Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Happy New Year to you all.

The pretty derelict cottage shown above is situated a few yards from the entrance to The RSPB Balranald nature reserve on North Uist. There are hundreds of similar cottages all over the islands, slowly decaying into the ground. Anywhere else, they would be sold at a high price or renovated, providing housing for families and holidaymakers and improving the landscape. I've never been sure why so many houses are left to rot and fall down here, but there are a number of possible reasons. Many properties have been in the same family for generations and the attachment is so deep that the current owners can't bring themselves to sell on to strangers. Often, the house will be owned by people who live abroad and have plans to retire to the family home and croft, but for many reasons, never do so. Houses can be owned collectively by several family members and squabbles and disagreements about future use will prevent sale or renovation. Perhaps most often, people who inherit these unmodernised houses are simply unable to afford to restore them, particularly now that it is almost impossible to obtain renovation grants unless the property is on a croft.
For now, the cottage in the picture serves to provide a daily roost for starlings, lined up on the roofline and chimney stacks.

So, what's to become of us all this year? Relatives have gone home after a lovely Christmas and with a bit of a struggle, I returned to work yesterday with a fixed smile on my face and goodwill in my heart. After a couple of hours, it felt like the holiday had never happened. Familiar?
Now that the house is more or less finished and habitable, I plan to spend more time outside in the coming months.The shed is badly in need of paint and repairs and I want to create vegetable patches in various places on the croft where I can find arable land. Much of the croft is rock, bog and deep peat and crops don't grow easily. The front garden(?) remains waterlogged and the plan for it is to improve the drainage, dry it out a bit and establish some flower beds, difficult with the ferocious winds we have here. Putting up a polytunnel is part of the master plan, but I haven't yet decided where it can be sited or how it can be protected to prevent it being blown away to the mainland.
I'm expecting a variety of visitors throughout the year, all of whom will offer welcome suggestions, advice or muscle. Heating costs are a major expenditure in Winter, so I intend to cut peat this year and persuade unsuspecting souls to come and have a bit of a break here in April or May, in return for help wielding a peat iron.

Nothing too dramatic happening on the island so early in the year. The weather has been calm and fairly mild for the last week or two and most folks are just scurrying about, quietly getting on with their lives and looking forward to the end of regular storms and longer hours of daylight.
The employment situation continues to be dire, with lots of redundancies recently, but there is a glimmer of hope because the Harris Tweed industry seems to be picking up and the local fabrication yard, which has been making turbine towers, is said to have secured new contracts.
Woolworths and the fish processing factory have gone, but the local small craft brewery remains open and the good quality restaurants have done well over the holidays.


Anonymous said...

Great blog. Wouldnt it be grand if the people who owned these properties let those of us who desire to escape the big bad city sit in their hooses while they made their minds up what to do with them. One can but dream, cheerie

Anonymous said...

I second the thoughts of the other comment, seems such a waste for these properties to just sit there and rot :-(

Lewispot said...

It is something of a disgrace that houses are left empty when there is such a need. Perhaps the State should intervene in some way to take over houses that have been unoccupied for more than a couple of years.Grants might be provided to modernise them,on condition that the owner then sold them or let them to families on the housing list for a minimum period of time,say five or ten years. One problem with all this though is that there is often no employment anywhere near the empty houses.