Kev Quirk

A Year at the Smallholding

18 Oct 2023 | ~5 minute read

Today marks the 1st anniversary of us moving into our 2.5 acre smallholding in Wales, but how has the first year gone? Here's a retrospective...

I can't believe it's been a year already - it's gone so quick, but I do feed like we've achieved a lot. Pretty much all of our savings have gone at this point, but I think it's been worth it overall.

The first few months

These were by far the hardest part of the year. The previous owner was elderly and hadn't looked after the house properly for quite some time. Shortly after moving in, we had a "cold snap" where it hit -14°C (7°F).

We were sledging in the fields, making snowmen and just having a great time as a family. It was so much fun...at first.

The front of our house, covered in snow
The front of our house, covered in snow
The back of our house, covered in snow
The back of our house, covered in snow

After a couple days, we realised that the old, shitty heating system really wasn't up to the job of heating a house as big and old as ours. It's a 200 year old converted barn with very little insulation, all heated by a very old Stanley Range.

We quickly decided that the first, rather large, outlay would be to replace the old Stanley Range with a modern heating and hot water system. Problem was, the range was our cooker, and boiler. So we had to buy a new cooker too.

The difference was incredible, the house is so much warmer and the heating system is far more efficient. Using a cast iron Range for cooking means that it takes around 45 minutes to get up to temperature - we run off of oil here, so that's A LOT of oil.

When using the Range for heating and cooking, we were spending around £400 ($485) per month on oil alone. Now we've changed to the modern system, we're using around £50 ($60) per month and the house is way warmer.

Totally worth the money.

Creature comforts

When we moved in, the house was right out of the 80s, with its dark red carpets and mahogany coloured wood everywhere. So we turned our attention to making the downstairs lighter and more modern.

While there, we also decided to cover the 1980's pine beams and insulate the ceilings too. As well as this, there was a staircase to remove from the lounge, half the floor to level, a window to convert to patio doors, and a couple of internal doors to move and walls to build.

There were a few hiccups along the way - namely having the very unsafe chimney stack rebuilt in the lounge, and having the other staircase in the house replaced with an oak one.

By the end of this stage we had the lounge, my study and the hallway all finished. We also had some new exterior doors and windows fitted to help insulate the house as best we could.

Our lounge before we started work
Our lounge before we started work
Our lounge before we started work
Our lounge before we started work
Our lounge after the work
Our lounge after the work
Our lounge after the work
Our lounge after the work
My study before the work started
My study before the work started
My study after the work
My study after the work
My study after the work
My study after the work
Our hallway before the work started
Our hallway before the work started
Our hallway after the work
Our hallway after the work

At this point we didn't have enough of our savings left to get a new kitchen fitted. Deciding that the current kitchen was serviceable for the next few years, we re-decorated it and I replaced all the lighting for modern LED lights.

To be fair, this relatively cheap "fix" really improved the light in the kitchen, and I think it will easily last us for the foreseeable future.

Our kitchen before the work started
Our kitchen before the work started
Our kitchen after the work
Our kitchen after the work

The community

Since moving down here, we've made a number of new friends and, ironically, are far more social here than we ever were in the large town we'd lived in all our lives before.

Before moving, I was worried that we'd be the social pariahs, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. Because it's a small village, it's very close-knit, but we've been welcomed with open arms.

It's such a good life in that respect.

The negatives

The biggest negative so far is definitely money; or lack of, to be more explicit. I'm fortunate to earn a very good salary, and had become accustom to having a fairly large amount of disposable income in our old house. That isn't the case here.

As you can imagine, running and renovating such a large house isn't cheap and the (lack of) money does concern me. But, this is our dream home and what we've always wanted to do. So what better thing is there to spend our money on?

It's an adjustment, and one I've been struggling with, but we will get there.

...first world problems, ey?

What's next?

There's still so much to do. Next we need to focus on the outside of the house. I'm currently renovating the garage to, again, make it lighter, more modern and warmer (for my motorbikes).

I'm around 60% done with the garage renovation, so I hope to have that done before Christmas. Doing it myself to save money adds more pressure, but I'm enjoying the process.

As we head into Spring next year, we're probably going to have to spend some serious money on the roof of both the house and some of our outbuildings - they're all in desperate need of repairs. None are leaking, but I'd like to fix any issues before they get to that point.

Then we'd like to convert one end of the house for the kids, and in 2025 we plan to enter the final stage of the renovations, where we will do our bedroom/ensuite and the family bathroom.

Aside from all this, there's still the various animals to look after, 2 kids, 2 cars, 3 motorbikes, a lawn mower and, of course, 2.5 acres of land.

We're gonna be busy!

Final thoughts

We've achieved a lot this year, but there's still a mountain to climb. It's actually overwhelming and worries me a lot of the time, but I heard a saying recently which helped:

People often over-estimate what they can achieve in a year, but under-estimate what they can achieve in a decade.

-- Unknown

We're in this for the long-haul. If we can get the house and land renovated in 5 years, I think we will have done really well. In the meantime, we will continue to chip away at it and enjoy our new life in the countryside.

I'll leave you with this picture of Tia, one of our dogs. Her expression pretty much summarises how happy we are with our new life in the countryside:

Tia (with our other dog in the background) in one of our fields

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