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.