Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Monday, October 29, 2007

New fosse - part cinq - Thursday: Completing the filterbed and pipework

Back after a few days off from Blogging (more work, groan), to the story of our new Fosse installation back in August ....

Next morning the guys laid out the series of pipework at the top of the fosse filter bed - basically a mirror image of the pipes at the bottom (although for some reason there has to be 4 pipes across the bottom and 5 across the top of the filterbed), although this time the slots in the pipework face downwards.

Liquid waste from the fosse is pumped up into the plastic green-lidded chamber nearest the digger from where it flows across the 5 horizontal pipes to the similar chamber on the opposite side, and in the mean-time drains out through the slots in the pipework into the sand, and down through the filterbed. Obviously the guys had to spend quite a bit of time ensuring all the pipework was absolutely level as otherwise the filterbed might not operate properly if the liquid from the fosse were distributed unevenly.

The second green chamber nearest the camera is the top of the inspection hatch that goes down through the filterbed to the bottom set of pipework. You can thus check that the fosse is filtering properly by unscrewing the inspection hatches - two for the top set of slotted pipes, one for the bottom set.

After the slotted pipework and inspection hatches were all levelled off, all around the top of the filter bed was filled in with coarse stone chippings - I believe to help the filtration process.

As the Nic and Bennodet were completing shovelling the chippings around the top of the filterbed and levelling it off, Tony got his mini digger out again and dug a narrow trench from the bottom inspection hatch at the back of the filter bed, round the side of the filter bed, around our large oak tree, to connect up with the trench that contained the 40mm pipe running up from the pump to the top of the filterbed (see photo of the pipework along the back of the house). Into that trench was laid a 100mm pipe to carry all the filtered water from out of the bottom of the filterbed and downhill to drain out into the drainage ditch at the side of the road beyond the end of the garden.

Finishing all the pipework off of course took quite a while, along with little things like installing a second fat trap for the kitchen in the second house and connecting up the cabling for the electric pump. The soil pipe, kitchen waste pipe and electric cable conduit (in red) all had to pass under the wall of the second house and we were quite lucky that previously I'd found a hole under the wall that the previous owners had obviously had made for just this purpose. Otherwise we would have had a devil of a job to get the pipework in as the wall is about 80cm thick and constructed from some very large pieces of stone.

Tony had arranged for an electrician to come and connect up the pump which turned out to be not much more than a 5 minute job to put a plug on the end of the cable, and then they did some tests that the pump was operating and turning off correctly.

And that was it for Thursday. The 'fosse inspector' from the water company (SAUR) had to come and inspect the installation to ensure that Tony had built everything according to the plans and regulations, but he didn't arrive so the guys were able to finish slightly early.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Easyjet acquires GB Airways - possibly more flights to Brittany as a result?

On Friday EasyJet announced that they were buying GB Airways with effect from 30th March 2008.

GB Airways currently operates 39 routes to 31 destinations across Europe under a codeshare agreement with British Airways (BA flights with a flight number between BA6760 and BA6999 are operated by GB Airways).

Currently GB Airways only operates one flight to a one route to a French regional airport near to our Brittany Gite, Gatwick to Nantes, and EasyJet don't operate any flights to Northern France at all.

There's currently no details as to what route changes EasyJet will bring next year but potentially it may bring welcome news with an opening up of more low-cost flight options for our Gite.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Off Peak ferry crossings for £19 with SpeedFerries

As a change of scene from writing about the new Fosse, news in from SpeedFerries as to a new limited offer for 10 off-peak one-way Dover/Boulogne tickets for just £19 each.

The SpeedFerries off-peak tickets are valid on Monday to Thursday sailings apart from school holiday periods such as Christmas, Easter, mid-July to early September and the half-term breaks. Details of which days are and are not covered are on the SpeedFerries offpeak sailing guide.

So if you've not got kids and are flexible about your dates, then this must be the cheapest way to get to France.
(There's also of course a very nice holiday home available to rent all year should you need somewhere to stay whilst you're over in France ....)

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Installation of our new fosse - part quatre - Wednesday: digging and installing the filter bed

Thought I'd better point out (following a recent booking enquiry for our holiday Gite) that all the work on the new fosse was undertaken at the end of August. I'm just somewhat late with writing it all up. The garden and driveway are no longer a sea of mud, are returned to normality, and the Gite continues to be rentable.

Next day (day 2) of the story of the installation of our new fosse septique (see plans, the day before work started, emptying the old fosse and starting work and installing the new tank for the earlier parts) .

Another early 8am early start for Tony, Nic and Bennodet. When Tony left us the night before we'd been filling up the new tank with water to stop it rising out of the ground.

When we came out in the morning it was amazing to see how much water had seeped out of the ground around the tank, instead of being a tank sitting in a large empty hole it had become overnight a tank sitting in a water filled hole.
All the water you can see around the tank had come out of the ground overnight and we were in danger of the tank 'popping up' out of the hole as we hadn't totally filled the tank up with water (much to Tony's admonishment).
We quickly turned the tap on and filled the septic tank up to the brim with water.

