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The Rise of the Machines

As promised, work recommenced today on stabilising the ground around The Laurels. Given that work in the excavation can’t start until Plutus and the various legal representatives involved come to some sort of agreement,  a huge amount of additional time and money has to be spent on installing a temporary piling solution on our land first. 

This is necessary, as the main piles have to be installed by a massive machine weighing around 70 tonnes, and there would have been a real danger that its sheer mass would have triggered the further movement of the ground on which it has to stand. The first hurdle didn’t take long to appear, of course. The arrival of a low-loader, with a caterpillar, tracked machine perched on top, heralded much head scratching as an attempt to reverse it up our drive started. Due to the different angles between the road opposite us, the main road and our drive, the rear end of the low loader wouldn’t make it through our Laurel arch, which had been previously attacked with a chainsaw,  without bashing its backside into the tarmac. I thought the clue was pretty much in the name. Low-loader.

Piling Machine

Given that the road going past the end of our drive is one of the main routes into Alton Towers, it didn’t take too long before a very long queue of traffic appeared. It was quickly decided by the attendant MIBs to park the low-loader in the road opposite us and decant its cargo from there. A fine plan – except, of course, we live on a very steep hill, so the loader ended up sitting at an angle that was far from level. As the tracked vehicle reversed down the ramps at the rear of its mother-ship, it began to slide off the side in a somewhat alarming manner. Fortunately, the driver of the be-tracked beast swung its hydraulic arm round and arrested its progress by planting it on the adjacent grass verge.

Piling machine

You can see the tail end of the situation in the video below;

This just left the small matter of getting the thing up our drive whilst simultaneously avoiding the overhead power lines, telephone cables and our wall.

All that’s required now is to bang in a large number of steel piles.


Cum On Feel the Noize

Title courtesy of Noddy Holder and Slade circ. 1973.

As previously suggested, some 23 steel piles were due to be bashed into the ground until they could be bashed no more. As you can see from the photo below, they’re about 4 Metres long and have a larger section at one end, into which another pile can be inserted. This also forms the hollow into which the percussive piling machine’s hammer actually fits and does the bashing.

Metal Piles

If you’ve never heard a hammer piling machine in action, we can assure you it’s loud. Very loud. In fact, on a scale of one to ten, it’s about eleven. To get a feel for it, turn your speakers up to full volume and click on the video below. Just make sure there are no animals or easily frightened humans nearby when you do.

In an effort to quieten the beast somewhat, the MIBs decided to wrap the hammer in insulation. Given that most of the noise actually comes from the pile itself and not the hammer, this was about as effective as wrapping Concorde in cotton wool in the hope it would silence the roar from the engines when on full reheat. Still, the time-lapse video of them doing so is fun to watch.

Luckily we and our long-suffering neighbours only had to suffer this for a few days. It also gave us a chance to enjoy the benefit of our brand new double glazing, fitted only a few weeks ago. We can certainly testify to its soundproofing qualities.

Below you can see how things looked after the hammering finished. The piles will then be cut off at ground level and filled with concrete before being buried, awaiting their massive concrete brothers to join them sometime in the near future.

Temporary Piles

Next up – the piling mat (or hard, level surface for the non-technical) will be constructed so the man-sized piling machine can turn up and do its thing.


Bring On the Big Boys!

In preparation for the arrival of the Soilmec SR30 Piling Rig, our once pristine drive and gardens had to be converted into what our Boffins call a ‘piling mat’. This essentially requires all that previously existed to be erased from history and replaced with a bunch of flattened dirt so the rig can do its thing.

(By the way, you really need to be a nerd or an Engineer to want to click on the above link.) The following 63 seconds of video excellence were expertly(ish) put together to demonstrate the construction of said piling mat.

And here are the results, with some pretty blue paint markings where the first 23 of the total 68 piles will eventually go.

Piling mat

Pile Cap markings

All this digging and flattening by our MIBs was the prelude to the main event. The arrival of the SR30! Actually, it wasn’t. First, they had to deliver all the stuff needed to make the SR30 into a useful piling machine rather than a sizeable chunk of steel.

In the piccy below, you can see this clearly wasn’t the work of moments and, once again, led to the temporary closure of the Alton Towers road. Oops.

