The Last Post

We’re almost there and it feels like a miracle. Our house is finished enough to live in, although there is still plenty to do. The building inspector is coming this week to see if he is minded to issue us with a Completion Certificate, enabling us to apply for our last mortgage payment, our last grant payment and our VAT reclaim. It’s a tense time. From talking to other people, there seems to be little consistency in what the building inspector might consider still needs to be done – from air tightness tests to extra precautions for fire escapes that are not in the plans. Apparently it helps to have a very tidy site – first impressions being everything – perhaps we should have fresh coffee brewing, bread baking, a jug of flowers.

Isaac and Bea making a fire to help clear the siteIMG_7052

Once this part is over, our cashflow is less stressful and we can finish the last few things at our own pace, we will be able to relax a little and our house will start to really feel like our home. The children feel it already, despite being away for four nights a week at school, or perhaps because of that. It might take Phil and I a bit longer – at the moment it still feels like a project with deadlines rather than the place where we come to get away from those kind of stresses. And it will help when there is a place for everything. Finished fitted cupboards instead of stacks of plastic boxes. But it is also about memories. Isaac and Bea grew up in other homes and the floor in here doesn’t whisper stories of our feet pacing with a sleepless baby, or of their first steps, or those early years before school when I was a stay-at-home mum. Our lives have changed beyond recognition since then and I am feeling a bit disconnected from our past.

On the other hand, our house does tell its own, quite different stories. Each layer within the floors and walls is filled with recollections of the building process and the many, many people who have helped us to build it. The professionals and craftsmen who did the clever stuff and our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues who shovelled stone and gravel, moved scaffolding, held bits of wood, screwed, banged, sawed, climbed on the roof, painted walls, varnished, helped with cashflow, entertained the children, lent us equipment, gave interior design advice and endless moral support, and tolerated us becoming, let’s face it, selfish, single-minded and boring over the past few years. Bari, Jim, John, Will, Andy, Bebiano, Glenn, Rachel, Ash, Ivor, Jean, Dave, Elisabeth, Tony, Cameron, Nick, Hamish, Matthew, Paul A, Tina, Lizzie, Darragh, Iain, Aletta, Joe, Iona, Oran, Jon, Avril, James, Rene, Matt, Paul Y, Claudia, Sam, Hannah, James, Catherine, Ellie, Laura, Emma, Chris, Gill, Yeshi, Morven. Without this host of angels we would not have made it and we are incredibly grateful.


The final word is for the children. We had a crazy dream and you might not have chosen to spend five years of your lives growing up in (and growing out of) a caravan so that we could fulfill it. Thank you for your patience, your fortitude and always being willing to help. Without you here to make this your home, the dream would never have taken flight.


Work in Progress

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Thanks to help from a selection of devastatingly attractive workers in hard hats (not all shown), things are progressing. Too slowly if you are living in a caravan and have deadlines from croft housing grant scheme people hanging over you. But, looking back over the last few months, we have some things that we didn’t have before…

We have lots of insulation and some plasterboard.


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We have 30,000 litres of water storage. IMG_6077

(One of 3 x 10,000 litre tanks)





We have poo pipes, a septic tank and a Puraflow system, cunningly disguised by trees.

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We have gravel, drainage pipes and a gnome.

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We have internal wall frames and even some wires (devastatingly attractive electrician too shy for photos).

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The kitchen is ordered but it will be sitting in boxes for a while – a lot more has to be in place before it can be fitted. But we’re moving in the right direction.


Now for the hard part


I took this photo one weekend before Christmas when climbing “Heather Hill” with Isaac and Bea. Heather Hill (as named by the children) is a little mound behind a neighbour’s house that gives you stunning views of Burg, Ben More and Loch Scridain in one direction and, in the other, a view of our house. It looks for all the world as if you could almost live in it – what with the glow of light from inside and the fact it has a roof, walls and windows. If you have lived on Mull for long enough, or watched your share of Grand Designs, you will know that, unfortunately, this is not the case.

Welcome to the inside.



The kitchen




The living space wp_20170101_13_14_24_pro






Downstairs bedroom and bathroom




You get the idea. There’s a long list: internal walls, insulation, wiring, plumbing, plasterboard, plastering, floor surfaces, and so on.

There is also so much to do outside. Aside from finishing the cladding on the external walls, we have to dig trenches for electric cables, water pipes, drainage and sewage. There is a septic tank and Puraflo system to dig in; a rainwater collection system (including 3 x 10,000 litre tanks) and a grey water collection system to set up; an air-source heat pump and mechanical heat recovery system to install; there is landscaping to do.

