Coastal Wales Construction: Building with Hemp and Lime

Oh, it's hard to play favorites, but my heart tells me that we've finally hit our stride with this whole volunteer thing, and my legs tell me that they are not going to want to be walking away from Mick and Lisa's.
Our new best friends taking us out for a beer. Can't say wrong with that.
Fate lead us to our amazing new hosts, because they just so happened to come upon the scene looking for help with exactly the type of thing John and I were looking to learn about, at exactly the moment things weren't working out with the host at our previous location.

Fate did us right. We are learning things--new things! Not just weeding or maintenance, but building skills that will fit nicely in our construction knowledge arsenal (which at this point is basically empty).
Plastering away in our plaster suits. Lime is pretty damaging to the skin and eyes, so protection is a must.
Before adding the plaster (left), the only insulation is from the stone wall (right)
I've mentioned before that within the past few months, John and I have changed the focus of this trip so that it's not utterly food-centric, but also includes more skill-building opportunities like construction, restoration, and general carpentry. Being self-reliant when it comes to those crafts will save us money in the future, but more than that, it's simply a nice back-to-the-roots feeling to be able to rely on one's own hands to get things done.
Can't be self-sufficient if you don't know how to weed whack
Can't be self-sufficient if you don't know how to knit. Wait...
The name of the game for the next week or so will be building with hemp and limestone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock has been used for thousands of years (for example, the Great Pyramid of Giza is made from it!) as an ideal building matierial because it is sturdy yet microscopically flexible, so instead of walls cracking in the way cement does, limestone slowly adjusts to changing conditions over time. Most of the stonewall structures one sees in Europe is built with some sort of limestone mortar.
The nearby coastal remnants of a church and cemetery near Fishguard, the "church" giving us a prime example of limestone mortar and it's amazing ability to resist the elements
The notion behind using hemp with lime is that hemp serves as a natural and relatively inexpensive filler/expander of a limestone mixture. More specifically, Mick decided to utilize hemp to provide the barn he's renovating (which will be rented out as holiday lets once finished) with insulation and fortification. The strips of hemp (which resemble wood chips) have tiny fibers that "grab" onto the lime mortar and other hemp fibers, fortifying the wall along with fattening it up to provide better insulation.
Team Plaster! Here we are (I am the one in the middle ready for my Russian vacation) putting a second coat of hemp & lime plaster on a wall. You can see the way we simply build the second coat along the first one if you look to the left of Mick. We just slop it on, punch it in, and it stays put (that is, if you have the mixture not too wet or dry).
Just in case you're curious, the process is essentially this: combine a shovelful of sand with a bucketful of pure powdered limestone. Mix in a construction mixer, add a well-measured bucket of water and two buckets of hemp. Quantities change ever-so-slightly based on the wetness of the sand, but adjustments are made as relevant, and once ready, we load the mixture into buckets and quickly slop it onto the walls before it begins to harden.

I know this is all terribly exciting for you to read about, and as far as the actual process goes, yes, it is a bit long. We listen to music and talk about what comes to mind, and it's somehow relaxing in its simplicity.
Betcha didn't know Wales had something like this, did ya? This was a little coastal walk near Dinas Cross.
And afterwards, if the sun is shining, we take some time to remind ourselves that we're living on the coast.


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