Installing the underfloor heating manifold

We have finally completed the manifold for our underfloor heating system.

It has taken ages to
– design the system.
– fit the design into the space available.
– collect all the required bits of plumbing from various suppliers and retailers.
– puzzle it all together.
– test it.
– resolve the inevitable leaks.Manifold

Alex is usually quite good at producing plumbing that doesn’t leak, but this time, one of the connectors just didn’t want to hold water. Eventually he discovered a slight imperfection on the shiny manifold part and filed it off. That stopped that leak, but started off another one.

After a bit more puzzling and an added plastic o-ring, all is finally well. We are ready to pour concrete on our floors to cover the underfloor heating pipes. It’s a bit of a landmark.

The Westacre Project – looking back at 2014

It is a truth universally acknowledged that big projects never go the way you expect. Ours is no different. But we have done some great stuff in 2014.

The year took a while to get started. The winter was mild but relentlessly wet. In the early Spring, it did stop raining, and we started preparing for the great work of insulating the house.EWIWhiteSheet

Installing external wall insulation doesn’t start where you expect it to, though. Why you would make a substantial raised vegetable bed in order to insulate a house isn’t exactly obvious.

It’s because of the earth works. You need to insulate right into the foundations to below the level of the insulation under the floor. So we had to dig out all the foundations. The spoils of the digging works were transferred into the raised vegetable bed. Which is as huge as we could make it, but still nowhere large enough for all the soil we dug out.

And of course, once you’re digging, you may as well dig the path we are going to have all around the house, with the help of a posse of friends. It was a good idea to have the paths ready, so the scaffolding we’d need for installing the insulation would have something level to stand on. And while you’re doing that, you may as well dig the trenches for the drain pipes around the house. No use filling in the path and then having to dig it up again another time.

Consequently, the first half of the year was taken up with earth works of various kinds. We finished the raised vegetable bed with sturdy timbers and

- dug out the foundations.
– spray-insulated the foundations.
– uncovered drain pipes.
– dug out pathways around the house.
– created new trenches for new pipes.
– laid the pipes and connected them up with the existing ones.
– made foundations for the balcony we’ll eventually build.
– filled all the trenches in again.
– covered over the new pipes complying with the building regulations.
– created brick edges for the paths.
– filled the paths with gravel.

And only after that were we ready to start putting insulation on the house. Which requires a lot of measuring and cutting of polystyrene. And a lot of drilling holes and hammering in fastenings. And because we’re particular, we are also filling any gaps with expanding builders’ foam.

Of course, the polystyrene makes the walls 16 cm thicker, so we also have to extend the roof in all directions. We extended verges by adding an extra rafter, and eves by lengthening the rafters. A lot of meticulous measuring and cutting.

The insulation is not just polystyrene, though. Far more is going on underneath.

- A vapour barrier, custom tailored for the house.
– The wall around each window carefully smoothed out with crack-free render.
– Then the gap between render and window frame filled with a fibrous filler.
– An airtight membrane with a rubber gasket pushed into the window frame.
– Membrane glued to the wall.
– Vapour barrier glued to the membrane.

Hopefully, all of that will make the result pretty air tight.

By now, a few days after Christmas, we have covered just over half the walls with external wall insulation. And some of that has been covered with render by our plasterer. At least we have some idea of what the place is going to look like.

A few other jobs got done as well:

- Steel I-beam installed to replace the partition that was holding up the roof.
– Floor in the old kitchen and dining room taken out.
– Floor boards used to make a new wood store.
– Ceiling joists in the big room upstairs replaced with bigger, better ones.

It feels quite satisfying looking at it all like that. We have worked hard and achieved an awful lot.

Not according to plan, of course. If all had gone the way we imagined it, we wouldn’t have done most of this year’s work ourselves – or even at all. For one reason and another, these jobs added themselves to our list. That has slowed us down quite a lot, but we have learned so much in the process.

We’re having a rest now. And who knows what adventures we will have in the year to come…

Joists: making straight what was crooked

Joists are those bits of wood that span your room from wall to wall. The ceiling plasterboards are attached to them.

In our big bedroom, the joists were sagging quite significantly. They were not thick enough to span across the whole extension and hold up their own weight. They were sagging in the middle of the span by about 7.5 cm, or their own thickness.

That would be bad enough, but those same flimsy joists were also supporting a beam going in the other direction. And that beam had two posts resting on it that were supporting the whole roof of the extension. And that was rather worrying.

