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.

The frustration of over-engineering

When you’re eager to be somewhere, time passes slowly. This is a picture of the rocky shore down from the Church on the Sleat Peninsula, close to where the croft is. This image helps me with the passage of time.

Every now and then when we’re knee-deep in roof light specifications, or looking for the fiftieth time at how best to configure the bathroom, I pull up all the photos that I can find of the township, the croft or its views, and remind myself why we’re doing this. And I breathe more slowly…

It’s difficult to describe what we want so that architects and kitchen or bathroom planners understand clearly. We are realising that anything that deviates from the perception of the norm causes problems. Because we are clearly not normal.

For example, it appears to be inconceivable to certain kitchen designers, who have a preconceived idea of what needs to go into our space, that I do not want a steam oven. Or why a single small kitchen sink with no draining board area would not be perfectly adequate. Or why I could not live without individually programmable humidity-controlled salad drawers in the fridge….

Trying to keep things simple these days is clearly out of fashion.

Believe me, I know that this sounds strange coming from the lips of someone who has spent a lifetime working with technology, but I don’t want to have to programme my appliances. Even the induction hob that we were shown had reconfigurable cooking zones….

I’m feeling a bit like a frustrated Luddite.

I’m happy to listen to experts and take on what works for our lifestyle, but over-engineered appliances just seem to me an exercise in unnecessary expense.

I am looking at my calming picture of the shore. I am breathing.

We are making progress…

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.

Barn challenges

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!

A sense of home

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 formal offers

D4698007-4AA0-4D9A-A62E-833130248661.jpegOur Scottish solicitors have drafted formal offers of purchase on the Croft and the decrofted building plot, and after review with the estate agents this morning will be submitted to the sellers solicitors.

This process is very different to the English way of buying, with solicitors here involved from the very outset. The sellers have verbally accepted our offer but nothing is real under this system until solicitors have formally submitted and accepted written particulars.

This part is a little nail-biting, but I can only hope that if it’s meant to be that it will happen, and that we’ll get over each obstacle as it comes up…

For now it’s a waiting game. Sitting here at the kitchen table with a mug of tea, poring endlessly over the plot plans and the few photos that we have of the land…

The Journey Begins

14900357_1425788667449599_1623462875318700130_nThis is the beginning of the realisation of a twenty-five year dream to live on the Isle of Skye. We have just started the process of buying a croft on Sleat, in the south of the island, and are hoping to build a life and a home there for the future.

I know that the path to any dream can be fraught with difficulty and disappointment as reality kicks in and life happens, but a dream is a worthwhile thing to hold fast to, and I’ve held onto this for a very long time.

My busy work and home life in France and London over the last twenty years have kept me more than occupied, but throughout that time my little haven of peace and solitude has always been the Isle of Skye.

I used to escape to the island as often as I possibly could, at least once a year but sometimes more when I could squeeze time out of my work schedule. These trips mainly took place  in February or March with gales, power cuts, and occasional snow blizzards, but also with glorious skies, open-fired cottages and monumental views over the Atlantic. It provided a small, restful hollow where life ran at a different pace and I could explore my creativity.

This is an island of artists on the edge of the wild. It felt like home, and always has done.

Being able to share this with my partner who, despite recognising the rigours of life on a cold, wet Scottish island is also up for this, is simply the icing on the cake. I simply couldn’t do this without him. Thank you, Universe!

This blog will chronicle the process of buying and setting up our croft, designing and building a house that fits into the rural aesthetic of this amazing place and working through the shape of our new lives there. Welcome along for the journey, and wish us luck. I think we’ll need it ☺️