Yesterday was a glorious day, sunny and hot and we sat outside (Debra, Ian and I) drinking rosé, and actually had to eat lunch indoors because it was too hot outside! But in the evening it was coldish and I decided to light a fire. We had been talking earlier about my wood burner, and how it had got more and more difficult to light, and smokier... well, this time, I lit it and sat down while I waited for it get going. Within a few seconds, smoke was pouring out of the bottom door and every join in the stovepipe and the whole room was filled with a pall of smoke. I opened the main doors and found that, although the paper had burned away, the wood had barely been touched. (Fortunate for me, as otherwise the whole house would have been smoked out!)
I made sure the fire was out, closed the door to the room and then opened the outside door and the window opposite and put on a fan to clear the smoke. Later, I rang Ian for his advice as to what the problem might be. He said they would pop over the next day and have a look at it.
So... this morning they duly arrived, and Ian checked the chimney, which seemed to be OK (the fire was only installed 2 months ago) and then proceeded to dismantle the stovepipe. Well - I was shocked - the pipe was full of black ash, which had had formed a total blockage at the back of the pipe, just where it joined the main upright piece.
...although it doesn't look too bad in this photo, the back of the pipe is completely blocked.
After a good cleanout including a sweep with Ian's chimney brush and a final vacuuming, Ian put it all back together. He thought that the build-up was bits of paper that I had used to start the fire, which had got pulled up the pipe just as far as the flat elbow bit, and then collected there to form the eventual blockage. Normally, in a straight-up pipe, these bits would either go straight up the chimney, or fall back into the back of the fire where the high temperature (once the fire got going) would burn them up completely.
So, thoroughly chastened, I then watched while Ian showed me how to light a fire with barely any paper, to avoid this happening again. It does involve using a tiny amount of paraffin, which I don't like, but it will avoid this problem in the future!