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Over The Top !

When we bought our little place in Bellebouche over 9 years ago, we knew that at some point, the roofs of the outbuildings would need replacing.  We fixed up the pigeonnier in 2005 as this was particularly dangerous.

The other roofs were OK, but not brilliant – the best of  them being the Grange where an old stock pile of hay had been stored and the remnants still remained.  The corner of this roof, over the last 8 years had deteriorated.  The main concern was with the centre barn which had partially collapsed along the apex,  allowing the weather into the main barn.  The left hand barn roof had collapsed in a couple of areas and the right hand barn was going in the same direction.

Something had to be done.  Over the last 3 years I had got quotes off various artisans for the whole works – on the premise of  replacing all the old under tiles with new ones and using the original old terracota tiles on top.  After speaking to a number of artisans, we came to the conclusion that what was best was modern tiles which all fit together in a lego fashion, so should be totally sturdy and not fly off in a high wind – which we are prone to in the winter.

This year we took the bull by the horns, agreed on a roofer and signed a deal for all the outbuildings to be re-roofed.  Early March a team of workmen arrived with heavy plant machinery and pallets of wood and tiles.  Scaffolding was put up around the grange and the right hand barn.

This is a photo of the grange roof when we first moved in to Bellebouche.  Seems in good condition and water tight. Over the years the far left hand corner, you can see the green on the wall, started to leak a little .


A day after all the workmen had arrived, all the tiles, lathes and old voliges were off !  The tops of the walls were fixed and levelled off  and a few chevrons replaced.  Next new voliges, membrane, lathes and then the new tiles.


The smell of the new voliges was lovely – like being in a sawmill !

Even though we had fixed the pigeonnier a few years back – to keep all the roofs at the same standard with the same tiles, we decided to have it re-roofed again.  It was the smallest roof of all the buildings and only took the builders 2 days to replace.  Next up was the two story high, centre barn.  As I stated before, the apex had almost gone and I was surprised that the workmen put up a net across the whole roof to catch any falling debris – I was fine, even during high winds and snow, walking underneath it, throughout the years !



After the centre barn the left hand barn/secret room roof was removed.  Now access to this part of the barn, I thought, would be a problem.  Foolish me, with a telescopic Manitou there was no problem at all !

Once all the tiles and voliges were removed it was obvious that the state of the old oak chevrons was going to be a problem.



80% of the chevrons were either rotten or in a very poor state.  For a new roof, the roof line had to be laser straight perfect.  So all the chevrons were removed, the walls fixed and levelled and new chevrons installed.




This is the roof with the levelled walls, new chevrons, voliges, membrane and lathes fitted.

To add to the problems, I had bought 2 large roof windows to be installed at the back, in the secret room.  It took the workmen 3 days to install the two windows.


But the light in this room is now amazing.  We will eventually put french windows in, opening onto the courtyard and our swimming pool!

Next up – the right hand barn.  I thought that this was in a worse state than the left hand but only 20% of the chevrons were rotten.




Now in May and the workmen proceeded on – the atteliers were next up.  These are not just workshops, they are three “rooms” with external doors but right at the end is the bread oven, which is accessed from inside the house.




The roof had become a bit of a garden due to the pine needles  from the christmas tree falling on top of it.  The old tiles were just resting on top of the bread oven roof, which was basically old rocks, soil and rubble.  When the old tiles and wood were removed, major work had to be done.  The new tiles are all of a certain size and fit together so the roof of the  bread oven had to be levelled to allow the tiles to be fitted.

Due to the nature of a bread oven becoming very hot when lit, wooden chevrons and lathes could not be used.  So concrete laths were made in situ and part chevrons – just at the edges – with metal covered ends were fitted.




The inside of the atteliers was also a problem.  All the main A frame beams had to be replaced, one of which would be fitted into the house wall and potentially through the chimney in the front.  After serious discussions with the builders, a solution was agreed to fit a metal shoe to the end of the frame, fitted through into the chimney.


The last building to be done was the stable block.  Seemed like a simple job but once work had started on it, it became apparent that the roof line was not exactly straight and resulted in a triangle of  roof causing a problem.

When we first were looking to get the roofs done we went to see a farm complex the roofers had done – to see the quality of their work.  One particular thing that did catch our eye was a large triangle of zinc on one of the buildings.  The roofer explained that the roof line had not been straight and due to the fact that the tiles are all standard and fitted together like lego it was not possible to cut the tiles to cover that area.

