Recycling The Roof

 

This past Monday morning I was sitting quietly at my desk sorting through some emails when from outside the window there came a mighty crash. A large piece of old chicken wire had fallen off the roof and landed squarely on the scaffolding boards pretty much at eye level to where I sat.

It’s a sad reflection of the current state of affairs I find myself in that the sudden and unexpected arrival of a length of chicken wire sets in motion a particular train of thought. A brief consultation to confirm that the wire wasn’t intended for use elsewhere and it was promptly purloined. By lunchtime Mike had constructed two new bunny cages and they’d already been deployed.

 
 

 

It’s a strange view out of the study window right now. For one thing it’s become very dark. The scaffolding boards cut out a surprising amount of light. But the most surreal thing is the frequent appearance of a pair of feet. Given the positioning of the boards vis-à-vis the overhang of the roof the feet present as oddly disembodied, cut off entirely from just above the ankle.

How refreshing it is to have someone working on site with such an easy going attitude and a real passion for his craft. It was made clear from the first moment that we were welcome up on the scaffolding anytime we pleased. We’ve taken full advantage of the invitation and it’s been fascinating to see, and to hear, how the thatcher works. And to be directly involved in the decision making on how things should look. Best yet, the thatcher uses an earphone radio. He can come again.

 
 

 

It’s a weird feeling being up on a level with the roof. Such a familiar sight but a completely different relationship with it from these close quarters.

The thatcher pulled from the roof a single piece of straw some six feet in length. That is unusual apparently and makes it likely to be Turkish straw. As luck would have it Devon boasts the largest distributor of thatching straw in the country. Not that we grow it here in any quantity anymore. Turkish straw tends to be coarse. The finest straw comes from China. The bundles above likely came from either Austria or Hungary. On top of the straw sit the spars used to hold it and the batons in place. Usually cut from hazel or willow these are made with a twist in the middle to form a pin. You can see three of them sticking out of the left side of the roof in the picture below upper left, waiting to be knocked into place.

 
 

 

This year we’re replacing the ridge of the roof. It’s the area that takes the most wear and weathering and down here in soggy Devon it typically has a lifespan of eight years. The main coat on the front of the roof (above) is in good condition and should last another fifteen years yet if we’re lucky. The back slope has fared less well, having suffered poor air circulation under the tall conifers that used to grow up on the bank. It’s possible that when the ridge next comes round for attention the back slope will need work as well. Much depends on the weather conditions between now and then. And, no doubt, whether the squirrels choose to leave it alone.

As he works his way along the roof slope from left to right the thatcher is packing any hollows or repairing any damage to the main coat with the new straw. It may look patchy for a few weeks but it will all soon weather in. My fear that we’d be faced with piles of old straw to dispose of (and pick out of the borders for many months to come) has largely proved to be unfounded. Such was the non-existence of the previous ridge the thatcher is just building the new one directly on top. Any old material that has come off has been collected up in an old builders’ sack and then tipped into the old pond to join the garden waste already breaking down into compost. And you can’t get more eco-friendly than that.

 
 

 

A different take on hanging up your tools at the end of the day. For sure, no-one is going to nick them up there.

 
 

 

Progress. Day 1.

 
 
 
 

2018-06-07T12:05:10+00:00 June 7th, 2018|Tags: |

52 Comments

  1. Heyjude June 7, 2018 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Thatched roofs look beautiful, but that is a lot of work. Good job there are still craftsmen around to do this job. And it is looking good.

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

      It’s hard work too, requiring a lot of physical strength. Watching him yesterday I was wondering if he’s ever measured his daily steps.. considerably more than 10000 I’m guessing. And many staircases climbed!

  2. janesmudgeegarden June 7, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Absolutely fascinating. We know very little about thatched roofs over here of course, which makes yours doubly interesting. I’d no idea they lasted for so long.

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 10:18 am - Reply

      Thanks Jane. Apparently the back slope is in better condition than he first thought. It means that, bar any interim patching (bird and squirrel inflicted damage), we should now be OK until the next ridge in eight years time. The straw is packed so tightly that it becomes effectively waterproof. The rain mostly runs straight off it. A build up of moss is the major problem thanks to the damp climate down here, hence the need for good air circulation.

  3. grammapenny June 7, 2018 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    This is soooo cool. I have always admired thatched roofs (?rooves) and figured maintenance must be a concern and wondered how one went about caring for the things. I love this…

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 10:24 am - Reply

      Maintenance is an ongoing issue which most people don’t realise when they fall in love with the chocolate box image. We’ve had a thatch before but apart from having one whole side redone it didn’t need as much ongoing work. But then that one wasn’t in the middle of a wood. The birds here love to pinch bits for their nests!!

