Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Stepping Stones



I know I've said it before, but this really is a busy time of the year for Karen and I here at Le Banquet. It's all systems go in the DIY stakes at the moment, both inside and out.

Apart from interior decorating, attending to plumbing issues and fitting new bathrooms, there's also hardscaping that needs to be done. I like that term hardscaping, I feel qualified to use it in my role as jack of all trades, and okay, possibly expert in none but all the same, hardscaping it is and I'm sticking to it.

I'm referring to my recently finished step building project. The old ones that lead from the parking area down to the path have disintegrated over the years. Winter weather always left them a little more perished come the spring and remedial patching up was exactly that, patching them up.

After gently dismantling the old steps with a sledgehammer, I made up some wooden frames to form the shape for the new risers and mixed and poured concrete into the forms. A couple of days later and they were ready to be finished with stone.






Limestone is abundant all around Le Banquet and throughout this part of the Dordogne. It is and has been for centuries the principle building material in the area. Photographed above are the ruins of a once cannonball factory originally constructed during the reign of Louis XV. It's literally just behind the houses here and these days it serves as something of a folly with its grand arches and sheer scale. I spent many an hour wandering in and around this impressive structure as it sits immediately on the edge of my land as I scoured the ground for suitable pieces of rock and stone, most of which I gleaned from under the thickets of brambles by the river.




Luckily, I'd saved some good square pieces from a few years back when we renovated the old cattle barn. These simply needed cutting to size (ish) with a disc cutter, the flat pieces on the tops just 'dressing' a bit with a chisel and it was just a simple case of bedding them all in with sharp sand and cement once they'd all been cleaned. All that remained to do was to joint them up once the mortar had gone off.





Jointing up is the best bit as it pulls everything together. I used a locally quarried sand called Liorac which has a nice colour. It's used a lot for external render called 'Crepi'.






Above is a product called Rénocal. It's two thirds hydraulic lime to one third high performance white cement together with other additives to give water and weather resistance. It's used a lot in renovation over here. I mixed three parts sand to one part of this and proceeded with pressing it into all the joints. After covering it up overnight, the next morning when the mortar had partially gone off, armed with a soft wire brush I brushed out all the excess to leave clean joints and re -expose any small pieces of stone which may have been hidden. Very satisfying.




Et voilà. The steps are finished. I reckon it'll take a couple of weeks for the joints to harden fully and achieve the right colour. I pinched that pineapple thingy out of the little herb garden and set it on the top corner as a finishing touch.

27 comments:

  1. Excellent work, Rob! I love reading the words gentle and sledgehammer in the same sentence. You are justifiably proud of these beautiful steps. I can tell by your narrative that you thoroughly enjoyed every phase of this project! Love the pineapple. :-)
    Frances

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  2. These look wonderful, Rob and perfectly completed with the little pineapple!

    The old building look very picturesque and must be inspiring to wander around.

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  3. It looks fantastic! It must be very neat to see old ruins still standing, very picturesque! Limestone is common here in TN too but not in our yard.

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  4. Gorgeous. And better than an entire season of any garden show.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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  5. Looks professional! Great job Rob! I hope one day I will walk up these steps.

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  6. Hi Rob, you have done great steps... I have done it too in my hill garden with stones taken out from the hill, many walls and steps all over, it´s a hard work, but of course I didn´t do it myself, too hard for a woman.
    Muchos cariños
    María Cecilia

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  7. A job well done Rob. You and Karen must be pleased with the final result. There can't be may folk who have an old canonball factory on their doorstep :) I always get the French kings mixed up, so am off to find out when Louis XV was about.

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  8. voila! c'est fini
    excellent job Rob ;)

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  9. I adore this blog. The cannonball factory is just jaw-dropping. Your photos are wonderful!! Cheers, Bonnie

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  10. The stairs look wonderful. I love the color.

    The old cannonball factory ruin is amazing.

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  11. You've done a great job on the steps, I'd say you've mastered the hardscaping. The cannon ball factory is amazing, how lucky to have a piece of history right out your back door.

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  12. Excellent job! Building steps is not one of my strong points. I can't tell you how many times I've reworked various ones in our garden. I always cringe when people are walking down them.

    I think you should create a garden around those ruins!

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  13. Hey good job on those steps. I just posted about some stones, too. Man, I wish I had those gorgeous arches in my backyard. What a great touch for a garden.

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  14. Congratulations Rob on a job well done! beautiful steps 'n stones and the gratification continues each time you go that way.

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  15. Beautiful work, Rob - good luck. I'm eying the paths I need to put in here, but for us it's clay, clay and more clay...

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  16. By heck Rob, cracking steps!!! They look fantastic, especially when compared to the decrepid old ones you still had in summer.
    Respect! :)

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  17. Well done Rob I was pleased to hear the stones were ones hidden away under bushes and the remains of the canon ball factory are still as beautiful. What an idyllic place you live in and your garden just gets better and better under your care.

    No doubt the house is just as lovely under Karen's care.

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  18. You are so clever Rob... I love the color in your final glazing... that is what it reminds me of. I love the ruins in your back country! Carol

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  19. Fantastic steps!

    I love the ruins folly - you just don't get something like that around here.

    Cameron

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  20. I'm very impressed, Rob, an artistic job well done! Hope they'll be around for centuries like the old ruins :)

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  21. A grand folly such as yours is a treasure. Good job on the steps. :)

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  22. What a fantastic job! So beautiful. I hope one day to visit and walk on those steps.

    ~janet

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  23. What a marvelous project! Most of our limestone is underground.

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  24. how impressive! both the steps and the writing!

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  25. What a satisfying project! Well done. Thanks for posting. Jack

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  26. I want to see it in a couple of weeks so don't forget to let us know if the color comes out like you want. The stones have a lot of character. Our stones are grey and more solid looking in this area--more like a dark granite.

    It turned out so nice. If I can get my car over there, I'll park on the landing and come on down those steps knowing they are placed securely. Looks like it will last a good long while. I don't think the person has been born yet--no maybe the grandchild of that person who will have to do repair it.

    I know this is a crazy busy time for you and I'm wishing you the best while you scramble to get it all done.

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