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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Heat, glorious heat… (Dec 2)


Work started last Monday on our conversion to renewable energy with the installation of our wood pellet boiler (see Preparing for next winter (Apr 7).   Vans have been coming and going all week and we’ve had a constant supply of coffee on the go for 15 different workmen.   Several floors have been lifted, yards of gleaming copper pipes connected and huge bits of kit hauled into the workshop.  It’s the beginning of making the house work for us and it feels exhilarating and a bit scary.

Outside at the back of the house now stands a massive 8 tonne steel silo (or wood pellet store). It’s 2 meters wide and 4 meters high and will need obscuring with a fence – a job we’ve planned for next summer.   Ed’s workshop is unfortunately no more and instead houses a dazzling array of equipment including a maze of new pipework and dials, 3 thermal stores (water tanks essentially) and the boiler itself – a massive 2 and half tonne orange box from Austria.     The engineer says we’ll soon be showing off this space-age system (we can operate it through our mobile phones!) to all our friends .  I scoffed at this, but now the job’s done, I’m afraid to say I can feel a few guided tours coming on…

Inside the house, the heating and hot water for the old wing is now on its own circuit; stage 1 of our plan to turn it into a holiday let.  The hot water for the main part of the house (where we live) will be done in the summer (too many more floors to pull up in the run up to Christmas).

Then the last of the salvaged radiators was plumbed in yesterday and we were ready to turn on the boiler for the first time…    It’s a different house:  Walking into the front hall is never going to feel the same again. When Gracie gets out of the bath she runs around naked on the landing.  Getting up in the morning is a treat…

So we have in fact found a way to live here comfortably (see It’s bloody cold but we do have deer… (Mar 10).  We’re starting to realise the potential of this wonderful place.

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Winter’s on its way (Sep 30)


We’ve had the fire on most days now for the last couple of weeks and although there’s enough wood on the land to chop for logs, it’s been one job too many – so yesterday we gave in and ordered a truck load (which will last us a couple of months).  They were deposited in a huge pile at the back door –  Ed ferried and I stacked.   It’s just taken us 2 hours.   How far away life in London now seems…

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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.