When they started work on our place we stated that we did not want any zinc patch ups.  But, the stables were causing some consternation.  They tried extending the roof line out so that no tiles needed to be cut.  Unfortunately this would have resulted in the roof hanging over the road so was not possible.  After discussing with the roofers our options we came up with the idea of putting a zinc triangle on the roof then covering it with the tiles cut. The tiles would not provide a water tight covering but the zinc underneath would.


Finally, after almost 2 months of work – the roofs are finished.  The zinc flashing and  nantaise guttering complete the look.


Some of the downpipes are not exactly where we wanted them – to collect the water in our water collection system – and we had to back down on a few areas.  It has not been without problems, arguments, shouting, stress and a  few sleepless nights.

Overall, we are pleased with the standard and quality of the work – the roofs and buildings will outlive us !

The roof is collapsing !!

Our first major project – and we’re very pleased with the results


Our first visitors, Joan’s folks John and Sue, came in late January and Sue spotted something that I’d missed and had been staring me in the eye in all of the photographs we’d taken during our trip over to buy the house. The roof in the Pigeonnier was in a much much worse state than I’d previously thought (something which would prove to be a common theme!) and was in serious danger of imminent collapse.

So, out to a builders merchant to pick up a handful of acro-props and quickly shore up the roof until we got around to doing something about it.

Fast forward a few weeks and my parents visited in the coldest winter ever and I’d decided with dad that we would ‘have-a-go’ at a bit of roofing when they came in the springtime after Easter. So, with no prior roofing experience, I took a look at it and said, no problem. Three days. Whip the old roof tiles off, replace any damaged chevrons, install new laths and put the old tiles back on- simple!

Well, yes, it was simple.. did it take three days… not quite, more like eleven.

First job… this building had previously been used (for decades) as a pigeon loft/poultry house. The floor was a good 20cm deep all over in compacted well rotted bird guano.

Easy to dig up and right now fertilising my Charentais melons and courgettes but it did take some hard work to get it shifted… well over 30 wheel barrows full of it (I’m guessing about 2000 litres of manure!) all moved by Joan.

The roofs on the older buildings are all put together from hand made canal tiles. Taking the old roof off was fun and quite easy, we broke remarkably few which, given their age was quite an achievement.

I took a huge quantity of photos during this time as a way of learning how the roof was put together. All the tiles were put aside, stacked on pallets ready for cleaning and re-use. We quickly devised a special nomenclature for roofing which involved various combinations of the following words/phrases :- Unders, Overs, Special unders, New overs, Wet overs, Flat unders and New unders – it all made some kind of sense at the time.

There are plenty of snaps which show the roof in various states of undress. Once the roof was off and all of the rotten/crumbling laths had been taken care of, it was clear that there was quite a bit of the roof superstructure to be repaired and the tops of the stone walls, and the masonry supporting the main oak timbers holding the whole thing up. Phew, many days work ahead then.

Much of the old softwood timber was shot through with woodworm but thankfully it became clear after a bit of t.l.c. that the main oak timbers would be just fine and would not need replacing. I did find some old smaller pieces of oak in the roof chevrons that I was able to replace and will reuse elsewhere. Oak of this age is an amazing thing, very very dense, heavy and just exuding character when worked back with a gouge. It was tempting to stay up the scaffolding all day carving arty things into the oak! But, we worked hard at it for 10+ hours a day and it was finally coming together.

Once the superstructure was put together we clad the timbers in 15mm flat sawn pine board that had been pre-treated with an antifungal/insecticide and then on with some moisture barrier sheeting.

Re-tiling the roof went remarkably quickly once I’d got the hang of it. We tried hard to make the repairs to the new roof look as invisible as possible. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to have gone and bought new factory made tiles, that are cheap, of a consistent size and colour and to have put up a roof that looked like a Disneyland variant of an ancient Charentais farm building. But no, we wanted it looking just the way it was.

And what will become of this building? Well.. we’re not that clear yet! Current thinking is possibly a bedroom, a gym or a games room for guests.. It’s slightly awkward as it’s really the only easy passage between the main house & gardens and the outbuildings & paddock garden. We have put in a couple of roof lights to improve the ventilation / lighting so it’ll be usable some way down the line, but for now it sits empty with a spectacular new roof that makes me smile every time I look at it! First major job done successfully for very little money, looks good, the repairs are in keeping with the surroundings and it’s no longer going to collapse and injure someone! A job well done.

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