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 ! ☺️

Of sick dogs and cancelled flights

We’ve been waiting impatiently for the opportunity to get back up to Skye for the last three months now.

Work schedules, family commitments, and the time it took to complete the croft purchase all conspired to stretch that time out to what seemed like an agonisingly long wait.

But eventually the week of the flight to Inverness approached and we started packing our bags and finalising the visit arrangements. And then disaster struck.

In the week before we were due to leave, our lovely old spaniel got sick. Up several times a night, my husband slept downstairs on the sofa with him so that he would be close in case anything happened. Bertie was listless and weak, had continual diarrhoea which his medication didn’t seem to be helping, and we were terrified that his time had come.

We cancelled the flight and the accommodation. We cancelled the dog sitter. We couldn’t leave him.

Exhausted from several nights of worry and scant sleep, we despaired of when we would get the chance to make the trip again, feeling both frustrated and guilty at voicing our feelings at a situation that was of no-one’s making.

Last night he turned the corner. He brightened. He started to eat again. We breathed again and watched in delight as he gained in energy. We dared to wonder whether we could get him comfortable enough over the weekend to squeeze a short few days in on the island out of the original week that we had planned.

The bags are still there, still packed on the bedroom floor, awaiting the outcome of the next few days.

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.

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.

 

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!

Severe lack of soil!

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..