The waiting game

It’s Easter weekend, and we’re in London in body but our hearts and minds are on our croft in Skye.

We’re at that stage where there’s little we can do until planning permission is granted, and so we wait, and wait, and plan next steps.

Fast on the heels of planning permission comes the need for a Building Warrant, and for that decisions need to be made about interior house specifications, so in the interest of ensuring that there are no delays we are working through plans for flooring, heating, kitchen and bathrooms.

All good stuff, but with the sun shining here and Spring firmly in place it’s so difficult not to get distracted by planting schemes and tree decisions. All of which should sensibly wait until after the access road and groundworks are agreed, as we can’t really start until this has happened and the lower part of the croft drainage has been improved.

Patience. Patience. A virtue that I sadly lack and which I have tried to develop all my life. I breathe. It will come.

I resign myself to planting out pots of herbs on the London house balcony and focussing on the positives. I bake bread (honing my skills for when we don’t have easy access to good bread on the island!) We start sifting through our many boxes of books and possessions, weighing what we will really need for the future.

I dream about the croft.

Kitchen conundrums

Kitchen – Image: The Indigo House

I think of the kitchen as my space in a home. It’s where I spend most of my time, where I create, and more often than not in recent years, where we eat. So I want to get it right.

Despite being ancient and having lived with more kitchens than most people have had hot dinners (which you would think would have filled me with the wisdom of Oracles) I’m finding myself struggling with the design of my perfect kitchen.

There’s simply too much choice.

I’m trying to keep it simple, basic, streamlined and uncluttered, but with the important elements being the best quality that we can afford. We hope that we will have this kitchen for a very long time. What doesn’t help is that we have a lot of stuff…

In support of this, and as well as a mammoth clear-out planned, we’ve designed in a separate pantry and utility room for all the cleaning stuff, laundry, home bottling, dog things, preserves, bags of flour and all the less glamorous yet essential bits of everyday living that drive me crazy if I have to battle my way through them in order to cook.

I’m sure about a couple of things, though, born of many years of kitchen frustration.

1. Worktops – I want my kitchen worktops to have heat-proof surfaces, because I’m tired of trying to wrestle things out of the oven and having to balance them on trivets or onto the hob in order to get to their contents.

2. Cupboards – I want accessible cupboards, or preferably, drawers. Being only 5″4′ I find that most overhead kitchen cupboards are just too high to be usable for me, and badly planned low-level cupboards require the arms of an octopus to get to the areas at the back.

You have no idea the number of times I’ve cleared out a cupboard after many years of use only to find something pushed to the back which has developed a new life form..

3. Lighting – lastly, well planned lighting. Most kitchens that I’ve used have badly thought through, non-directional, inadequate lighting. There’s nothing worse (or dangerous) than trying to chop things standing in your own shadow.

We will need to plan this well 🤔

Neo-traditional Scottish longhouse….

According to the design statement from the architects, we’re building a “subtle neo-traditional Scottish dwelling that alludes strongly to the longhouse design whilst incorporating a modern, energy efficient interior”.

The phrase neo-traditional had us both hooting with laughter. Honestly, the marketing speak that gets rolled out in the interest of persuading planning departments!

It will be a very simple, slate roofed, larch clad house.

It should sit low and silver slowly and quietly into the landscape amongst the trees. It will be well insulated, snug and energy efficient.

We’re running final checks on the planning permission pack this weekend, then off it will go into the laps of the planning department of the Highland Council to seek it’s fortune.

We have everything crossed that it is accepted. Another milestone reached on our journey…

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!

Longhouse design

The time approaches for us to design our house and apply for planning permission to build on the decrofted part of the land.

There is already outline planning permission granted for a one and a half storey house, but full planning permission and building warrants will be needed next.

We’ve been working with Dualchas, Skye based architects. They design homes based on the original black houses of the Hebrides, houses that are long and low, that tuck into the hillsides, and are built to cope with the high winds and rain.

It became apparent quite quickly that by the time we factored in the groundworks, a long access road, a sewerage plant and everything else, that this was going to be an expensive exercise! A custom designed house with everything that we wanted was starting to look like a stretch too far.

Dualchas also however have a series of SIP (structured insulated panel) kit homes that contain all the best elements of their design – big volumes in the living areas, lots of light, great energy efficiency, remarkable build strength – and which prove marginally less expensive for what we want.

Our wish list:

*For the house to be super efficient in terms of energy consumption and to be cost-effective to run.

*To have big windows on the south side for solar gain and to make the most of the views.

*To sit quietly and naturally in the landscape, respecting the local vernacular.

*To be built of natural materials (slate, wood, stone).

*To have enough space for a utility room, a boot room and a larder for food storage and preparation.

*To have generous living space, with room for our massive book collection.

We have lots of work to do now to try and balance our budget with our desires and find a compromise that works for us and the land.

Let the balancing act begin ! ☺️

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.

Ancient Thinking Stone

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..