On the Crofters Trail

On the reading pile this weekend (between flooring catalogues and kitchen cabinet fittings) is this poignant read.

Written by David Craig and originally published in 1990, this is now out of print and was a purchase from a second-hand bookseller.

It contains interviews with the descendants of those cleared from the Highlands and Islands who settled in Novia Scotia.

Some have letters from the period describing the atrocities in faded but visceral detail. Some have tales passed down through three generations from their great, great grandparents and recount them in detail.

There’s is something incredibly real and intimate about a book that contains a reference directly to the croft or township that you live in. For me it creates a tangible link back through time.

I look over the ancient but still visible lazy beds on the moor above the croft and feel a real link to the lives of those who wrestled them from the soil.

Definitely wall hung.. as the actress said to the bishop

Only those of you of a certain age and a certain lack of delicacy will get that….I am not going to explain for those of you who don’t.

Apparently, the latest thing in bathroom chic is to have your bathroom appliances (eg. toilet and washbasin) suspended from the wall. Nothing between them and the ground except fresh air and a tremulous fear of suspension.

Why? I asked the bathroom consultant. What’s wrong with them being floor mounted? Have they not been that way since time immemorial?

Difficult to clean, he said, delicately. You have men in your home?

I sort of get that swishing a mop under a wall mounted toilet is easy, but seriously? How difficult is swishing it around the base of a floor mounted toilet?

Perhaps it requires manoeuvres that the current generation haven’t evolved or mastered. Maybe I get that. But I also get that the process of house specification has a lot to do with trends, and I had seriously missed that even a basic croft house would be subject to that.

I am finding the process of specifying flooring, sanitary ware, tiles, kitchen units and worktops much more tiring than I expected.

It’s such a privilege to be able to do this in some ways, and so important to get right, but the endless choice is so wearying. Some days I just want to curl up and have someone present me with my perfect kitchen/bathroom and say…

Yes! It can be yours, and it’s within budget….

I’m focusing on the fun.

Planning Permission Approved!

We’ve just heard from the architects that planning permission for the longhouse on our croft has been approved. It’s a major milestone for us on this journey, and I’m so happy! Our home has just moved one step closer to becoming a reality.

Next it’s starting work on the building warrants and the more detailed specification for the build, which we are lined up to do in the coming weeks.

In preparation for this we’re travelling up to Fife soon to meet with the kitchen and bathroom planners to discuss what these rooms will be composed of, what we like, and what we can afford.

It’s been a bit of a revelation to me that people can (and do) spend many thousands of pounds on a bath… I keep repeating the mantra “keep it simple, keep it simple” so that I don’t get sucked in by the sales pitch on the latest and shiniest new version of anything.

We are not shiny people. Stone, wood, plaster, paint, wool and linen fabrics. Natural finishes, and as little plastic or gloss as possible, that’s our philosophy. We want to have a home that’s comfortable and functional to live in rather than a showhome.

It goes without saying that whatever we don’t spend on the house leaves us more money to spend on trees.

A glass of fizz this weekend may be in order.. ๐Ÿ˜‹

Scything on Skye

We’ve been looking at the practicality of using a scythe to keep the rushes and weeds under control between the trees on the croft.

We find the idea of using manual tools one that sits comfortably with our philosophy for the land. No fumes, no noise, no pollution…๐Ÿค”

There are times and certain tasks for which mechanical tools would absolutely be needed, but it would seem that scythes can be an effective alternative to keeping the grass down between the trees. I’m in touch with a couple of crofters and gardeners in Scotland who use and recommend an Austrian scythe.

Scything it seems, is undergoing a renaissance in Britain, fuelled in part by the increased interest in the permaculture movement and the desire to become less dependant on gas guzzling implements.

Used here from Anglo-Saxon times right up until the 1940s, theyโ€™re a genuinely simple and effective tool, and as the great Paul Kingsnorth says, ” they will doubtless be around long after the Flymo has faded into legend. Keep the blade honed, and know how to use them, and you have probably the most efficient tool for cutting grass ever developed. This is proven entertainingly year after year at the Somerset Scythe Festival where the annual โ€˜scythe versus strimmerโ€™ contest is always won by the scythe.”

Paul Kingsnorth is a compelling voice, and a very talented writer. This article really resonated with me with regard to not just the renaissance in the use of old tools, but the reconnection with the land and inherited skills that once lost, we never fully recapture. Here’s the link to the article

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2010-07-27/snatch-old-song/

Reading About The Clearances

Whilst we wait to hear about whether planning consent will be granted, we sit in London and try and fill our time with useful things. Paint, trees, space planning, registering for schemes, permaculture learnings and reading about the history of the place that we are soon to live in.

On the reading pile this weekend is this rather impressive tome from one of the Penguin imprints, Allen Lane. Written by TM Devine, an expert in his field and Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, he is described as “a towering and fearless intellect” and this book as the definitive reference guide.

There are deserted villages dotted all over the Isle of Skye from the clearances in the eighteenth century, as is true across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

They are sad and beautiful places, empty of all but the low, overgrown ruins of the house walls, and visited by few people.

The story of the forced clearances and the destruction of entire communities, enacted in the name of economic efficiency, is one that is both shameful and terrible. Truly the story of the dispossessed.

I think that we should be mindful and respectful of sensitivities on the island, shaped so brutally by this period in history. So many of the local names have family links and ancestors affected by the clearances. It will be sobering to hear their stories.

Horticulture for crofters

I’ve just received this copy of Horticulture for Crofters, a fabulously useful handbook published by the Scottish Crofting Federation.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on this for months, and so its arrival in the post this week was a cause for much excitement on my part.

It’s an incredibly detailed read on vegetable, fruit and tree production in Scotland, with lots of advice on crop shelter, soil care, crop selection and drainage. There are plenty of examples from growers in the inner and outer Hebrides, many on Skye. Just what we need to provide solid advice on local conditions and challenges.

Not to mention the wonderful illustrations by Chris Tyler, generously scattered through the chapters, which sadly I don’t have the rights to share here.

Bring it on! That’s the next weeks reading sorted.

Comments, costings and compromise

We inch forward slowly.

House designs are being drawn up by the architects and are shuttling through the ether between us with comments and costings.

We are in a continual state of debate at this stage around how best to design the space we need, based on our individual lifestyles and our lifetime experience of previous homes. All within the uncomfortably constraining straitjacket of affordability.

It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time. The architects are concerned with flow, space and light, and we are concerned with mud, storage and costs. It’s all on paper, and so it’s difficult to visualise the space with any degree of accuracy.

We do what we can, pace out room sizes at home and try and imagine our furniture in situ in the new space. I dream of colour schemes, boot rooms and utility rooms at the moment…

Somehow, we promise ourselves, this will all eventually come together in a wonderfully graceful ballet, but we’re still to be convinced of that!