Building Warrant came through a few days before Christmas. It was a great start to the festivities!
This is what we are building. It’s a 1.5 storey larch clad eco longhouse with traditional slate roof.
The front door is actually at the back of the building, nestled into the hill at the back of the croft. The picture windows are at the front, overlooking the Sound of Sleat, and hopefully providing much light.
Once the architects are back after the Christmas break we’ll start looking at build schedules. Can’t wait!
As the days tick around to the final approach to Christmas, it’s been a slow burn this year in starting to feel the usual joy for the season.
This has been mainly down to health, having undergone a knee replacement operation a few weeks ago and now living the prospect of a long, slow slog back to pain-free existence. It’s been a tough few weeks.
I know that the operation was necessary to allow me to live a full, active life on the croft, and I embrace and am thankful for the opportunity to do that.
By now I’ve usually baked a Christmas cake, the Christmas pudding, put up a tree and am onto an annoying Spotify loop of Christmas carols. I haven’t felt like doing any of this so far this year.
As we enter the final few days before Christmas, I’ve rallied a bit. Tradition holds strong, and in the end I couldn’t envision a Christmas without some of these things.
So we’ve decorated the bay tree on the balcony, lit some candles, and bought presents. The fridge is full, and the annual charitable donations have been made. We’ve got new books to thumb through over the break in preparation for our new life, and each page promises new knowledge. Family arrives tomorrow, which is really what it’s all about.
This will be our last Christmas in London and we will make the best of it. Skye beckons next year, and we simply can’t wait, but every day is precious and living in the now is important. This year is about using our waiting time fruitfully, but it’s also about enjoying the company of family, and relaxing into the seasonal embrace of Christmas.
Wishing you all a warm, relaxed and happy festive break and a wonderful New Year, wherever you are reading this from.
Christmas Mojo is being wrestled back on as we speak 😘.
Skye is a Gaelic speaking island, and is rightly proud of its culture and protective of its language.
As such, we’ve been thinking carefully about naming the house, and have decided that we will give it a name in Gaelic, however much we may struggle initially to pronounce it…
The lane running up to the croft is an un-named, single track road with several houses connected to it, each with long, winding access roads of their own. I have no idea how the Postie works out what post goes where, but many of the houses appear to be un-named or un-numbered, and we don’t want to add to that confusion.
Advice from the local Gaelic College on our doorstep, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, has been both helpful and free. They’ve suggested that using the term Taigh (house) rather than Croit (croft) for naming purposes is more in keeping with local practice.
We considered Stone House, but that was a bit misleading, as it’s a house built of wood, a larch house. We looked at the Gaelic names for Rowan House, Larch House, Woodland House and many others, but all were either taken already by houses close by, or didn’t feel quite right.
The house is up on a hillside overlooking the Sound of Sleat, and at the back of the croft we have a community of crows or ravens nesting in one of the big trees next to the stream. Ravens have always been special to me.
As such, we’ve decided to call it Taigh an Fhithich, or House of Ravens.
We’ve also found a local stone carver who will make us a house sign from stone. I’ve admired his work for ages. As such it was stone and font selection this weekend, and he’ll work on the house sign over the winter in readiness for the site preparation next Spring. Exciting!
I’ve been laid up for the last week recovering from a knee replacement operation. Before I had the operation I blithely imagined that I would be able to spend time researching and planning house options at leisure whilst comfortably resting my leg. Ha. The reality has been a little different, with the leg pain and the brain fog caused by the medication meaning that I’ve not been able to focus on anything much..
Because I won’t be able to get up to the kitchen design centre in Fife anytime soon, they’ve helpfully sent us samples of worktop and kitchen door fronts. The architects recommend Pronorm, a German kitchen manufacturer, and their range is extensive. It’s too much choice! We’re trying to keep it simple and the costs under control, which is a challenge. So far I’m looking at Silestone worktops with an under-mounted sink, an appliance wall, and two banks of under-unit storage with integral appliances.
We’ve also just had an email from the architects to say that we can expect building warrant approval by Christmas, which is brilliant news, and such a relief. I hope that this means that groundwork on the plot can start in the Spring.