It feels a daunting prospect, especially as there is another deadline, from the Croft House Grants people, of completion (including signing off by building regulations) by the end of June. There is also our impatience. Since November 1st we have had the luxury of living in the holiday cottage next door – proper showers, full-size bath, central heating, no mould and plenty of space. We have expanded to fill that space and it is hard to imagine how we are going to fold and squeeze ourselves back into the caravan at the beginning of April when the holiday letting season begins again. The children, now 11 and 13, keep on growing and I am not even sure that they will still fit.






Friends in high places

We’ve had a few weather hiccups with the wind making roofing difficult or impossible, but now a few days of proper winter weather – the kind we don’t usually get here. There is snow on Ben More and this morning Phil was out scraping a thick frost off the car at 6am before taking Isaac to his Monday morning bus for his week away at school in  Oban. It’s cold but not windy and the sun has been shining – good enough for roofing.

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Even with good weather it all takes a long time. Jim the builder has mainly only managed weekends with us in recent weeks. And there have been complications with tricky roof valleys and awkward Velux windows with obscure instructions. There are days when progress is visible and satisfying – half of one side of the roof finished in one day. Other days when progress is minimal and frustrating. Not unlike the rest of life.


Phil doesn’t want me to go up on the roof with him – he thinks one of us should stay on the ground to avoid what a will advisor once described as a “family calamity”. To be honest I didn’t object too strongly. Luckily we have good friends who don’t mind scrambling around like mountain goats at that height.  And other good friends who have been able to help out from a safer altitude with putting in the huge, heavy windows.

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We missed our end of October deadline but, fortunately, the Croft House Grant people are minded to be supportive and have extended it again. They want the final roof covering on and all the windows in which is, surprisingly, beyond the usual definition of wind-and-watertight. It’s a good deadline to have anyway, with bad weather possible at any time and the tendency of Scottish island rain to travel at any trajectory and find any tiny gap. We’re nearly there.


Huge thanks to Ash, Will, Lizzie, Darragh, Hamish, Guillam, Nick and, always, Jim. We couldn’t have got where we are without you.



Beating the weather

We’ve been blessed with two weeks of dry weather and a bit less wind. It’s been a relief to be able to leave the undercoated fascia boards outside overnight and not have to tie down every loose bit of wood. And finally we have been able to put up the large beam that is going to hold up our vaulted ceiling. The house frame is complete.


While we wait for the valuer and the surveyor to sign this stage off for the next mortgage advance, we’re not waiting for the weather to turn. We have a fixed deadline to be wind and watertight at the end of October for our Croft Housing Grant, not to mention the unknown deadline for when the stormy season comes back.



What happens when children and paint come into contact……



The children are on their two-week October break and have been getting stuck in painting fascia boards and stapling on the foil wrap.

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Phil’s been out until dark every evening climbing on the roof and nailing on sarking boards, joined by our friend Ash-the-Post on his day off.


Despite the pressure there’s still time for playing football as darkness falls, near the spaces where the windows will be, in blissful ignorance that it won’t be allowed for long.


Growing up

For about nine months, in the hiatus between finishing the foundations and starting the walls, I could not envisage how it was possible for two people, without machinery, to build a house up to the roof. I dreamed the finished house, inhabiting its spaces often, but the mechanics of how that could actually happen were beyond my imagining.img_5453

Then the pieces of the jigsaw arrived on the back of a very big lorry.





Step by logical step the house grew upwards. On the ceiling of the main structure, these things of architectural beauty –  posi joists. Both lovely and practical, with spaces for wires and pipes. img_5458

On top of the single storey kitchen these elegant roof trusses.

Next step, more walls on top of the posi-joists, then more roof trusses and we have a second storey on the main section.img_5515

It’s been a poor autumn on Mull and Phil and Jim-the-builder have worked in some awful weather. Blustery winds and lashing rain are not ideal for building the first floor and roof of a house. A few times even they have given up – when ferries are cancelled and storm warnings are in place, it’s probably best to postpone putting up gable ends. We have to be wind and watertight by the end of October to meet the deadline for our croft housing grant. It also makes sense to be at that point before real winter sets in. However, at the moment it’s the wind and water that are slowing us down. As we often joke in that strained gallows humour that strikes sometimes: what this house needs in this weather is a roof.



Ha ha.




To walk into a space that has existed in our minds for so long is an extraordinary feeling, like stepping into a dream. We have imagined this space together, separately, on paper and in lego, for years. And now it’s becoming real.

On a day at the end of May, in glorious sunshine, Jim-the-builder and Phil started knocking together the frames for the walls.

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A few weeks later, towards the end of July, while the children and I were away visiting family and friends, they started to attach the completed frames to the foundations. In two days we had the external structure of the ground floor.


Some parts are exactly as I imagined and some are not, like the windows which are far bigger than they looked on paper; vast spaces with airy sunshine flooding in. Outside and inside are hardly separate. Without the roof the light is beautiful, like walking into a cathedral. It will be a shame to enclose it.