It’s harder than I thought to write a blog about the process of building our house. It’s not so much the Mañana attitude, though I suffer from it, but because I am actually finding the whole thing quite difficult to put into words for public consumption.
It wasn’t until we had bought the plot, engaged the architect, spoken to Scottish Water and SEPA to ensure water and drainage was likely to happen, and actually had the very first initial plans drawn up that I actually told some of my friends that we were building a house. Many don’t actually know yet – it hasn’t really come up in conversation.
It’s strange really, we are building a house that we are not going to live in for some time, in a beautiful, small community on the west coast of Scotland but we live in Glasgow. It’s something I secretly always wanted to do but knew I never would. Our jobs are in Glasgow, the kids are happily two of more than 400 at primary school. We have school, shops, cultural pursuits galore, choir, beavers, brownies, athletics, swimming, piano, football, tennis (yet the world does revolve around the children….) all within walking distance. And the beauty of Highland Scotland is close at hand when we have need of it.
I have always been of the opinion that second homes are a scourge, sucking the life out of struggling rural communities, pushing prices up and ensuring that youngsters leave for the city’s bright lights and jobs as soon as they can.
So what has changed? Well I suppose the thought that we will be going to live there in the now not-so-distant-future is one. The time when children are fledged and work becomes more flexible (here’s always hoping) now resides in the realms of the imaginable, rather than in another universe. Things seem more possible, and the world opens up as the terror and seat-of-your-pants parenting of the early years fades into mere chaos. Only a couple of years ago the pressure of work, which I felt qualified for, and caring for my young children, which I certainly didn’t, created a peculiar tunnel vision. The insight needed to imagine things could ever be different was suppressed in favour of day-to-day survival.
Also it was the plot, our hoped-for but never spoken-of, Eden. I had been surreptitiously looking for a building plot for years. I would happen to drive past plots I had seen on the internet on the way to ‘somewhere’ and say casually “Oh – a plot – let’s just have a quick look, seeing as we’re just passing”. Our filing cabinet started to complain as one section grew thicker that its allotted space with plot particulars. “Just out of curiosity”, I said.
In fact the very act of calling up an estate agent to ask them to send particulars, was a significant move from plot as secretly harboured desire, to plot as reality. The need to put voice to my wish, gave the project a level of certainly which had not previously existed, not even in my conciousness.
But in all our searching and visiting, in virtual and real worlds, none captured us. Insurmountable obstacles rose up in my mind “could we live here?”, “perhaps something better will come up”, “how would you get here by public transport?” But eventually the right place found us.
In searching for the particulars of a building plot we had seen in passing, Google suggested I look at a plot in a place that I hadn’t dared hope one would appear. It was in Cuil; a scattered settlement of homes around the rim of a raised beach, with the massif of Beinn a Bheithir, the Ballachullish Horseshoe, rising steeply to the north; and the islands of Lorn, with Mull beyond, visible across the bay to the south. It was the place where, on countless occasions, I had donned an enormous rucksack to start the walk to Leachnasceir, the remote and rugged one-room cottage which we have had the immense privilege of co-owning for the past 10 years. And the vendor of the plot was the same man who, more than 40 years ago, had given a lease to a Geologist with a vision to rebuild a dilapidated croft cottage across a bog and a moor from Cuil Bay.
By serendipity, we were planning a visit to Leachnasceir for the long September weekend and I called the landowner, who we have got to know in the years we have been visiting Cuil. I took my daughters on the understanding that the younger one would avoid the usual verbal jousting and mutual name-calling games she plays with the retired farmer, in favour of diplomacy and persuasion. But my concerns were unnecessary. A simple “Erm….I’m interested in buying your plot”, resulted in a “Well we’re interested in selling it to you.” And that was that. (Save for the subsequent months of protracted solicitor-wrangling – presumably so that they could justify their vast fees…). In the end I had to drag the 6 year-old away mid flow through the immortal insult “you are wearing a girl’s cardigan and you are soooo old.”
And then there was the urge to build a house that was future-proofed. A place without constant drafts whistling through despite hours grovelling under sinks and behind kickboards with insulation and expanding foam. A place where the solar water heating and wood burning stove were an integral part of the house rather than tacked on in a less-than-ideal retrofit. A place which would be properly insulated, properly low energy, and where we would not be living on top of each other and even have space for guests, and our children’s guests.
And what about the second home issue? Hummm… well we’ll be renting the house at Cuil to pay its way until we make the move. At present we’re thinking holiday lets so that we will be able to enjoy it at those times when it is not occupied. I could write a whole blog on this but will stop here – perhaps another day.
So here we are. I have reached the stage where I have, not only bought the plot, got the initial plans, and am waiting for the budget cost estimate from the Quantity Surveyor, I have even gone public with the fact. I guess it really is going to happen at last.
I’ll try and keep you posted.
PS the photo is taken at the shore in Cuil Bay – the fisherman’s bothy and the cow.