I’m surprised by the reaction. Nobody tells us we’re mad. Quite the contrary, it seems our move from Sussex to the small island of Raasay, close to Skye off the West coast of Scotland, has everyone yearning for adventure.
The timing is right for us. I’ve been living and working in Sussex for around 15 years. Kate is a full time mother. Our daughter will soon be starting school. Its time to end my temporary exile and move home. The move is not as dramatic or extreme as it seems.
In 2010 Kate needed a break from looking after a young child and so set of on a short trip to the highlands to look at a couple of properties we’ve spotted on the internet, taking the Sleeper to Inverness.
The first property is in Plockton. Its dank and depressing.
The second is on Raasay, a 14 mile long island with a population of around 140, a hotel & outdoor centre (crucially with a bar), a primary school and a RIBA award winning community hall. It’s separated from Skye by a short ferry trip.
I don’t know any of this when I receive a phonecall:
‘We’ve got to get this – the view is amazing!’
‘Ok’ I say.
I’ve never been to Raasay but I don’t need much convincing.
We put in an offer shortly after Kate’s return through our solicitor (as is required under the Scottish system). It’s accepted. I’ve still never been to Raasay but all of a sudden I have a house there.
It’s a modest property. One of an original terrace of six single storey cottages built as estate workers accommodation. It has two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen and PVCu windows with transoms that mean I either have to stand on tiptoes or bend down to take in the impressive and ever changing view.
The house as it is now
Our plan is to refurbish and extend the house as a holiday rental. Although superficially in reasonable condition it has been sitting empty for two years and, on closer inspection, there are problems everywhere. The sarking boards are rotting; the water supply is erratic; the internal floor levels vary; the hardboard (yes hardboard!) linings of the stone walls are rotting from the inside. In short there is a lot to do. That’s what makes it so exciting.
Renderings of redesigned house
In Sussex I spend long evenings and weekends drawing up proposals. At one point I am almost at the point of pressing submit on the Planning Portal when I realise the scheme’s not right. I remove it and spend further months completely redesigning it.
In amongst this I am making monthly trips to the island with a different accomplice each time. Andrew & I make the trip from Brighton to rip the linings out of what was the master bedroom; James & I spend an arduous weekend demolishing a stone built fake fireplace and tearing down ceilings before returning to Edinburgh; Simon, one of my business partners, films us demolish the second bedroom and bathroom walls. We also carefully strip out the redundant wiring and dismantle the labyrinth of pipework; Ewan and I travel up from Glasgow through Glencoe. As he films us demolishing the kitchen my phone is soundtracking it with Back in Black.
All this essentially transforms the house into a large shed.
In December 2011 – two months after our son is born – we get planning permission and we drift into 2012 preoccupied with children and workload.
At some point things change. I don’t exactly know what brings it on. Maybe its everything: the stress of running a practice and juggling it with raising two children, workload, the 14 mile commute, the price of parking, an impending 40th birthday….. whatever it is that triggers it we realise we have a window. The kids aren’t at school yet, technology allows me to work remotely from anywhere with an internet connection and we’re desperate for adventure.
We’ve been here almost six months now and have our Building Warrant application in. We hope to start the project in earnest in July.
In the end the decision to move here is easy. I suspect the decision to leave – if we ever do – will be considerably harder.