So we are now in the process of replacing the flimsy joists with much bigger ones, 20 cm thick. Plus two steel I-beams that will definitely be man enough to hold up the roof.

Back in July, we manoeuvred the I-beams up into the loft. Hilde was sitting up there manning the winch, while Alex and his dad made sure the beams didn’t hit anything on the way up through the balcony door and the big bedroom.moving the I-beam

They’ve been sitting there patiently, waiting for us to open up the edge of the roof on that side of the house. We need to extend the rafters there, and at the same time we can position the joists and get at the ends to nail them into the wall plate.

It takes a bit of doing to move the joists from the floor up into the loft. We each manage an end. One of them goes out through the balcony door (a very handy thing to have) and then we point the other end up into the loft. When enough of it is up there, Alex gets up into the loft and pulls it past the cross beam.

All it needs then is a bit of wiggling around to put it in the right place, and nail it in. Thankfully, they’re made of pine that isn’t very dense, so they’re not very heavy.nice and straight

Moving the steel I-beams is another story. That involved a trestle plank, some plastic tubing to function as rollers, and some rope to catch all of the above should it fall in mid span. With a bit of shoving and pulling, we did get it across the room.

We have replaced about half the joists now. They are also holding up the post that is holding up the roof. And it all looks a lot straighter and more secure. It feels like quite an achievement.

Westacre Newsletter – issue 1

Hot off the press

Introducing the Westacre Newsletter

Thank you so much for subscribing to The Magic of Connection and the Westacre Newsletter. We’re really grateful for your support.

This newsletter will bring you interesting articles and exclusive offers. You may get
– a meditation from the Westacre Spiritual Centre,
– a ritual to sustain your soul and your land,
– an interview or guest article from another adventurer in connected living,
– an exclusive offer or competition from an affiliated businesses,
– savings on courses and events,
– or any other goodie we think you might like.

The features in this newsletter will come to you, our subscribers, first. They will only appear in the newsletter archive after any offers or competitions have finished.

You have also received the first part of The Magic of Connection by now. This 9 part course builds into a meditative ritual practice connecting you deeply to the land and to yourself. I have been doing this meditation daily in her garden for years, and it has been a great source of healing and comfort in difficult times. Give it a go!

If you have NOT received any installments of The Magic of Connection, have a look in your junk folder. If the course has ended up in your junk, PLEASE LET US KNOW. We’ll try to prevent that.

We hope you enjoy your first issue. Please let us know what you think of it. If you have any ideas for articles or features, they are also very welcome. You can contact us at

Enjoy your first issue,



Latest blog posts & links

From the Spiritual centre:

- Four pathways to connected living: an introduction
As people concerned for our planet and its inhabitants, we can get disheartened by the challenges facing us. Here are four Pathways to keeping our souls well fed and strong.

- Weaving my soul back into the web
What the Magic of Connection can do for you in difficult times.

From the Westacre Project:

- External wall insulation vs ground source heat pump
What combination of insulation and heating would work for you?

From the Web:

- The unexpected antidote to procrastination
What we are afraid of and how to get over it.

- Holding a door open for the ancestors
Why they should be the ones driving the car.

Coming home – a ritual

You need a representation of each element: Earth, Air, Fire and Water (e.g. stone, feather, bright colour, shell)

Put the symbols around your circular working space, in the appropriate direction. Cast a circle if you want to.

Sit in the centre of the circle. Take some breaths and centre yourself. Stretch your awareness to the edge of your circle.

Walk around the edge of the circle. Sense which element draws you first. Sit down with the one that speaks to you most loudly.

Become aware of that element in the place where you are working. The solid Earth beneath you. The Air, always moving, touching your skin. The Fire of Sun or Moon, of things living and growing. The Water of the nearest stream, of rain and of life ebbing and flowing.

Let each element heal you. Let the tensions in your body flow into the solid Earth. Let your thoughts dissipate in the wind. Allow yourself to shine with the light that surrounds you. Let your emotions flow freely, away to the river, to the sea.

When you feel ready, move the symbol of the element from the edge of your circle to the centre. Pause for a moment and just feel the element in your body: the solidity of your flesh and bones; the air flowing in and out with your breath; the fire of your life force warming you; the waters of your body ebbing and flowing with each heart beat.

When you are strongly centred in that element, let your awareness of it subside and return to the edge of the circle. Start walking around your circle again, and go to the next element that speaks to you.

Work your way through the four elements, until all your symbols are at the centre.

Sit and enjoy this for a while: this is your home, your centre, fully balanced by the elements.