Piling ancillariesPhoto courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Derek Lowe (Retired)

Eventually, the delivery of a tracked monster that, even in its pre-Transformer mode and all folded up, is 40ft long and weighs nearly 40,000 kgs, arrived.

Piling machinePhoto courtesy of Lieutenant Colonel Derek Lowe (Retired)

As usual, it was deposited in the road opposite before being driven up our drive, at just under its top speed of 1.4 mph, performing a further modification to our Laurel arch at the bottom. Once erected, this impressive beast rises to a maximum height of 74ft. Here are a few photos that try and translate its sheer size into the real world.

Piling machine

SR-30 Piling machine

If you fancy purchasing one of these behemoths, a new one will set you back around £750,000. However, depreciation seems to hit the SR30 fairly hard in the first couple of years, so if you don’t mind having a 2008 vintage model, you can pick one up at the bargain price of only 395,000 Euros from Sigma Plantfinder. In theory, Monday should bring the start of the boring. 


The First of Many Boring Days

As promised, the MIBs and their new mates, the Boring Men, turned up today to do their funky thang. The crack of dawn revealed the chugging into existence of the SR-30, our drilling/piling behemoth. Like any large existential being, the SR-30 is reliant on a large number of auxiliary support processes before it can be considered useful. In that vein, a number of MIBs and BMs stood around waiting for the first of these – the arrival of a cement lorry. Once the cement lorry had arrived and filled up the hopper in the SR-30’s CDM (that’s Concrete Delivery Mechanism), we were good to go. Yes, I know I’ve made that up, but you can’t operate an engineering project without a few acronyms.

Helen and I stared out of the window for a while, trying to imagine what type of work the various men and equipment in front of us were actually going to be engaged in. It soon became obvious that one man was responsible for creating the piling cages. These intricate sculptures were created using eight lengths of reinforced steel, some twirly whirly steel and some fine twiddling wire. His job was to create the reinforcement that would form the core of the concrete columns that the BMs were otherwise engaged in drilling. The video below shows his undoubted skill in the usual Benny Hill timelapse style.


Whilst all this twirling and whirling of steel was going on, the BMs were setting about drilling very deep holes into the Earth’s core. Clearly, these holes have to be in the correct place, and they also have to be vertical, but we’re not too sure what else is involved. However, given the complicated computerised gizmo screen, the main BM was interfacing with, these things are a lot more complicated than they look.

Piling computer

      Piling control screen

Once a very large, very deep hole had been created by the SR-30, it was filled with concrete via a hole in the end of the boring screw. This resulted in a very deep concrete column into which you could easily hide a dead body, should you be so inclined. As we had no dead bodies to hide at that time, we busied ourselves with watching as they lowered one of the previously constructed reinforcement cages into its concretey tomb, ably assisted by a knock on the head by the by-standing digger machine.

Once this orchestrated ballet of concrete, boring, caging and lifting is complete, we were left with a single pile, just waiting to be connected up to its neighbours at some point in the future. So, day one, and we’re eight piles down – just 60 to go!


And finally, back to our new regular feature – Crank Calls. In general, if a prospective guest rings us after midnight, they’re going to be told we have no availability, irrespective of how many rooms we actually have occupied.

This is for two reasons. Firstly, if you ring after midnight, you WILL wake us up, because we’ll be in bed and fast asleep. This means I’m not about to go downstairs, update the availability system and enter you onto the system – so you’re out of luck.

Secondly, if you’re the sort of person who rings us that late, without a thought for the poor bugger who has to answer the phone, you’re not the sort of person we want staying here and possibly keeping the rest of our guests awake with your nocturnal phone calls.

So there we were, fast asleep, when the phone rang, jerking us awake with all the subtlety of a cattle prod in the nether regions. I look at my watch and see it’s 3 o’clock in the morning! You know, 03:00, or 3 a.m if you will. Now, to be fair, if you ring me at that sort of time, you’re not going to get happy, Friendly Phil, you’re going to get Very Grumpy Phil instead, so when the voice on the other end of the line asked if we had any rooms available, I simply said, “It’s 3 o’clock in the morning”, to which he replied, “It’s OK, I don’t want the room until next Tuesday” !! Luckily for him, it was at this point that Helen suggested she talk to him instead, so she could explain to him that we didn’t have any rooms available.