Tony continued digging beyond the septic tank with the next part of the fosse to go in being the concrete pump chamber and then the pump itself.

Once the fosse is totally full, excess liquid will be forced out of the 100mm pipe coming from the near end of the fosse tank, that empties into the concrete chamber in front. In here is an electric (pool-type) pump with a float arm trigger so that once the liquid reaches a certain level in the chamber the pump is activated and the liquid expelled (at some considerable speed) up the narrow 40mm pipe towards the filter bed. As the liquid is pumped out, the float drops and the pump is switched off.
This simple automatic mechanism gets over the 2m vertical height difference between the fosse tank and the filter bed for the fosse, and means that we don't have a pump running all the time.

Next out was Tony's really narrow mini-digger which he used to excavate a trench along the back of the second house, then laid a 40mm pipe along the trench from the pump chamber up towards the filter bed.

The second house (which we don't currently rent out for holiday guests) will eventually be converted into our second (and maybe third) holiday Gite. Conversion of the house from an empty shell into liveable accommodation has been another one of my on-off projects for some considerable time, going back to at least October 2006 when I blogged about plans for new windows and velux's in the second holiday home.
Part of the work was installation of new windows through the 80cm thick wall for the new lounge/kitchen and you can see the oak frames of the almost-finished windows at the wall end nearest to the camera.

I made the mistake of disappearing inside for a while (to bash holes in the ceiling of the second house .. another story for another time), so when I came out a few hours later I found that the guys had already dug out the 7m x 5m area for the filter bed, lined it with polythene and installed all the 'return' pipework at the bottom.

(In case you're wondering, the lovely lady is Liz - my wife - complete with lovely green wellies. I unfortunately have no wellies in France so ended up with very muddy trainers ...)

This photo more clearly shows the pipework in the bottom of the filter bed. Laid on the bottom is a grid arrangement of 100mm pipes which all connect into the upright chamber you can see at the rear of the picture (with a spirit level on top). All the pipes are laid horizontal to the ground and have slots cut in the top of them so that all the filtered liquid will drain into them, and then run down to the grey upright collection chamber, which in turn will soon be connected to a pipe that runs back down the rear of the house to the drainage ditch by the side of the road).
On top of the pipework goes a protective layer of fabric, and then on top of the fabric goes 1m depth of special coarse sand. The fabric's purpose is simply to stop the filtration sand from blocking up the pipework.

Having got all the pipework level and connected up at the bottom of the filter bed the remainder of the afternoon was spent filling the filter bed with some some 35 cubic metres of sand!

Once again a team effort with Tony using the digger to fill up the tracked earth mover with sand from the two massive piles by the side of the road, Bennodet transporting the sand to the hole and tipping it in, and Nic shovelling and levelling out the sand across the filter bed. Other than a few tea and biccy breaks they didn't stop until all the sand was in the hole and everything was neat, tidy and level.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Installation of our new fosse - part trois - Tuesday: digging out and installing the new septic tank

Continuing the story of the new septic tank installation at our French holiday home, after clearing the topsoil, emptying the old fosse and delivering the gravel the next job (after the hour-or-so lunchbreak at the nearby restaurant with a 3-course menu for €15), the next job for Tony and the lads was the septic tank installation.

Unfortunately just as Tony broke ground with the mini-digger it started to rain, and rain, and rain. And as the hole grew, it continued to rain, so the garden stopped being a covered in earth and started being covered in mud.

The 5000 litre septic tank required a hole digging about 2m wide x 3m long x 2m deep, but as the waste pipes had to be sloped downhill from the house along under the driveway to the tank, this necessitated the hole being dug out another 0.5m deeper so in all some 15 cubic metres of earth had to be excavated from the garden. Of course all this soil had to go somewhere so Bennodet (seen in the white coat just behind the mini digger) kept on ferrying it on a mini tracked-dumper from the bottom garden, out of the driveway, along past the house, up the hill, through the gap in the fence, and dumping it at the top of the garden where the filter bed was to go (see this plan for the new fosse system for more details).

Just an hour later the hole was dug and Tony then used the mini digger to hook up a piece of rope attached to the plastic tank, lift up the tank, and carefully manoeuvre the tank into the hole.

And of course it didn't fit - quite. Width and depth were fine, but it was just a bit too snug lengthwise in the hole to enable it to be positioned properly. So some shouting backwards and forwards, taking the tank out of the hole, more digging, and then the tank fitted back in properly.

Nic spent quite a while in the hole carefully checking with a spirit level that the tank was absolutely level and true before they started filling in around the sides of the tank with gravel from off the driveway.

If you look carefully at the photo you can see a greyish line in the soil about a metre down from the surface level, this is the water table level for the area. Our house is fairly close to the River Lie and probably some time ago the valley floor was once part of the meandering river bed - over time the soil level's built up and is now a fair way underground.

What this did mean was that having just dug a large hole in the ground, the water level would fairly quickly start seeping back into the hole and would lift the tank out of the ground as it rose up. Bennodet therefore uncoiled the hosepipe and started filling up the tank with water to prevent this happening.

Tony's final request before they left for the evening was to leave the water running until the tank was almost full (which required most of the evening to do).

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