From the U.K. to Maine: Of Cob homes and thatched roofs

5 mins read

In this small village of Ringmore where we are visiting family, I’ve become interested in old methods of building houses. I grew up in Pennsylvania in a large stone home with two-foot-thick walls. Here, I find the same, only differently constructed.

First of all, the village itself is quite near the sea, but hidden from it. When the first people came here, many hundreds of years ago, they wished to be concealed from pirate ships. Not even a chimney was visible in this saucer shaped valley where the ancient cob homes were first built, many of which remain.

Another reason the village is in a valley ( called a combe), is for weather protection. Winds off the sea blow harsh rain which wears down paint, woodwork of homes. The age of these homes, including the church which is over 7 centuries old, speaks to the position of its homes in this combe.

A cob home takes your breath away. Usually with a thatch roof, the ceilings are low inside, and rooms tend to be small. Londoners doing over these cottages often knock down walls inside, creating larger open spaces, yet keeping many of the original features. The cob house with its thick, handsome walls, is warm in winter, cool in summer.

How was a cob home made? The traditional materials are cob (just wait ’til I get to what cob actually is) and stone. The roof is thatched. The homes look as folktale stories. Old Mother Hubbard’s home near us here is of such cob and thatch. OK: cob is a mix of dung, earth, straw and water, trodden altogether to a suitable consistency. Walls were built up in layers of the prepared cob on a stone base. The layers were built up gradually, each one drying out before another layer was added. The walls of these cob homes were – are – terribly thick, about three feet, to ensure strength and stability. They were lime washed on both inside and outside walls, allowing the cob to breathe and protecting it from damp.

The cob homes were thatched. This roofing was originally made of wheat straw, but now is from water reeds. Many of the roofs still have their straw, although with time, others have been replaced with slate. A well done thatched roof will last about 20 years.

We stood watching a roof being thatched. The master thatcher grinned at us, and then disappeared to the other side of the roof before I could take his photograph. I was impressed with the tight, thick covering of reeds, and how well employed thatchers still seem to be in the 21st century in this part of England.

John Paul Riva has a grandmother famous for being known as world’s most glamorous grandmother.

In thoughts about home, Maine, from afar, I wonder how people got away with building thin, wooden walled homes that don’t consider the extreme cold climate. A thick walled cottage, low ceilings would be fine back home. (Over here, coal pellets are being used in wood-type stoves).

It is soon time to travel on to visit more family in other parts of the UK, on both my husband and my sides. We have just a short visit in all, but look forward to returning another autumn. ( Air fares are cheaper now and tourists less).

I have one more tidbit to write about – the Inn in this little valley. We met the new family who runs it: John Paul Riva and his wife, Juliet and their young baby. John Paul ( who is called Paul) has a famous grandmother once termed the “world’s most glamorous grandmother,” Marlene Dietrich.

Stay tuned.

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