We’re owners of a croft!

*Natasha Newton Art

Yesterday we received confirmation from our Skye solicitors that we’re at last confirmed as owners of the croft!

Never before has a small patch of permafrost in Scotland caused so much excitement.

It’s been a five month journey to get to this point and it feels so good to have reached this milestone. I can sense the slightly bemused expressions of friends, family, and passing strangers, but what we’ve bought isn’t just a patch of land. It’s a promise of a completely new way of life, which we are so ready for.

Now, as the snow settles on the fields we can start the real work … registering the croft, designing a house, securing planning permission, building an access track, groundwork, utilities connection, planning the land use, tree planting… so much to do.

I know that there will be frustrations, tears, hard work, midges and compromises along the way, but there will also be joy and a sense of achievement as we move through these things.

And fresh air, trees, sea, bees, dark skies, peace, space and wellies. After a lifetime of cities you can’t imagine the pull of all of these things.

One day soon we will wake up to sunrise over the Knoydart hills and start our other lives.

Hell yeah.

Winter dreaming

Working for a Publishing House means that I’m privileged to be surrounded by books of every kind in my normal day.

Books have always been a huge and important part of my life, and husband and I probably have a collection of many thousands between us, which we are going to have to prune out to more manageable levels before we move to the croft.

Having said that, there are some classics that I’d never part with. I fell in love with the River Cottage handbook set many years ago. I’m a sucker for a well bound hardback, and these little books in their sturdy covers are just the right size for a small shelf in the corner of the kitchen or to pop in your pocket on a walk through the countryside.

Covering everything from shoreline foraging to home brew, cheese making and jams, they’re a great entry level into each of these worlds, leading on to more specialist reading for any specific area of interest.

I’m looking forward to having the time and space over the winter months on the Croft to curl up by the wood burner and plan and dream with these old friends.

After all, as Neil Gaiman said, “A book is a dream that you hold in your hands”.

So true.

Pantry Envy

I’ve always been a bit of a food preserver, despite living all over the world and having enjoyed the limitations of many kitchens. Given half the chance I’m one of those people who rather than waste anything will pickle it, make jam out of it, or dry it for future use. My idea of heaven is a well stocked shelf groaning with jars of vegetables, pickled cucumbers, jams, marmalades and dried pulses, legumes and mushrooms. I’m at my happiest with a few months supply in the house, available in case of an emergency.

In all my years of cooking, I’ve never had a pantry, although it’s something I’ve always wanted. I’ve made do with shelves on an old pine bookcase, or a cupboard in the utility room. Somehow, although that’s perfectly ok and totally suitable as long term food storage, it doesn’t satisfy this strange, deeply seated craving for a pantry.

In my minds eye in our forever home I see a small, cool room with shelves either side of the door, and cupboards beneath a stone work service. The shelves are neatly stacked with jars of preserved produce, like many-coloured jewels. Crocks of flour, jars of dried beans and pulses and dried ingredients of every kind line the shelves, ready for the next power cut or the onset of the next zombie apocalypse.

I’m not sure where this came from. I know that modern houses don’t normally include these things within their open-plan design, and that this desire would mean sacrificing space for something else (not the boot room, obviously).

But I’m going to try and find a way….

The mucky boot room

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As we’re hoping to complete the contracts for the croft in the next few weeks, we’re starting to think about the design of the croft house that we need to build in readiness for the submission of planning permission.

One of the things that we’re very conscious of is the need for a big working utility area. And a boot room.

The island is often wet and cold which necessitates lots of storage for coats and muddy boots if we’re not to bring the weather into what we hope to be a cosy, dry living space. Let alone find room for the collection of disgraceful hats, flat caps and old ratty knits that I know are going to adorn the pegs in profusion.

Interestingly, many of the designs that we’ve looked at here bring the main entrance into the house through the back, preferably on the leeward side of the prevailing wind, and through a boot room and/or a utility room before decanting into the kitchen or living area. This seems eminently practical to us and we will incorporate this into any house that we build along with a wind break.

