west at the setting sun and the sweet smell of wisteria drifting through the open window.

West wall of the house with the hole for the new kitchen window

The inside of the kitchen looking at the hole for the new window 

View out of what will be the new kitchen window - looking west

Monday, January 11, 2010

These Last Few Days ...

... the house has been a hive of activity with builders in the lounge (where the stone steps are now laid) the gite/entance hall (where the new doorway in what was the bathroom has been knocked through) and the kitchen.

The breeze-block bit of  kitchen wall that hid the water heater is down.  And suddenly we have a kitchen with good proportions.  I stand in the corner where the water heater cupboard used to be and look towards the chimney breast. At last, the great fireplace is gracefully where it should be - in the middle of  the wall.  And then I realise we are about to destroy this new open aspect by putting up a new wall to support the big beam that crosses the room.  The new supporting wall seemed like a good idea because, with a new door, it would have created a lobby from the kitchen into the utility room that will have the washing machine and the new water heater. But to build the supporting wall would be a major mistake.

We need to support the beam some way though.  It is vast and at present, now that the breeze-block wall is down, is only supported by much too small a post in the colombage.  Perhaps we can add another post alongside the one in the colombage to help take the weight?

Also, there is a change in level from the back of the house into the kitchen.  How will we manage the steps down and the doorway?

I tentatively call Monsieur B and leave a message. We are somewhat nervous of making further changes as we signed a long contract with him which included all sorts of serious clauses about his right as project manager to charge us more (and if necessary walk away from the job) if we mess him around and alter the plans once agreed.  But so far he has taken our requests in his stride and with good grace.

In theory we have a site meeting at 8.30 tomorrow morning with him and the builder to discuss what to do. Hope they manage to get down our drive in the snow.

Original plan: to have a "lobby" from the kitchen to the utility area and back of the house

Revised plan: to leave the kitchen open, to move the door to the corridor and to add another post to support the beam 

View from corner where water heater cupboard  used to be, looking towards fireplace which backs onto the dining room

Kitchen beam at present only supported by a small post in the colombage

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We've Changed our Minds (Again)

... about what to do with the lounge back wall.

Monsieur G (who is in charge of the major structural stuff) said the mud torchis in the lounge colombage was not salvageable and we agreed it would come out to be replaced with horizontal flat bricks and render.

I popped up to the house last week to check on progress to find the mud had all been removed leaving just the vertical beams.  The builders had a light shining behind the beams casting interesting shadows and suddenly it seemed a shame to fill them all in again.

So we had a site meeting yesterday and we've agreed the beams will be left open, the corridor behind the wall will be plastered and will have a ceiling (at the moment it's open up to the roof tiles). We'll install a door  from the gite into the corridor to help keep down the draughts behind the open colombage.

The big stones are now in place under the wooden beams and we'll have stone steps coming down into the lounge from the gite/entrance hall.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Builders are Back!

They arrived yesterday morning.  France takes the view that Christmas is a one day affair and then everything gets back to normal, but even so, to have them back on site first thing on a Monday morning is amazing.

Mind you, progress yesterday was one step forward, two back.

We decided that we wanted to have the lounge colombage repaired with stone work below the wooden beams, as in the dining room.  The stones in the dining room are large square blocks, so I was a bit surprised to see that the builder was putting in quite small stones.  I was even more surprised when I walked Vita last night and realised in the torch light that the small stones had been taken out of the wall that holds back the flower bed in front of the terrace!

Anyway, complete misunderstanding.  Monsieur G arrived with large stones this morning for his workmen and the small ones are being removed.  Hopefully they'll be put back where they came from!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Floor Plans

Lynne, who dips into this blog from time to time, asked if I could do a simple floor plan.

Certainly the house layout is confusing and even living here it took us time to work out how all the rooms fitted together.

This is what the house looks like at present, put together over years from an old farmhouse and outside barns.

People who know us park in front of the garage, walk past the bedroom, come along the terrace and into the kitchen.

First time callers tend to wander in the direction of the "gîte"  and get very confused.

We think the gîte was created by previous owners two or three back.  It's a big space but there is no access to it from the rest of the house (see the solid red line) except by going outside and coming in through the french windows.  Friends have stayed in it a couple of times but otherwise we've only used it as storage space and it has got very neglected.

We'd been struggling with not having a proper front entrance and now that we have the cottage where friends can stay we no longer need a guest space attached to the house.  So the gîte will become our entrance hall.  From there, two new doorways will be knocked through into the rest of the house: one will go straight into the lounge.  The other will be through what's now a large bathroom (there will still be space for a good sized shower room) into the corridor beyond and through to the kitchen. 

At the same time we're tidying up the kitchen area, putting a new water heater alongside the washing machine, knocking down a wall to give more space and putting in a new window.

The other major changes are to the bedroom next to the garage which is having a new ensuite wet room and dressing room  / wardrobe plus a new roof (over the garage as well) and proper insulation.

These are our new plans, in outline.

A third stage will entail creating an attractive corridor with windows out of the space behind the lounge and leading that into a gallery across the back wall of garage - but that's for the longer term.