When you feel ready, gently draw your awareness from the edge of your circle inward, to a distance that feels comfortable. Close your circle if you cast one.

How does this ritual make you feel? What has changed? Write about it in your journal and carry this centred energy out into your world.

What you can do to help

Quick and easy:

- Tell your friends about the free Magic of Connection course.

- Share our blog posts on social media. Liking them is good, but actually sharing things that you find interesting really helps us find our audience.

- Comment on our blog posts, on the actual web site. Tell us about your own adventures in connected living. This will get conversations started that add value for all of us.

Get your hands dirty:

- Come and visit us at Westacre. Join in with what we are doing. It is an opportunity to learn new skills and to hang out with us in our beautiful garden.

Stay in touch

Twitter for in-the-moment updates and relevant links.

Facebook for daily news, photos and blog links.

Our web site for inspiration, project news, and online courses.

Our contact details are here.

Virtual connections 14/5/13

Westacre’s bedsit apartment is taking shape. Except for the cooker, we have a fully functioning kitchenette. Tomorrow we’re off for a week in Barcelona, and when we come back we’ll be able to move in and abandon the rest of the house to the renovation project.

To keep you busy while we’re away, here is a list of articles that have caught my attention in the last week or two.

Finding awe in nature

Storms by Ian Hill
Musings in the snow

Finchley Road by Vivienne Palmer
Bumblebees and other minorities in the city

When things fall apart by Sharon Blackie
A life close to the reality of living on and with the land and its creatures. It’s not always an idillic existence.

Climate and environment

Thoughts on the Apocalypse: Fight for what you love by Derrick Jensen
An impassioned appeal to start fighting for our world and all that is precious in it.

The giants of the green world that profit from the planet’s destruction by Naomi Klein
Some large green campaigning organisations are deeply invested in the very carbon heavy industries that are killing the planet.

Climate-warming gas in atmosphere passes 400ppm milestone – interactive
Another sad milestone in a series of sad milestones. We desperately need to turn this around.

Ancestors and spiritual traditions

Complete Inuit shaman life story 1922
A fascinating glimpse into a real life story, in a scene from The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.

Witnessing a South African healer at work
Another real life story from our own times

Archaeologists find earliest evidence of humans cooking with fire
We, and people like us, have been using fire to cook food for a very long time. This may have had a significant impact on our evolution.

A better society

Positive development, a ‘turn around’ strategy for growth and civilisation by James Greyson
Ideas on turning our economy away from made-up measurements to real lasting value.

Does Bhutan hold the recipe for the future of farming?
One country in the world is aiming to grow 100% organic food.

Why parents should leave their kids alone by Jay Griffiths
Modern Western parenting compared to traditional societies. Something we can learn from?

Positive change

This desert miracle can only mean one of two things by Carolyn Silveira
How simple technology can change lives profoundly.

Roots, shoots and seeds: the spear carriers by Charlotte Du Cann
Coming home to small scale, land blessed, natural food.

Why your supermarket only sells 5 kinds of apples by Rowan Jacobsen
Singing the praises of rare and unique apple varieties.


Sacred Body part 4: Loss by Theo Wildcroft
My friend Theo has written an achingly beautiful series of blog posts for Druid Life. This is just one in the series of 6.

How to car boot sell your stuff

‘Reduce, reuse and recycle’ is the mantra of waste management. We’re all encouraged to reduce the waste we produce, reuse things instead of throwing them away after one go, and recycle the stuff we do need to throw away.

Car boot sales are great places to practice some of these principles, especially when you’re trying to give unwanted possessions a new lease of life.

What would you do with a double food warmer, consisting of two glass dishes warmed by tea lights? Or a yoghurt maker? Or a rather large collection of cut crystal that used to just live in the store room?

The sheer volume of stuff was taking up a large proportion of the double garage, and it was getting in the way. We could have spent months photographing each item individually and putting it on E-bay or Gumtree. We don’t have either the time or the patience to make this into a major job, though. It was tempting to just drive the whole lot to the dump, no matter how much waste that would generate.

The likelihood is, though, that somebody will love this stuff and give it a new lease of life. All you need to do is get the people and the stuff together in the most efficient way possible. So thank goodness for car boot sales and the people who make a business out of organising them.

We drove up in the Tardis with it’s trailer crammed full of stuff. It was 7am on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday and already there were people keen to buy. We couldn’t unpack the stuff fast enough. Some people were there to pick up a bargain to sell on for a profit. Others were on a shopping trip, browsing for bargains.

