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.

Definitely wall hung.. as the actress said to the bishop

Only those of you of a certain age and a certain lack of delicacy will get that….I am not going to explain for those of you who don’t.

Apparently, the latest thing in bathroom chic is to have your bathroom appliances (eg. toilet and washbasin) suspended from the wall. Nothing between them and the ground except fresh air and a tremulous fear of suspension.

Why? I asked the bathroom consultant. What’s wrong with them being floor mounted? Have they not been that way since time immemorial?

Difficult to clean, he said, delicately. You have men in your home?

I sort of get that swishing a mop under a wall mounted toilet is easy, but seriously? How difficult is swishing it around the base of a floor mounted toilet?

Perhaps it requires manoeuvres that the current generation haven’t evolved or mastered. Maybe I get that. But I also get that the process of house specification has a lot to do with trends, and I had seriously missed that even a basic croft house would be subject to that.

I am finding the process of specifying flooring, sanitary ware, tiles, kitchen units and worktops much more tiring than I expected.

It’s such a privilege to be able to do this in some ways, and so important to get right, but the endless choice is so wearying. Some days I just want to curl up and have someone present me with my perfect kitchen/bathroom and say…

Yes! It can be yours, and it’s within budget….

I’m focusing on the fun.

Planning Permission Approved!

We’ve just heard from the architects that planning permission for the longhouse on our croft has been approved. It’s a major milestone for us on this journey, and I’m so happy! Our home has just moved one step closer to becoming a reality.

Next it’s starting work on the building warrants and the more detailed specification for the build, which we are lined up to do in the coming weeks.

In preparation for this we’re travelling up to Fife soon to meet with the kitchen and bathroom planners to discuss what these rooms will be composed of, what we like, and what we can afford.

It’s been a bit of a revelation to me that people can (and do) spend many thousands of pounds on a bath… I keep repeating the mantra “keep it simple, keep it simple” so that I don’t get sucked in by the sales pitch on the latest and shiniest new version of anything.

We are not shiny people. Stone, wood, plaster, paint, wool and linen fabrics. Natural finishes, and as little plastic or gloss as possible, that’s our philosophy. We want to have a home that’s comfortable and functional to live in rather than a showhome.

It goes without saying that whatever we don’t spend on the house leaves us more money to spend on trees.

A glass of fizz this weekend may be in order.. 😋

Reading About The Clearances

Whilst we wait to hear about whether planning consent will be granted, we sit in London and try and fill our time with useful things. Paint, trees, space planning, registering for schemes, permaculture learnings and reading about the history of the place that we are soon to live in.

On the reading pile this weekend is this rather impressive tome from one of the Penguin imprints, Allen Lane. Written by TM Devine, an expert in his field and Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, he is described as “a towering and fearless intellect” and this book as the definitive reference guide.

There are deserted villages dotted all over the Isle of Skye from the clearances in the eighteenth century, as is true across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

They are sad and beautiful places, empty of all but the low, overgrown ruins of the house walls, and visited by few people.

The story of the forced clearances and the destruction of entire communities, enacted in the name of economic efficiency, is one that is both shameful and terrible. Truly the story of the dispossessed.

I think that we should be mindful and respectful of sensitivities on the island, shaped so brutally by this period in history. So many of the local names have family links and ancestors affected by the clearances. It will be sobering to hear their stories.

Urban Life Pruning

Husband and I have what I think of as a typical, complicated, overloaded modern existence, made worse by the coalition of our previous lives into one when we married three years ago.

With the relationship came lots and lots of stuff accumulated over many years from previous houses, studios and flats. Far too much stuff, to be honest.

We have multiples of everything and many thousands of books. It became clear when we started planning the move to our croft that we had to start pruning our possessions before we moved. Because what we’re building is a small house on Skye which hasn’t got a hope in hell of holding it all.

So it began this week.

To be honest, after a long, hard day at work the last thing that either of us want to do is carry boxes up from the garage and sort through them, but we’ve set ourselves the goal of five boxes a week.

Every week for the rest of this year.

We’re already looking at bulk loads of bin bags and the local charity shops are going to love us 😂…..

It’s like a penance….

If this doesn’t cure us of a tendency to buy too much or hang onto things that we don’t need, I don’t know what will!

Sobering reading

The sun is shining this Easter weekend and most folks in the U.K. are heading to an overcrowded beach in the rush to escape the cities, or consuming their body weight in mass produced chocolate eggs. Perhaps for our generation it has ever been thus.

In this home the long weekend break is a little different. This book is on the side table pile for consumption, and I’ve just started it. I’m two chapters in so far.

It’s not a book about the science of climate change. I’m sure that we’ve all heard about that, and although it’s something that I totally believe in, the most frightening thing for me is that I see that it’s almost impossible for many others to sustain strong feelings about it, such is its’ enormity. It’s simply too large and horrific to believe it’s real.

Others won’t believe it until it affects them directly. I watch people struggling to equate the facts with their protected urban reality in their continued disconnection with nature.

This is one of the reasons that we have decided to live at the edge and grow woodland, trying in our small way to leave a small patch of the planet able to support biodiversity and wildlife.

This book is about what it will be like to live on this planet should we continue the trajectory that we’re on. It’s a depiction of real Armageddon.

The writing is clear and powerful. I’d urge you get a copy and to read it.

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.