This is the back wall of the lounge where the colombage has been exposed and there is already an opening (at present with shelves across) where eventually the door will go into the gîte / new entrance hall.

Monday, December 21, 2009

We've Ordered the Kitchen

Nothing's been happening in the house for about a month now.  Though Monsieur B reassures us that activity will start again early in the New Year.

Thank goodness we are in the cottage and not renting a gite somewhere, otherwise we would be beginning to worry.

The electrician decided he would rather wait until the plasterer is on site, which should happen in the middle of January.  And the roof over the bedroom and garage will be replaced (weather permitting) at the beginning of the month.

In the meatime, we have chosen and ordered the kitchen.  We've been more adventurous than we were in the cottage and have gone for a high gloss grey (or do I mean taupe?) for the units.  We debated whether Vita's claws on the gloss might be a problem, but since these days she can easily put both paws straight on the worktop and that is harder wearing we hope all will be well.  She only reaches up to the worktop when we are out of the room and if we catch her in the act she arches her back, stretches and looks over her shoulder at us so much as to say: "I'm just doing my aerobics".

We have samples of the colours so that we can choose tiles.  Bearing in mind my doubts about the tiles in the cottage, I'm not looking forward to this bit, especially as the colours of the units and the worktop change so much depending on how they are lit.

We have a provisional  installation date - some time in April I think, but this will no doubt have to change.  The owner of the kitchen shop cheerfully told us that one of their customers ordered a kitchen two years ago and is still waiting for the builders to finish so it can be installed.  Gulp!

We did gently suggest to Monsieur B that we were hoping to have friends stay with us from Easter 2010 and that more progress would be appreciated.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Water Leak (or Two)

We're having all of the pipe work in the house replaced and when they dug down to lay the new pipes, the channels filled up with water, even though it was supposedly turned off at the main. Somewhere we had a leak under ground - probably had one for ages, which may explain the damp walls in my study.  It may also explain the size of our water bills.

So a new stopcock has been installed in the manhole at the back of the house where the meter sits and we've new pipe (protected in its red sheath) laid from there into the house. This was not part of the original estimate, but we're resigned to the fact that each stage of the build will throw up something unexpected.

There's still water in the manhole and the trench outside though.  Hopefully this is just from all the rain we've had in the last few days and not another leak.

Water in the channel cut  for the water pipe

The new pipe into the manhole

Slow Progress

Progress on the house is very leisurely.  Nothing like the rush and bustle of the Poles when they were doing the cottage.

The French builders are all working on other projects, so they squeeze us in from time to time.  Sometimes it's a bit like having elves on the project.  We don't see anyone. There is no van parked in front of the house, and yet there is some small change.  So when do they come and work?

They may not be working much on our house, but they have been helpful.  Monsieur G. lent us his large truck with a crane on the side and a driver so Tod could collect the attachments for the tractor.  We now have a rusty plough, harrow and another thingy with lots of arms sitting on the drive.

In the meantime we're snug in the cottage.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Foundations of the New En-suite

The second bedroom is about as far away as possible from our one bathroom. Anyone taken short in the night has to find their way in the dark across the lounge, through the dining room, across the kitchen, past the utility room and along a corridor.

So an en-suite bathroom in the second bedroom is a priority. But the bedroom, with its sloping roof giving it a shape like a triangular slab of cheese, is a challenge. It was probably a cowshed attached to the main house with steps down to it from what's now the lounge. The end nearest the lounge soars up to a colombage wall. Yet this is the end where the en-suite needs to go.

To build a small box for the en-suite in the tallest corner seemed grotesque. This was the skill of our architect - to raise the box of the en-suite so it was on a level with the lounge entrance and put cupboards underneath into the bedroom. To give symmetry, a matching box is to be built the other side of the steps from the lounge for a walk-in wardrobe. The foundations for these two boxes are already down.

The Lounge Back Wall 2

Things have been quiet at the house for a few days. Monsieur M has been steadily making holes for the new wiring but the major construction side has stopped. The new concrete floors are down in the lounge and the bedroom and we guess that they need to dry out.

So we wander round the house and take a closer look at the colombage wall that has been exposed in the lounge. Because it's been covered and protected, in places it's in very good condition. The mud and straw have not dried out and fallen away and still hold the small branches that act as cross members between the vertical beams.

Colombage has been used as a building method for hundreds of years with little change and it can be difficult to put an exact date on a building. Views differ as to the age of our house. Some say two hundred years old, others three. We wonder if the pristine sections of our colombage will allow for more precise dating and I've posted a question to the Total France forum, hoping that an expert will respond.

I find an article on the internet which tells me colombage walls are built above stone to keep the wood from getting wet and rotting. We can see some stone blocks half hidden behind the render and still hanging electrics, but elsewhere it looks as if the posts - now damp and half rotten - do go right into the ground.

Already we are looking at a large task to restore the wall, starting with cutting away the rotting beams and building a new stone base. Fortunately we have large stones left from the cottage rebuild. We then have to decide what to do with the packed mud, straw and wood above.