  4. Christina June 7, 2018 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the update; sounds like this is a relatively simple job.

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      I hope so. Problems always seem to emerge when you least expect them so I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed.

  5. Peter Herpst June 7, 2018 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    I love your roof and am glad that you’re keeping it thatched. The thatcher sounds like a marvelous person and I’m glad this project is going so well.

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      I couldn’t bear to part with the thatch, it’s such an integral part of the house.

  6. bumbleandme June 7, 2018 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Fantastic Jessica, how lovely to have a skilled craftsman happy to share his skills with you. It will be the icing on your already perfect chocolate box cottage. X

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      He makes it look easy but I know it’s far from that. It’s going to look so much better though when it’s done.

  7. pollymacleod June 7, 2018 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    You thatcher sounds like a lovely chap. It’s not so much a job as a work of art, a creation. It’s amazing when you think it’s straw, but it survives all that the weather can throw at it. I think Mike’s bunny cages are quite nice. I have caught up reading previous posts and I think your garden is looking gorgeous 🙂

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      It seems odd to me that thatch is so widespread in Devon given the damp climate. There are certainly some very mossy examples around! But looked after properly it can still look good in spite of the conditions. In winter even ours acquires a green tinge, then in summer the heat burns it off again.

  8. Kris P June 7, 2018 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    Your post had my mind going down a rabbit hole of my own making. First, I wondered if there are thatchers working in the US. There are. Even in California! Amazon even sells thatching products (are you surprised?), although they seem to be geared to decorative items like tiki huts. Then I wondered if a thatch roof would offer increased safety in the event of an earthquake. Then I realized that probably wouldn’t matter as, in an area of high fire risk, our insurer would probably never cover a house with a thatched roof…Best wishes with the work. It sounds as though you got the perfect guy for the job.

    • Jessica June 8, 2018 at 12:56 pm - Reply

      I’m not at all surprised that Amazon are into thatching! It would be a challenge to find something they don’t sell. Aside from the fire risk I’d have thought thatch would do well in California because there’s less rain. Perhaps not now you are getting more extreme heat conditions. Ironically there’s probably more risk of thatch fire here but for different reasons.. people’s love of using wood burners in winter.

  9. Caro June 7, 2018 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Having had my light stolen by scaffolding boards since last November, I completely empathise with your lack of light. Hopefully brighter summer days are helping, otherwise it’s pretty awful to have to sit with the lights on in the middle of the day. I had to get used to seeing helmeted heads floating past my second floor window and, unnervingly, hearing loud conversations right next to my bathroom window while showering in the morning. (The roof tilers arrived at 7 am!) So glad it’s all over and the scaffolding down now. Love reading about your cottage renovations – sounds like you’ve found a keeper in your thatcher. Hope the rest of the project goes as smoothly.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:24 am - Reply

      I have to remind myself daily to take clothes into the bathroom with me for the morning ablutions and dress in there. The bedroom has three windows, two now covered in scaffolding and the third looking out over the bank where a man on a ladder could appear at any moment!

  10. Steph June 7, 2018 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I find this whole process mesmerizing. More pictures please!!!! And the view from up there must be magnificent.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:26 am - Reply

      The view is amazing. I feel the need for a balcony now. Not that we’ve anywhere to put one..

  11. Ali June 7, 2018 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    This is so interesting! Your house and it’s roof are just beautiful. I love all the curves, and the colour and texture. And the craftsmanship involved.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

      Thanks Ali. I always feel sad when weathering darkens the colour of the straw. I love it at this very fresh stage.

  12. hb June 7, 2018 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    Being able to compost your old roof–what could be cooler?

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

      Thatching must be one of the most environmentally friendly building practices around. Difficult to attach solar panels, although unbelievably I did once see a thatched roof with solar. Not a pretty combination.

  13. Susan Garrett June 7, 2018 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    He could invite as much as he liked,there is no way I would venture up there, but the photos were really interesting.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:39 am - Reply

      The house being set into a slope doesn’t help. The view downhill is somewhat vertigo inducing.

  14. Linda from Each Liitle World June 8, 2018 at 2:21 am - Reply

    Thinking of you as I saw three rabbits (one a baby) running around the garden today. Plus a racoon sauntering along the flat top of our fence. Then he climbed the tree next to the deck. Wild kingdom. But tame compared to your roofing project. Thanks for all the detailed pix and info.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:46 am - Reply

      We seem to have more bunnies every day here, it’s becoming a veritable infestation. Last night the rabbits and the four squirrels were all playing on the lawn together. Where are the foxes when you need them.

