First the good news… there is still an old barn on the croft. Agricultural buildings are an absolute necessity for equipment, feed, seed storage and the like.
Secondly the not so good news. It’s more hole than barn…
There’s a massive gap in the back wall of the barn, where the stone collapsed many years ago. There is no front wall at all except some rickety boarding that looks like it’s held up by sheer hope. The beams are unsupported, rotten in places and swaying in the wind at the back where there is no wall left to hold them. The tin roof is full of holes but is mainly still in place, which is what’s saved the rest of the walls, I suspect.
However, it’s salvageable. Let’s hope it’s doable and actually not too expensive, because after we’ve built the house and started the land drainage and tree planting works we’ll be restoring this with a bit of a wing and a prayer, and not a lot else!
As I sit here at the kitchen table in London on the last few days before Christmas, tapping away on my laptop and watching the clouds scud past the window, my thoughts turn to what we mean by the term home.
For me, home is where love is. And my love is my husband of two years. His presence and his companionship immediately make anywhere that we live home. Having said that, there are places to be in that feel more comfortable and more aligned with our core values and way of life than others. London would never be that place for us. It’s just where we have to be for work. It’s too fast and impersonal, too urban. Too concrete. Too polluted.
I’m sure we’ve all seen dogs slowly and endlessly circling around, trying to find that indefinably perfect spot to settle in. I seem to have been that way for most of my life, living in Germany, France, Holland, England and America, yet never fully settling or feeling that deep sense of belonging in any of them.
The closest I’ve ever got to that is the island. For me, cold, wet, bleak, and as wild as it is, it speaks to me at some deep level that makes me feel that this could be home. When I’m on the island I feel a sense of something deep within me unclenching, and some of the anxiety that is ever present in urban life starting to relax it’s grip on me.
Some people count the nights until Christmas in the anticipation of the day. I’m counting the months and years until we are on the island in our own little home.
The surveyors report is in. Most of the Croft only has about 20cm of soil over lewissian gneiss… we always knew that this was going to be challenging!
Looks like a winter tucked up with gardening books and a planning pad to work out what maritime, salt and acid tolerating plants will make it here.
Preferably those that don’t need soil!
Good thing that we hadn’t been hoping to make this into a lush tropical market garden… we like the idea of a woodland croft to increase the land biodiversity. Alder, willow, hazel, birch, hawthorn… there should be enough types of tree that could cope with these conditions. Edible hedging with sloes, rowan berries and crabapples. A few free range chickens perhaps.
Time to stalk the Woodland Trust sites for advice..
Tucked away on many hillside crofts are delapidated barns still sporting rusty red corrugated iron roofs. They glow red in the sunset and stand out starkly against the green and browns of the moorland and heather.
We have one on our croft, and I love it.
Nature has taken the metal and turned it into a thing of beauty through successive generations of scouring with salt, wind and rain.
Unexpected patches of colour in a wintery landscape.
At last, a trip up to Skye with husband to walk the boundaries of the land and check out tree cover and renovation options for the barn.
The weather was truly Skye – blustery skies and squally showers interspersed with shafts of bright sunshine. It was November, so also cold and windy. We wrapped up warmly.
We spent a couple of hours on the plot, aligning the house plans with the best of the sea views over the Sound of Sleat and working out the best shelter. We’re lucky, as there are already trees on the South Western boundary which provide good shelter from the prevailing winds. We’ll need them…
And there is this beautiful outcrop of what we believe to be Lewisian Gneiss poking out of the moss at the top of the Croft.
An ancient stone. A stone for sitting and thinking, or maybe just watching the world go by.
And it’s the inspiration for the name Stone Croft..
In the deeds to the Croft we found a clause that allows the warriors of Clan MacDonald right of access over the land to the distant Castle Dunscaith.
This is a ruined castle of unknown age, linked by legend in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology as the place where Scathach, a woman warrior and teacher of the art of war, trained the hero Cú Chulainn in the arts of combat. The Irish name for the fort, Dun Scathiag, was named after her.
There’s not much of it left these days. The castle itself sits on an off-shore rock which rises 40 feet above sea level and there is a gap of 20 feet between the rock and the mainland. The gap was once spanned by a walled, arched bridge with a drawbridge, the pivot holes for which are still visible on the far side. Once on the other side of the drawbridge a door opened to a flight of stairs which led up to the castle.
I’m amused by the idea of medieval kilted warriors striding through our vegetable patch. Hell yeah.
Missives are slowly exchanging between the solicitors, and whilst we wait our thoughts have turned towards who we will commission to help us build our croft house, and some of the designs that we might be interested in (and could afford).
Do we go timber frame and traditional block and render, joining the white, low homes dotted across the flanks of the island like small iced cupcakes? Or do we go for larch cladding, which silvers and blends into the landscape with age?
Do we go for a wood burner, underfloor heating, how green can we be with the build, how much space do we need?
Our evenings after work are filled with sewerage treatment options, the relative insulation properties of SIP and timber, and house plans.
Needless to say it’s all much more expensive than we imagined and will take everything we have. But we hold fast to the dream and have a call in with local architects to talk through the possibilities and practicalities. We will design and build a low impact home that will fit into the land and be easy and cosy to live in.