We have a lovely house on the Isle of Harris called Pabbay Cottage. It’s now ten years since we bought the croft which was really a sheep fank. The original house was built in 1830. Our first task was to get it decrofted, this took about 6 months. Finally someone called Hitchcock from Essex signed it off (go figure).
We could then start the work, digging out the inside and stoning up the solum, building up both gable walls in 200mm blockwork. We got a water supply in too, connected to the mains in the Rodel road late one day in February 2010. What a relief to find out the water pressure was fine. Next the huge steel ridge beams went in, supported by a centre post. I’m told it took a huge crane to put it in place. We were the talk of the village!
Summer 2010, a squad of us went up to Harris and between us we laid the drainage and poured the concrete floor slab. I remember seeing the concrete mixer coming past the Clachan and the sudden panic- we need wheelbarrows ! The guy reversed up the steep track, poured the concrete through the window and we ran around wi wheelbarrows, spreading and levelling it. Back breaking stuff and the concrete was starting to harden too but we made it. Next day, the mixer was back but the driver almost ended up in the burn! The whole thing tilted over towards the burn, much shouting, panic ensued but all was good eventually. It was a good feeling getting that work done. Some summer holiday , one day the wind was 63mph!
Late summer the lads put up the scaffolding and did the rafters, it was a work of art. Total perfection. Then the sarking boards, the heavy Spanish slate finish and rooflights and voila, we had weathertight bothy/mini church type building. I remember walking up the track in a gale, opening the makeshift plywood door and when I closed it behind me… total silence. I knew then it was going to be a warm house (the original stone walls were five foot thick, starlings nested in them).
It was a tremendous space, the huge cathedral ceiling, rafters spaced perfectly at 600 mm centres. The stonework too was beautiful , especially in the lower half where I think the cows had rubbed against the stone over the years. There was a fireplace in each gable. It was crying out history, if these walls could talk. And it was so quiet, despite the howling gale outside. I felt a sense of history there and then, the family gathered round the peat fire, sheltered from the winds that came off the mighty Atlantic.
I almost wanted to leave it at that, especially when we got the electricity supply* in. Just leave it as this huge space, a fekkin huge bothy, sunlight streaming in through the rooflights. We could sleep on the floor, sing songs and get fu’ thegither. Man, you could play badminton in that space!
But that was only Phase 1 of ‘Reversing the Clearances’. We had kicked out the sheep and and hoped to bring back the people, in our tiny way. We took an old family home with no roof and grass for a carpet and started the journey towards a new home, complete with water and electricity for the first time.
Next year we would do the internal fit out. We would soon find out, our journey had only just begun.
* the electric supply took months to sort , there was talk of a £5k bill for a new transformer gadget thing and then, bang, it was installed in a day from the pole down below. Simples.
PS Pabbay Cottage is on facebook. You can see photos there.