  15. Beth @ PlantPostings June 8, 2018 at 2:49 am - Reply

    That is so interesting. Thanks for sharing the progress and the details of this project–I’m learning so much from you!

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:47 am - Reply

      Thanks Beth. I’m learning too and it is fascinating.

  16. Jennifer June 8, 2018 at 3:22 am - Reply

    Do the seed heads stay on the thatch? Or is trimming them off part of the process? I would have thought of the seed being harvest first, then the remains used for thatching. But living in Washington DC all of these thoughts are ones I’ve made up in my head, not from any real-life experience, so I find this fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:55 am - Reply

      I was surprised to see the seed heads too. But if you look at the second to last picture you can see one of the bundles in position before it is cut. It looks as though he is using the full length and only cutting off the seed heads. Maybe harvesting the heads in advance would leave the stems too short. But then I too am guessing.. I will ask him next week if I get a chance.

  17. Freda June 8, 2018 at 8:27 am - Reply

    What a beautiful old house it is, clearly in good hands (yours and the thatchers).

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

      We’re trying to do our best for it. Partly because we want it to look good, partly because we owe it to the house and partly to protect our investment!

  18. Linda P June 8, 2018 at 9:15 am - Reply

    That’s good you could make use of the spare chicken wire and compost the old roof material! Thanks for sharing the info about the thatching process with pics from that high vantage point. It’s a fascinating craft.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 10:01 am - Reply

      There’s plenty more chicken wire left to come off and plenty more uses for it! Mike’s next job is to use a length of it all the way along the hedge bordering the lawn. The rabbits are wearing holes in the hedge as they force their way through.

  19. Jackie Knight June 8, 2018 at 9:47 am - Reply

    Wonderful pictures, I love watching the progress of thatchers, we live on the Hampshire and Dorset border, loads of work for thatchers here. Wonderful recycling !

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 10:05 am - Reply

      They make it look so easy don’t they! Yours is a lovely area to live. We are very fortunate in the UK to have so many beautiful and protected places.

  20. Vera Coe June 8, 2018 at 10:21 am - Reply

    Lovely roof, lovely house, lovely garden….so well tended and so opposite to our place. While we do have a roof, and we do have a house although the walls need replastering so it has a lovely, rustic,’going to fall down at any minute’ attractiveness, with the small lizards living in the holes in the wall adding to the attractiveness, the gardens, though, are non existent, this being entirely due to the weather. So I sigh when I see the photos of your garden, and continue to aspire to do better by mine!

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 10:09 am - Reply

      You’ve worked miracles with that house Vera, considering you haven’t always had a roof!
      It’s very dry here at the moment and already I could do with some more of your rain. Whenever you’re ready.. 🙂

  21. derrickjknight June 8, 2018 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    A fascinating insight into the craft

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 10:12 am - Reply

      It’s great to watch isn’t it. I remember the re-roofing project you and Jackie followed last year.

  22. Julieanne Porter June 8, 2018 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    Fascinating to see this being done. And great that they let you be up there with them. Such a wonderful skill, thatching.

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

      The thatcher has moved round to the back slope now and has taken the ladder up to the scaffolding away. Already I am missing it.. no sundowners up there this weekend!

  23. Provincial Woman June 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Very informative. This is my kind of blog! Im looking forward to your next post!

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 10:20 am - Reply

      Thanks, and welcome!

  24. Cathy June 9, 2018 at 11:36 am - Reply

    What fun – and such a great learning experience 😀

    • Jessica June 9, 2018 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      I’m wondering if I might get a chance to do some thatching. But then I’d be forever worried in case my bit leaked!

  25. aberdeen gardening June 12, 2018 at 8:31 am - Reply

    What a fantastic looking house. All very interesting, and no blaring radio!

    • Jessica June 12, 2018 at 9:39 am - Reply

      The thing I hate most about all the ongoing building work is the builders’ ghetto blaster which seems to come as standard issue with every project.

  26. snowbird June 13, 2018 at 11:47 pm - Reply

    Lovely views of your cottage, I laughed re the tools, great place to leave them. Loved how you re-used the wire for yet more baskets! There are many thatched cottages around here and I know how much it costs to renovate a thatched roof…hoping it’s not costing an arm and a leg!!! Marvelous that there was no radio blaring, that a plus for sure! You do get tired of having builders in, however good they are! Hoping we don’t need anything else doing soon! xxx

    • Jessica June 15, 2018 at 9:11 am - Reply

      We now have a whole heap of chicken wire on the drive, thanks to the roof! The fight is on..

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