The Westacre pitch

We were astonished that we managed to find people willing to re-use the old two bar electric heater, the spin dryer, the old iron and yes, the yoghurt maker. Many bits of pottery and crystal found a loving second home.

And one lady wiped clean our vintage clothing section all by herself. If it turned out they didn’t fit, she was going to re-cycle the material and make her own unique creations.

We had a great time meeting people of every conceivable variety. We had chats about old children’s books, how cheap good quality old furniture is, and the loveliness of Jess the dog. She had a great day being petted by all and sundry.

If you need to find a second life for some of your possessions, do consider a car boot sale. Here are some handy hints.

– find your nearest car boot sale on line. It pays to be patient and find the good ones.
– wait for a sunny day. There will be a lot more potential customers.
– turn up early to get a good pitch and time to set up properly.
– take some money to pay the seller’s fee, and some change for the buyers.
– have snacks and drinks at the ready. It’s a long morning.
– take a supply of plastic bags. We forgot all about those and regretted it.
– enjoy meeting and watching people.

We’ve got some things left over, and will be going to a boot sale just around the corner from us next month. Hopefully we’ll meet some more people willing to reuse and recycle.

Virtual connections

This is a new kind of post for the Westacre blog. I regularly come across articles that are inspiring, interesting or useful. I’m sharing them here with you, hoping you’ll find something you like. Please comment if any of it touches you.

Climate and Environment

Countering the “We Will Adapt” Argument Against Action on Climate Change by Green Steve
An argument for starting to adapt sooner rather than later, if we are to face the changes with some kind of comfort.

Re-design society’s need for ‘extreme’ energy by Nicole Vosper
We are doing irreversible damage to whole ecosystems to get at the oil. Time to re-design our society away from the need for fossil fuels.

Stolen spring by John Walker
There was frost on the grass this morning, Satruday 27 April 2013. If the long cold winter is caused by the arctic ice melting, this fictional evocation could be a possible future…


Druidry and Ancestral connections

Ubiquitous Ash by Jos Smith
A personal relationship with the Ash tree, and a call to write its poetry before it goes the way of the Elm.

Stonehenge occupied 5000 years earlier than thought
BBC report on a dig funded with redundancy money that made some interesting discoveries about the Ancestors of Stonehenge.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Philip Carr-Gomm, Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, on how he feels about the future.

Bishop Swing interviews Matthew Fox
If it wasn’t for Matthew Fox and his rather revolutionary Christianity, I would not be a Druid  now. Some interesting takes on the Church and its teachings.


Permaculture and gardening

Connecting the dots by Jeremy Wickremer
To find solutions to interrelated problems, we need to take a wider view and see the connections between them. Permaculture design can help.

Garlic mustard recipes
We’ve got quite a lot of it in the garden. So we might as well use the stuff. I haven’t tried these recipes yet, but I soon will.



World Drum at Cae Mabon by Barry Patterson
My friend Barry’s experience with the World Drum in poetry and music

Keeping warm with the wood burner

Once Roger moved out, we were shocked to discover that we were burning £6 worth of gas every day just to stay warm. This doesn’t fit our rather modest household budget, nor our green aspirations. So how do we stay warm in this unseasonably wintry weather?

Although this is a big house, and we know it’s not very well insulated. It doesn’t help that the thermostat for the central heating is in the upstairs bedroom, one of the warmest rooms in the house. You have to put the temperature up quite high to get the large living room downstairs acceptably warm.

Even knowing all that, we were quite taken aback by our first gas bill, and resolved to reduce our consumption. We decided to turn the heating off between 11am and 6pm. As we were still working away at moving all our possessions to their permanent places in the house, that worked quite well. And then the snow came…

Westacre’s wood burner

It got really cold. So we had to turn to our alternative source of heating: the wood burner. So far, it had only ever been used to boost the temperature with the central heating on. Relying on it to keep us warm while the outside temperature barely rose above 2 degrees C is another matter.

We watched in dismay as it snowed outside and the temperature in our living room refused to climb above 14. You may be made out of hardier stuff that I am, but 14 degrees is cold to sit around in.

Then Alex came up with an ingenious idea. He got the electric fan out and started blowing it gently at the wood burner. Blowing the warm air around the room made all the difference. It is now not much warmer outside, but the room is a comfortable 18 degrees. Warm enough with a woolly jumper on, even for me.

We are now looking for one of those wood burner fans that work on the rising heat from the burner itself. It will do the same job as the electric fan, but for free. Does anyone have one of those to spare?