When we first saw the land, a number of pieces of life’s puzzle slipped neatly into place. The croft was steep and unsuitable for agriculture, but it would be perfect for trees.
Hugh and I both love trees and believe that there is a strong need to plant them, both to increase the biodiversity of the land but also to offset the effects of climate change with carbon capture in whatever way that we could.
We started to look into Woodland Croft creation. Despite the northern latitude, strong winds and exposed coastal location, many types of tree are naturalised and grow well on the island.
Sleat is the least exposed part of the island, a peninsula turning its face towards the mainland on the south side of Skye. As such, lying nestled between the Cuillins to the North West and the Knoydart hills to the South East, it’s at least partly sheltered from the full force of the Atlantic.
Although Skye is almost barren of trees, being famous for huge expanses of high moorland and mountain, Sleat has more trees than the rest of the island. We are lucky, and the more we looked into it, the more we felt that a diverse planting would be completely viable.
The Woodland Trust offer advice and help with tree planting, but due to the recent rise in interest in this area, they are completely overloaded. There are long lead times to even get to see them to discuss plans. They’ve handed over some of their work to the Scottish Forestry Commission, who have been in touch at last and who will be assessing the croft land for tree planting viability next week. We can’t wait for the report.
We expect the recommended species to be a mix of trees such as rowan, alder, blackthorn, grey willow, downy and silver birch, sessile oak, scots pine, hazel, wych elm, holly and aspen.
We want to supplement these plantings with wild, edible hedges filled with crab apple, blackberries and hawthorn, and an area of sheltered orchard with hazelnuts, apples, cherries and pears.
As soon as we have the Forestry Commission report we can discuss deer protection and build a planting plan for the land. Even though we know that the first trees probably won’t go in for at least another year, it still feels like a milestone in the journey!
The relative slowness of this process is frustrating, but in a way it’s also contemplative, allowing time for our initial thoughts to be challenged and supplemented with local wisdom. We’re watching other local crofts start this, and learning what works and what doesn’t.
Don’t get me going on the merits of spiral guards, staking, vole protection and windbreaks now…☺️
Now that the building warrant is in, we need to spend the next few weeks finalising decisions on kitchen, bathroom and flooring options. I started the process earlier this summer, but parked the initial designs when we got consumed with such things as the access road, electrical points and window types, all very essential for the warrant submission.
I didn’t really dare breathe much more on the more cosmetic elements, almost feeling that it was in danger of jinxing things somehow to spend time on this without having all the permissions in place. But on Friday I picked up the phone to the kitchen designer in Scotland, sent him the final room dimensions, and told him that it was time to re-engage.
Lock and load, kitchen designer! I’m back. And with some new ideas!
In some ways the break of six months without fully considering things like tile colours, tap designs and shower fittings has made things easier, and my vision of what we want clearer. I’m more convinced than ever that simple is best, with good quality, natural materials wherever possible. Most of the ideas that I originally hatched six months ago still hold water, but some things have changed, and I’m grateful that we have had that time to alter things.
The inner project manager within me is now itching to list out all the decisions we need to make, create mood boards, check out suppliers, arrange samples, agree visits wherever possible to physically try things out (like the bath), estimate costs, and get on with it…
At long last, what feels like a major milestone has been achieved – the building warrant pack is complete and has been submitted to the Highland Council for review and approval!
This has been so much more of an effort than we ever imagined.
Every SIP panel, roof tile, larch board, power outlet, plug socket, door material, light switch and window frame has had to be specified, documented and checked.
We’ve had the SAP assessment completed by the Energy Consultant and we’re very pleased with the energy rating for the house. It should be snug and cheap to heat, with an Air Source Heat Pump, underfloor heating and tons of insulation.
We’ve had our challenges with the access road. The gradient of the croft leading up to the building plot is pretty steep, and the engineer has had to wind the road around the plot much more than we’d originally thought to keep the gradient of the road useable and within building regs. That means more road, more excavation and more expense, but it has to be done.
Now we sit back and wait, hoping for a smooth approvals process so that we can finally start looking at the build itself next Spring.
We are creeping forwards! Slowly and painfully, but progress is being made…