There's a lot to bring everyone up to date on so I'll start with the wall.............
First thing to do was break out the cement mixer! At £325 it's the first major purchase of the build but we've got so much to do there would be no point in hiring one.
Also my parents had come to stay for a couple of weeks so my dad could give me hand, I've never built anything out of stuff that wasn't Lego before so I was going to need all the help I could get.
To build up, first one must dig down, so the first thing to do was dig a trench alongside the existing concrete block wall. we decided building in front of it was a far easier and less disruptive solution than knocking it down. The trench was about two spades wide and deep enough to get down to the clay beneath. It quickly revealed that the existing wall was sitting in about 6 inches of top soil with very little other than luck and it's own weight holding it up. during the course of our digging we came across what appeared to be an old water pipe passing across the trench so we built a bridge out of old bits of block from the garage so that no weight was transfered onto it and began mixing up the concrete for the footings.
Mixing concrete is pretty straightforward, you go to B&Q and get yourself some 'balast' and you throw that in the mixer with some cement (it tells you the ratio on the bag) then you keep adding water little by little until it becomes wet enough, getting that right is the tricky bit but you get the feel for it. Once it's ready you tip it into your barrow and tip the barrow in your trench. We set the concrete about four inches deep.
Once it had all gone off a little we could lay the biggest of the foudation stones at roughly regular intervals using a string to keep the faces in line.
Then you've got to stop for the day and wait for it all to set.
Once the top half the trench was set we got started on the bottom half. While we were digging we came across a part of the wall, close the kitchen, That for some reason had a very substantial concrete footing that was interfering with where our trench needed to go, so we got started on chipping it away. As we were chipping it appeared a large cavity had formed beneath this concrete and seemed to extend toward the house. we assumed it was caused by the large amount of water that runs through the garden so we kept chipping away so we could get a better look at exactly how big it was.
We started at the back and worked our way towards the the house, we knew there would be very little space between the garage and the wall so we built the wall at the back only a foot or so high to maximise the distance between next door's fence and the garage by allowing you to walk along the top of the wall to gain access to behind the garage.
I must admit I thought the whole wall would be done in a weekend but just this one small section took two or three days. It takes a long, long time to build a stone wall, mainly because of the time it takes to find just the right stone, you can look for fifteen minutes or more before you finally give up and move to a different part.
By now we were getting bulk deliveries of sand and cement, believe it or not, by the time we had finished we had got through at least three tons of sand and probably 20-30 bags of cement.
The best way to go about building a wall is carry over a load of stones to where your working so you have a good selection of small, medium and large ones to choose from, you also want a good selection of pretty ones and ugly ones as the ugly ones will come in very handy for filling in between the pretty ones and the old wall. Then you mix up some cement, we were using 5:1 sharp sand and cement, with water and a touch of washing up liquid to make it 'fluffy'. You definitely don't want to get it to runny this time as it becomes difficult to form it and the stones end up sinking into direct contact with one another, but not wet enough and it drys too soon, again, you get a feel for it quite quickly.
Take time to stand back and look at each stone you lay so you can see it in the context of the wall as a whole, keep checking everything with your string line regularly and it's pretty hard to go too wrong. I was building from the ground up to the last layer, then my dad was using all the small flat stones and a spirit level to get the top right. You build as much as you can for then day then you go in and have some tea (supper to you southerners), just before it goes dark you come out again to 'point' it. Pointing basically refers rubbing back the partly dry cement with a small wire brush to expose as much of the face of the stone as possible, I rubbed until the cement was about 5mm recessed from the face, then you kind of dab it with dry paintbrush to make it nice and smooth.
After about a week it looked something like this:
The plan was to knock off the top row of blocks but the neighbors wouldn't let us so we'll put some nice deep coping stones on top to finish off the top and bring it up to meet the block wall on slightly more equal terms.
I reckon, all in, the wall cost somewhere between £250 and £300 not including the mixer, but what a great skill to have learned! As you can see a bit has been happening since the completion of the wall and this picture being taken, I'll try to write all that up shortly.............