One of the blogs that I saw recently on house build contained an interview with a couple who built their own home, but who failed to include a utility room area, and it’s the one thing that they called out as an essential miss.  I guess for veg preparation, dogs, storage, drying washing, homebrew or whatever we all do that takes up space or is wet and mucky it’s something we mustn’t miss!

So boot room space we shall have.

The joy of vegetable plot planning

There’s something very satisfying about the process of designing a vegetable garden. Whether you have several acres or just a small back yard, selecting the vegetables and fruits that you love, working out what will grow in your environment and sketching up a planting plan is a seriously happy thing.

I know that I should be focussing on practical things with the house build, but I can’t help sneaking a peek at books on raised beds, cold frames and no-dig gardening. I don’t dare go near the seed catalogues any time soon as it’s all far too premature – we won’t be planting vegetables on the croft for at least another year, but I convince myself that a planting plan now is a sensible thing to spend time on!

Please ignore the seed packets. This is a wonderful little company but I’m not buying anything yet. Honestly. However heritage and helpful and lovely they are.

It doesn’t help that I get serious garden envy from reading blogs with wonderful, established kitchen gardens where the owners are almost totally self sufficient in fabulous, organic produce. Like The Big Garden http://biggarden.scot/blog/ and https://charlieandjo.wordpress.com/ Totally inspirational – thanks guys.

I know that to get to this stage has probably taken years of hard work, mistakes and learning. I know that the first year on the croft will be one of watching and listening, preparing, and taking much experienced local advice if I’m not to completely balls things up. I don’t mind making mistakes – it’s all part of the learning process. I’m just impatient now to start.

I’m going to start small, segregating a south-east facing part of the croft close to the house for raised beds. We’re talking about composting, and building a wormery, which husband has had great success with in the past. I’d like to grow a herb bed, and a few vegetable beds, and a fruit bed. And we want to plant an orchard with hardy apple varieties. And maybe even try growing nuts in a sheltered space, which I know may be a step too far on Skye, but what the hell, it’s worth a try.

 

Red Clover and Lupins

We’ve been thinking of how best to build up the croft’s ability to support plants and wildlife. It’s pretty barren at the moment with limited biodiversity, having been left unused for many years as far as we can tell. It’s compacted grass, moss and rushes with a bank of trees to the Southwest and a very boggy area to the South. The soil levels are very thin.

What we can do is start working on the fertility of the ground by seeding nitrogen fixers like lupins and red clover, which will start the process of returning nutrients to the soil and slowly build up the biomass. Green manure.

We also need to get to know a local farmer who can provide manure from cows, pigs or horses that we can dig in or spread. Anything that increases the organic matter in the soil can only be a good thing. We’ll be aiming for full ground cover rather than bare, tilled soil with most of the land under tree or orchard cover, and raised beds for vegetable production.

Of course, once the trees are in and slowly shedding leaves the cycle will start and the soil depth will slowly and naturally increase.

I know that it’s going to be at least ten years until the trees and hedges will be established enough to really get going, but how satisfying will it be to know that the legacy we leave will be woodland and wildlife.

As we approach Hogmanay

As we approach the turn of the year, and Hogmanay especially, it’s time to look forward in anticipation of the new year to come.

Tomorrow is a double day of reckoning for me – it was my fathers birthday as well as being New Years Eve. He was a Scot, and died some years ago, but is always in my thoughts on this day.

I like to think that although he chose to spend his retirement on the South Coast of England that he’d be secretly chuffed that I was returning to Scotland for mine. He is much of the reason that I have always felt a love for Scotland, bringing my brother and I up in familiarity with all the things that represented Scotland to him in terms of Stovies, white pudding, Lorne sausage, butteries, porridge, Edinburgh, the total superiority of the Scottish race and.. well, you get the picture. 😊

Here’s to planning approval and the start of the Croft build next year. Thank you for joining us!

Hoping that you all also have a wonderful 2019.