I started the day early today and took the opportunity to do some quick research about surveying this new property. I'm off to see my friend Martin and I'm trying to be prepared for our conversation.
He's already given me some tips: check the foundations mainly, look for damp patches, look for diagonal cracks running from foundations or from window or door lintels, look at the roof, etc. Especially useful - take a long straight piece of wood to check for straight walls... I also found some advice online: for example how to survey old houses for renovation. Finally I hope to take my dad's advice and ask three local builders for their suggestions - with no specifications, what would they do to make it liveable? Could help us identify problems, give ideas, and get a feeling for potential costs. Of course I hope to do a lot of the work myself, and I expect our eco-house will be renovated quite differently from most local properties, but all this should be useful.
Then I got on to land surveying, or more particularly soil analysis. Not so much luck here in my initial searches - I'm surprised that the Soil Association website doesn't have more info. Of course I can do a pH test and hope it comes between 6.5-7, and I can hope for good loamy soil (although I expect it to be more sandy). Happily my conclusion was that my plan so far is ok, and I can dig some pits and do some investigating and all will be good.
Also this morning I came across this old film again of Ruth Stout's garden, which I find quite inspiring. Simple methods, little work, plenty of good food - sounds like a good recipe to me :-)
Then this evening I've ended up watching the documentary Dirt, via the great Permaculture Media Blog (see their Free Documentary Films Archive!) - loads of good stuff on here.
One last unrelated thing before I go to sleep: a friend of a friend apparently found it was so expensive to hire a mini digger for several pieces of work, it was better to buy one second hand for £5000 and sell it a year later for £4500 than pay all the hire charges. No there's a thought, although you need the spare cash...