A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…

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Nothing to wear (Mar 31)

Standing in front of several rails of clothes (no touch-catch floor to ceiling built-in wardrobes here), my friend Fiona blatantly laughed out loud when I said ‘I’ve got nothing to wear’. But honestly I don’t.

My wardrobe wasn’t made for living in a big drafty old house on the west coast of Scotland – everything is so flimsy. Just looking at it makes me feel cold.  Summer dresses, T-Shirts, floaty shirts, shorts (ha ha), and ahhhh all those lovely heels – I really can’t imagine wearing any of them again.  The cashmere wraps that kept me toasty in London have proved to be just a reasonable first layer here…

I need to think practically – and have started to see the appeal of barbour jackets and dare I say it – quilted waistcoats  (the word waist seduced me…). I even ordered some online in desperation but I looked so ridiculously horsey and middle-aged that I’ve sent them all back.  I’ve got a few fleeces from my mountain climbing trips with Ed – but I don’t want to spend the rest of my days looking like I’m about to go on a hike…

I’m not sure it’s possible to do cold well without looking posh or Bristol NHU – and as neither look is working for me I’m not sure what the answer is.   So for now I’ll just keep on ordering twinsets of thermals and hope for a change in the weather….

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The Walled Garden (Easter Weekend – Mar 30)

Today was fresh and dry so Ed put our willing new friend Claude to work pruning fruit bushes in the walled garden.   Fiona and I admired the view.

It looks like we have blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries – and as yet several other unidentifiable berries.   We planted our first tree – a young apple next to the old. We have half a dozen old trees that obviously haven’t been pruned for years and we’re not sure what to do about them,  although they look beautiful just as they are.  Twisted and ancient and covered in lichen.

What we are actually going to do with the walled garden itself is a much bigger question. It is of course wonderfully romantic; a little winding path leads up to a faded painted wooden door that opens onto a secret garden enclosed by huge stone walls and rusted iron railings. The railings make up one wall and are overgrown with bushes. Today Ed found a pretty iron gate hidden behind them; presumably the once grander entrance for the family of the house with the gardener’s wooden door set in the wall to the side.

But… the walls are crumbling in places and the faded, rusted bits will all need attending to if we are going to maintain this beautiful place properly. There’s the grass to keep under control and the fruit trees to look after – and then we need to decide what to do with the rest of it … vegetable patches? an orchard? greenhouses? flower beds? The previous owners even suggested a swimming pool which has got to be crazy up here right? Then whatever we decide, we need to work out how we’re going to find the time to do it.

It’s easy to be seduced by the magic of this place but once in a while we realise the enormity of what we’ve taken on. It can be overwhelming at times but I’ve quickly worked out it’s best not to think about it too much – you just have to deal with whatever is in front of you. I suppose it’s a kind of love affair – and as long as we have the energy and passion for this wonderful place we’ll find a way to make it all work.

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Our first guests … (Easter weekend – Mar 29)

Image 1 drive

Our first guests arrive.  On my way to the train station the sun starts to shine and despite telling everyone to come laden with thermals and lots of layers the season seems to shift in one weekend. We have blue skies every day, the rooms are full of light and the house feels alive… and warm.

I don’t know if it’s the change in the weather or a house full of people, children and a dog – but it does all feel very different. Various rounds of cooking, grand tours and dog walking ensue.  Being able to have people to stay like this (we had just the couch for guests in London) is one of the reasons we bought this house and for the first time since we arrived I can really see us making a life here.

Ed comes up with the idea that new guests should plant a tree – and they can check on progress when they re-visit. The previous owners left a sapling in a pot labelled ‘apple’ – so our plan is to find a good spot for it tomorrow…

(photo: courtesy of Claude)

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Meeting Mr C (Mar 16)

Ed’s just taken Gracie up to meet our new neighbour Mr C, the farmer, whose farmhouse sits on the hill behind us and whose fields surround us. They were invited in for a cup of tea and a chin wag.

Ed tells me that Mr C’s quite busy up there – with motocross in one of his fields on a Wednesday, clay pigeon shooting on a Thursday and a rave in their barn every Friday night.

I fell for this of course – but luckily Ed’s a bit less gullible. Sounds cheeky. I’m looking forward to meeting him.

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It’s bloody cold but we do have deer…(Mar 10)

It’s snowing. I’ve never been this cold inside a house since I was a kid and we had no central heating. Before we moved up here I wondered whether it would be so cold in the winter that we’d be able to see our breath when we woke up in the morning – another childhood memory (also one of Ed’s) and not one that I intended to repeat. Ed thought not, given that the side of the house we are living in is partially double glazed – but I’m sad to say that this morning he was proved wrong. I’m going with the ‘just wear another jumper’ theory but I’m wearing thermals, several layers, a hat and 2 pairs of mountain climbing socks – and I still can’t get warm.

So yesterday we dared to put on the heating. It’s oil powered and it costs a fortune. The previous owners advised only 6 hours for 6 months of the year (which cost them 6 grand a year!). Perhaps not surprisingly, 3 hours in the morning and 3 in the evening is making very little difference – and also feels totally extravagant as for now we’re only using a few rooms. There’s a window seat in the main room with a huge old cast iron radiator underneath, so when the heating’s on it’s an obvious place to take refuge.

So here we are at dusk this evening, wrapped up in our layers, watching the snow fall on the lawn ….and almost warm. It’s a view that takes in the sea and distant snowy mountains. The fire in the woodburner (we had a delivery of dry logs earlier today) is cracking loudly in the background and suddenly 2 roe deer come scampering out of the trees…

IMG_0925 deer

They stay for quite a while – skipping about in the snow and locking their baby antlers. It’s a magical scene.

I’ve no idea how we’re going to live here comfortably in the winter  – but a sprinkling of fairy dust like this does make me feel optimistic that we’ll manage to work it out.

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A birthday discovery (Mar 9)

It’s my birthday and we’ve just been for a walk around the gardens and found this… hidden in a yew tree behind the lawn.  The perfect birthday surprise.


We last saw the house nearly a year ago (2 viewings in one weekend – the second very rushed) so we somehow missed it.  It has a rope ladder so we took a tentative look inside. It’s going to need quite a bit of fixing up – but definitely one for the list. Maybe next summer…

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Reality Check..(Mar 8)

It’s raining when we arrive (of course), miserably grey with a freezing cold wind that feels like a slap round the face as soon as we step out of the car.    It’s only marginally warmer inside (we keep our coats, hats and scarves on all day) – a fact I try to ignore by focussing on where all the boxes should go and sorting out our beds.

The removal men are very taken with the place and keep stopping to take photographs.   There’s no doubt that moving here is the stuff of fairy-tales but today all my romantic feelings are trumped by the reality of just how bitterly cold it is.

There’s a big woodburner in one of the rooms and the previous owners have left us a message telling us there’s plenty of logs.  But when we eventually go to look for them there’s nothing in the shed, so we resort to the local garage who sell small bags for a fiver.  They fill the burner (and the room) with grey smoke that stings our eyes – and when Ed chops one open with an axe, found in the empty shed, it’s soaked all the way through…

So we go to bed early, freezing cold and smelling of woodsmoke. Not quite the first night I’d imagined.

In the mayhem of all the half unpacked boxes I manage to find a set of very thick thermals. The last time I wore them was camping with Ed on the side of a mountain at extremely high altitude…