Before contstructing the plateau steps, we had the new Fosse installed the filter system would require an area of 72 sq metres, consisting of four 12 metre long 100 mm diameter perforated pipes set parallel at 1.5 metres apart and 400 mm deep, and on gravel 150 mm deep covered with a porous membrane, then covered with soil.The contractor we employed agreed to level the area where the filter pipes had been laid and before the Fosse was commissioned.
Well, as you can see from the image, his perception of level to me looks like the winner of “The young ploughman of the year” competition. We had a bit of a disagreement and I would not recommend him. The Fosse and the filter system are very good, it’s the mess that you are left with to put right that’s the disappointment, especially after we were assured that “it will be level when finished” before giving him the job. At the finish of his work, he told us we needed to leave it for 2 months for the soil to sink and compress! We parted with me angry and him happy because of the money in his pocket.
Levelling the ground
…I started to cut into the soil to form the steps and get a rough idea of how it was going to look. Steps are normally 300 mm wide with a rise of 150 mm, but I felt that this was not going to be suitable for garden steps so I decided to make them 700 mm deep with a rise of 150 mm so that the sweep of the steps would curve around and rise gently. We had to balance out the time I spent on forming the steps with the levelling of the plateau, because if it rained before I got the foundations for the steps finished we would have a worse mess than we had now. As it turned out the summer of 2016 was great.
I spent the mornings and part of the afternoons working on the steps and the late afternoons/evenings on levelling the plateau. The terrain in Bretagne is rock and slate with some soil covering some of it, so doing anything below the topsoil is hard work, but as I needed rocks and slate for building the walls, I did not mind to start with but it becomes trying after a few weeks. The construction of the steps took around 8 weeks and the levelling slightly longer. Mrs Kindog was an absolute Trojan. The filter area had been cleared of the large rocks but the whole area would need to be cleared of all the small to medium size stones and rocks as we wanted the plateau grassed. Using stakes and a level we gradually worked our way across an area 2 mtrs by 2 mtrs sieving the soil of stone and then raking the soil level. It was a very tedious job but over the weeks we got the plateau level. The bottom step had to be flush with the ground level when finished so as to avoid anybody using the steps from tripping, so digging this one out and hard coring and shuttering it up ready for its concrete base took a bit of planning, but once done gave me encouragement to get the rest dug out and shuttered. I use 5 mm galvanised steel wire shape in a “tic tac toe” pattern to strengthen the base for the paving slabs. The hard core came from an internal wall that I removed. The risers were formed from some old aluminium garden staging shelving and some 8 mm plywood that I already had. I staked the aluminium into positions to hold the soil back and used the plywood that had 50 mm uprights to set it off from the aluminium forming a concrete upright. I repeated the process until I had all the steps formed and then cut the slabs and set them into position, then I coated the uprights with external masonry paint.
Using the rocks and large stones that we collected from people in the village and what we took out of the garden, I built the retaining wall just up to the second from top step before the bad weather started. I had intended to finish off the rest of the retaining wall in 2017 but plans change and it will have to wait till spring/summer 2018 before I can return to it, which is something I am really looking forward to.