Househunting on the edge

‘The American writer Harry W. Paige said that “home is not a place only, but a condition of the heart”. […] Like being married, being at home is not a passive state. It is a process, in which the heart must be engaged. That is as true for the reindeer herders of Siberia, whose home may be hundreds of square miles, as it is for the inhabitants of a tiny village on a tiny island. For many people this is not so. Home for them is nowhere in particular. It is the house in which their belongings are kept and in which they go to sleep at night. It extends no further than that. This is the condition of our time. It is a marriage without love, a relationship without commitment. And it is, surely, a kind of homelessness. But there is another kind of homelessness, too […] exiled from a home that no longer existed, and which in some sense, never really had […] Some had only ever lived in the place where they were born; they were shaped and defined by those places. Others had left one home and found another, in which they felt a deeper sense of belonging. […] There were also those – past and present – who’d been estranged: political and religious exiles; indigenous people whose cultures had been undermined.’

I thought I might finish the last chapter of Malachy Tallack’s Sixty Degrees North on the ferry to the islands – it’s called ‘Homecoming’, and it seemed fitting. However, reading it just now in this little roaring bay way out west, I’m glad I didn’t, because I had company and it’s had me sobbing for my own little girl self who, more than thirty years ago, awaited a return that never happened.

It is, predictably, both great and hard to come back to the first destination of my optimistic journey, now pressured to stop, set up shop, and house, and knuckle down, possibly even rejoin the ratrace or try for mortgage slavery. (No, the latter two are unlikely – probably impossible – but I’m having to consider all sorts.) The exploration this time is tainted with urgency, need, guilt (at time taken out of work) and fear.

We watched a large pod of porpoises briefly from the boat – only my third ever sighting, though now my fourth sighting is a dead one here on the beach below.

Then I headed here, to check in, and in warm sun and little wind, we camped up on the cliff rather than down on the machair with the other vans. I wonder who my summer friends may be, and hope that some of them will last longer than the few days over which our paths, or vans, may coincide.

Bus on cliff


Murph was even happier than I for the old engine to stop its shuddering for a few days. He probably didn’t notice or care, as I did, that the old schoolhouse here has been demolished. I thought I’d walk him out to the point to sit and watch dolphins. Not that I’ve ever walked out to the, or any, point and seen any dolphins there, but we walked out to the point and sat and I’d forgotten my fleeting intention but opened my eyes lazily after half an hour and clearly glimpsed a rolling porpoise.

In the last of the heatwave I swam, and then we cycled (too elegant a term for my clunkily-geared-slow-punctured-bulging-tyred-kneebusting-rustbucket) around the higgledy braes, through a sea of buttercups, past Dougie MacLean’s house and round to another sea loch to visit a one-time motorhome neighbour who now has a croft here. Hugs and happiness all round (although Murph was tired in the heat, and it was too far for him).

Morning view

Then we returned to town, slept in car parks, boat yards and castle grounds, bustled around doing paperwork and practicals. A sale, thank goodness (aka Han). Again that Royal-Geographic-Society-type grandeur of the Stornoway Poste Restante address. The postmaster I liked before. The library where I built my website, and the library van driver I held up when my van broke down (‘Oh yes, I thought I recognised you’). The yarn cave and another hug and a helpful blether about a cottage I’m keen on. A delay as I shelter from Hector, and time to meet a kindly family for tea. A ceilidh with them the following night, and home-distilled whiskey till 3am, and hospitality for the weekend.

Bedtime view in Storm Hector

Then trips out of town and back to visit bungalows, businesses and housewrecks for sale all around the island. It’s a gift that one of the most affordable places in the UK happens to be one of my favourites. Although not entirely a coincidence. I persevere through deserted moonscapes devoid of topsoil (should I add to the sum of sheep in the world?) and discover pretty bays with art cafés and people who like folk music and lefty politics, and who don’t go away in the darkest months, phew. So maybe even an unfamiliar corner of these Western Isles could offer me a livelihood and a home.

I guess the next steps will be solicitors and surveyors. And decisions. How terrifying. Can I just weave please and hope the rest works itself out without me?


North North North West

Van on Lewis


I’m back on the road proper tomorrow! After being holed up on private land over the winter, lately getting the big bus out and about – which always feels daunting after a break – has reminded me of the taste of freedom of movement. Ahem.

Brexit is a subject I haven’t touched on for a while. I never felt black and white about it, but the more I understand about monetary globalisation and the neoliberal drive to transfer power from governments to money centres, the more sympathetic I am to euroskepticism. On balance, I still come down with the Remainers, partly because of the ugliness of so many of the Leave motivations, and partly in optimism that the neoliberal Maastricht Treaty could be superseded to reinvigorate the powers of individual governments. I don’t know. But I do know that I enjoy staying in Brittany, knowing that I would be treated in their hospitals, and that I could easily opt to live in that affordable and pleasant land. (I’m actually lucky enough to be entitled to an Italian passport, so short of an Italexit, I’ve still got options. Thank goodness, because England, for all its wonders, is so damn expensive and crowded and speedy and Wifried and fraught…)

Anyway, so I’ve got my van moving again, AND IT PASSED THE MOT FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW WITHOUT REPAIRS! This is astonishing in my world, and renews my love for it. It was pushing its luck with water ingress and mould over this wettest of winters, I told it. But when the engine purred into life at the merest tiny key touch after five months of hibernation, my whole body melted with gratitude and relief. There’s not much that’s easy in life, so that was a gift from the gods. And tomorrow I head back to the Hebrides…

I’m looking to settle. I need rhythm, routine, security, predictability. Ha.

I’ve been on a serious househunt in Brittany, where even a person with a tiny business and shaky finances has a chance. (I’ve just done my accounts, and though I haven’t built on last year’s ‘profit’ – I think that’s the word for the <£2/hour ‘wage’ that my business has earnt me –  at least I wasn’t down on last year, which I feared from the slowness of late winter trade.) However, in terms of moving to Brittany, nothing has quite come together yet, so I’m taking my househunt way north for a while.

My head is full of memories from my first chapter of life on the road, three years ago, in the Outer Isles: finding the furthest cove, and going back there again and again; the clutch failing on the furthest road, and limping back to town for refuge in a Chinese takeaway car park; weaving the bogs and the hills and the machairs; meeting weavers and millfolk and travellers and island dwellers and St. Kilda swimmers and families I still keep in touch with; joining in folk clubs and enjoying sessions and gigs; walking and cycling in the castle grounds; filling my water tank from the burns; foraging my lunch from the shore; building my website in Stornoway public library; sourcing the wool that has become my signature and staple; finding the best selection of chocolate I’ve ever seen in Stornoway garage; encountering the native Gaelic speaking Pakistani community…

Lewis shore.jpg

I’ll be there on Sunday, and my head is full of plans and possibilities: a derelict croft cottage for sale; a tourist business for sale (which could incorporate both weaving and folk music); croft land for sale; log cabin building; Harris Tweed weaving; social housing schemes; shared equity schemes; debts, taxes, grants, loans, mortgages; slavery or scrabbling about to go it alone… Some of them are harebrained, but sometimes you can pull off even these. Just watch.

And keep an eye out, too, for the rugs I’ll be increasingly weaving, now that I’m stocked up with linen warp and about to stock up anew on Hebridean land- and seascape inspiration. Be there.