Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Landing on Water

The site pictured here, or at least the idea of it, has occupied an enormous chunk of my conscious thoughts for 742 days and counting now. It was taken from the heart of a 0.65 acre plot sited in an elevated position overlooking the junction of two sea lochs, Loch Bracadale and Loch Harport, and at the midpoint of a single-track road that winds like a carelessly discarded ribbon through the township of Fiskavaig on the north-west fringe of the Isle of Skye. And by next summer, all things being good and equal, it will be on this very spot that our new house will stand and we will be living as a family.

It took two years almost to the day for my wife Denise and I to accomplish the following: 1/ Determine that, yes, we rather fancied the idea of relocating lock, stock and barrel to this island idyll; 2/ Identify the area of Skye we wanted to live in, find a plot there that we could build upon and then persuade the owner to sell it to us; 3/ Seek out a local firm of architects who could design and manage the construction of said house and within our modest means; 4/ Sell our existing home in England; 5/ Remain upon speaking terms with each other and our two young sons, Tom and Charlie, and also keep sane. In truth, the jury is out on whether or not this very last goal has been attained.

Eleven days is the amount of time that has now elapsed since the four of us arrived on Skye not as holidaymakers, as we had done for each of the preceding six summers, but as residents. In reality, our initial landing was not quite the magical experience I had so keenly anticipated. The house we are renting in the island capital of Portree, population 2000-and-something, is neat and modern, but looks out not onto sweeping ocean vistas and soaring peaks but towards uniform rows of other neat and modern dwellings to the front and an electrical substation to the rear. A Co-Op superstore is just a short hop down the hill. Since all of our possessions were still four days distant from us and the house came unfurnished, we occupied it to begin with like a ragged band of squatters, sleeping in sleeping bags on hard-wood floors and eating meals from off of our laps. 

In the first stages of our becoming domiciled, the more discomfiting facts of island life, ignored or else unimportant whilst we merely visiting, have struck us in rapid-fire succession like volleys from a machine-gun. 

To whit: the waiting list to be registered with Skye's only dental surgery currently runs to 500, which effectively means that if I'm lucky I will get my next polish or filling in 2039; the misfortune of having something go wrong with the household electrics or plumbing is multiplied tenfold by there being no-one to call about it, or at least no-one who is going to rush to your aid any time soon; and if you are anywhere out and about during the hours of daylight and the wind should drop, you are guaranteed to be eaten alive by the psychotically voracious swarms of midges that occupy most of the available air space at this time of year. It is on account of multiple bites from these, the evilest of life forms that Denise's face has swelled to the size of a party balloon and I have routinely gone about in public like some kind of demented wind-up toy, hands flapping madly but hopelessly about my face and other extremities.

And yet... There are moments, frequent and indelible, when Skye itself seems so epic and plain otherworldly that it truly takes the breath away. Driving young Charlie to school each morning, for instance, we travel along a road that bisects two of the island's three great mountain ranges, the Red and Black Cuillins. To one side the horizon is filled with the Red's vast, Martian-esque domes; to the other lie the Black's jagged peaks as ominous as shark's teeth. Just last weekend, we rested on a perch of rock 2,000 feet up and among the boggling geological features of the third range, the Trotternish Ridge, the mid-afternoon sun casting dappled cloud shadows onto the moorland below, while off to the west the Atlantic lay deep and blue and momentarily calmed.

The day before we had sat in the reassuringly well-appointed offices of our island architects making final adjustments to the blueprint plans for our house. Fiddling with the dimensions of the doors and cupboards and recesses, and determining the precise expanse of glass required to fully drink in the view above. It seemed right there and then like the beginning of a great adventure.

Stick around here and you will be more than welcome to follow it through with us. After all, what could possibly go wrong?...

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:



  1. Superb stuff... and just what the doctor ordered..! Read with a large one (well chilled) to hand and thoroughly enjoyed... The midges remain a worry and are as persistent as the damn mouches (flies are here in France but... ca, c'est la vie. Live rurally, thats what you're gonna get at certain times of the year. Bonne chance et bonne continuation..!


    1. I like your reading style, Neil - typically sophisticated.

    2. I like your reading style, Neil - typically sophisticated.

  2. You paint a picture that sounds beautifully realistic. I'm reading from our own tiny corner of paradise (where the swallows and martins were collecting airbourne supplies before their own epic journey in the sky this morning) and have some idea what you face ahead. My tip would be to make decisions slowly, and stretch as big as you dare! Denise, I'm sorry the bugs have taken your face as lunch... I hope they find someone new to feast upon soon. Good luck with the weeks ahead, I'll be following with much interest. Love to you all, Charlotte xx

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