The dreaded cost overrun

I guess in a way it was always going to happen, despite our best efforts to avoid it. The Quantity Surveyor has just shared his schedule of costs with us, and it’s way over both budget and the initial estimates that we’d been given.

It was a stomach wrenching moment when we worked our way down his itemised spreadsheet and realised that the costs were about 30% over what we’d been led to expect. With some big costs, such as the utilities, not yet factored in…

And so late in the process! Too late to feasibly change anything big.

Having tried to control costs as much as possible by buying a ‘turnkey’ solution from a reputable firm of architects, we’ve been scuppered by the quotes from their builders for the groundworks, access road and actual build of the house.

Although the SIP kit is a fixed price and estimates for the erection were provided, their builder has come in with quotes way over what was initially estimated.

We’re now faced with challenging those figures, and if we can’t get them down to a reasonable level, which I think unlikely, potentially trying to source another builder. Not an easy task on the island where builders are scarce and already over-subscribed with work for the year. We may have to spread the net more widely.

And if costs still prove too high, we may have to do some of the work ourselves to make this in any way affordable.

There is a definite feeling that some of these figures are what we call “London” prices. (Ah, they’re from London. They must have loads of money and will accept any cost that we give them.) That’s a bitterly sad thought, and one that I sincerely hope doesn’t prove to be true.

Let’s see where this next week takes us…

Mushroom growing

One of the foods that I really love is mushrooms. Just about all mushrooms, but especially the meaty, flavourful ones such as ceps or shiitake mushrooms.

Living in France for many years gave me an even deeper appreciation of them, with the wild mushroom season kicking off an almost religious fervour in the locals, and restaurants using them in everything whilst they were fresh and plentiful. The flavour and textures were unlike anything I’d tasted from shop bought mushrooms, and I was hooked.

We’ve been looking at growing mushrooms using spore-loaded plugs drilled into beech logs on the croft. We have the wood, the rain and the space.

Skye has a good climate for mushrooms – relatively mild and wet – and there used to be someone who grew mushrooms commercially there until recently, so we think that they would be successful.

It takes a few years for the mycelium to take, spread into the fibre of the logs and the underlying ground and fruit into mushrooms, but then it’s possible to crop for many years.

Mycelium, the thread-like network of spores that propagate mushrooms are fascinating.

Research has shown that the presence of mycelium is beneficial to spreading and keeping nutrients locked into soil, and the no-dig method relies on not disturbing this network for maximum soil fertility and crop health.

Trees also use a network like this to communicate and exchange food and healing chemicals to each other beneath the ground. It’s remarkable.

However, back to the edibles!

We can get spore-loaded plugs online for shiitake, oyster, chicken of the wood and enoki mushrooms, all of which are worth a try.

Will keep you posted (but with a trial period of two to three years before we would expect results and enough for a portion of mushrooms on toast, don’t hold your breath..!)

Using the time wisely

As the weeks move on and progress inches along slowly, I try and keep my resolve strong and hold onto the dream by looking back at why we are doing this and using my time in active preparation for our new life.

Photos and videos that we’ve taken of the croft help me to reconnect. Endless lists and plans scribbled in notebooks also help. We are making progress, even if it seems painfully slow at this stage.

๐Ÿ’We hope to have confirmed costs in this next week.

๐Ÿ’The builder has visited the plot and is firming up initial estimates.

๐Ÿ’We have a Quantity Surveyor appointed who is managing the activities around the build.

๐Ÿ’We have the window and doors ordered, along with the request to start SIP panel production.

Yet somehow, until we break ground and I see something tangible, like the access road or the foundations for the house, it doesn’t seem real…

In the meantime, I re-read my books on bread making, jam making and crafts, all things that I hope to happily fill my time with once we are in our new home. I plan for years out when we have hedgerow fruits and can make blackberry wine!

I resist the temptation to peak too soon and buy demijohns, which we’d only have to cart a thousand miles to the island..

I create mood boards and source paint colours. I find floor tile and wood samples and try and decide remotely what will look best in the space and the light, balancing practicality with design.

We plan endless potential uses for the old barn on the croft. Book barn, accommodation, studio, willow weaving shed, brewery… I think we’re up to around 400 potential uses for it so far ๐Ÿ˜ฌ. It’s become our family joke. I think it’s because it’s the only actual building on the land, however tumbledown. At least it’s real.

I think of my studio and all the things that I will create once I have the time and mental space to do so – canvases, textile works, sculptural objects, things with driftwood and beach finds. I’ve commissioned a weaving for the wall.

I dream about the croft. I think about how it will look once we have thousands of trees planted and birds and wildlife start to return to the land. I dream of those beautiful views across the sound, and the sheer magical peace of the place.

And I try and use the final months here in productive preparation. Organising the recovering of my bargain sofas for the house. Sourcing a local stone sculptor to make our house sign. Researching where we can find the cheapest scaffolding boards on the island. Thinking of buying a car suitable for the roads on Skye. Contacting the forestry commission and woodland trusts. Sourcing firewood. Registering the croft.

It’s coming, we tell ourselves. Hold on.

A thousand things

It seems that there are always a thousand things to think about at any given point in a house build project.

At this precise moment we’re appointing a Quantity Surveyor to manage and oversee the build quotes, and get a more accurate projection of build costs for budget. We’re hoping to have costs through and an idea of possible build start dates in the next few weeks.

We’re also looking at flooring in more detail again. The bathrooms, entrance hall and utility room will all be tiled for practicality, and although I started off considering stone floors, the maintenance requirement for regular re-sealing has put me off a little, and I’m now thinking more of big, matt finish porcelain tiles.

Samples will be winging their way through the post over the next few weeks so that we can narrow down the selection.

In parallel, we’re waiting to hear whether the Forestry Commission managed to get out to the croft before Christmas as they were hoping to in order to survey the land from a tree planting perspective.

It all feels as if it’s on the very cusp of happening. Just a few inches further…โ˜บ๏ธ

Building Warrant Approved

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!

Christmas Mojo

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 ๐Ÿ˜˜.

Naming the house

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!