Tag Archives: the cottage

These four walls

The other day a man knocked at the door. His great grandfather had been born here in the cottage back in 1846. He told me what he knew about the place and its history. Apparently, many years ago, a body lay on top of the woodpile to the left of fire where my desk now sits. Local fisherman had found the drowned soul in the sea and brought him to the nearest dwelling. It was fascinating to hear the tales and find out about the people who, like me, called this cottage home. Lives lived and lives lost. In a strange way, they’re still here in each carefully placed stone and worn floorboard. I imagine how on a stormy night they too must have listened to the wind howling outside, safe and protected by these four walls.

The cottage before we took it back to the original stone.

The cottage before we took it back to the original stone.

These four walls. When I’m away I miss the cottage. The weight of its stone around me, the murmurs from its rafters, the stories that it shares. We breathe together. I lie at night in the quiet and the dark and hear the walls inhale and exhale, gently drawing in the evening air. There’s a line in Dominic Cooper’s novel, The Dead of Winter, where Alasdair Mor feels such a warmth and closeness for the place where he lives that ‘every now and again the deepest quarters of his soul would erupt in a quiet passion’. I love that line

I’ve no idea how old the cottage is – two hundred years perhaps?  When we repointed the walls this summer we chipped away the years and caught a glimpse of the folk who built it. The cornerstones – great hulks of rock – glittered in the sunshine, no different from the day they were hauled from the shore and placed here by someone strong and skilled and determined to make a home. And still this cottage stands.

We repointed with lime mortar and dug a 'French drain' around the walls.

The whitewash is blasted off, the walls are repointed and a ‘French drain’ is dug… the work begins.

But it does need some work. It’s cold in the winter before the fire gets going. Damp yellows the walls and creeps into the bedding. And there’s a baby on the way, so I need to make things a little more modern. The architect has come up with a plan. The original cottage is going to be renovated and a wood-clad extension built on the back. I can’t wait.

I’m also slightly nervous. I want to be true to the building and its people. It’s been handed into my keeping and will be passed on again, no doubt. We’re starting from the right place, I think. Rather than trying to apply modern standards we’ve been looking at how the cottage was designed to work. So we’ve repointed with lime mortar. Instead of damp-proof course we’re looking at drainage. There will be change but the essence of the cottage will remain. Memories are woven into its fabric and we’re just threading a few more.



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A blast from the past

Calm Loch Fyne

Yesterday the loch was calm, the only trace left by Hurricane Bawbag was a smattering of snow on the hills.

All’s quiet in the west today, but on Thursday Portavadie was pummelled to within an inch of its life by Hurricane Bawbag. It screamed its arrival, roaring and howling, unleashed and wild. Mighty gusts brought belts of rain and hail that hammered at the door. I watched from the window, jumping as gravel, whipped up and hurled at the cottage, smacked the glass. Telephone wires swung in giant loops, shuddering and straining to break free from their poles. One lone tree stood in the field, brittle branches waving, crazed, to the skies. Two small firs, just babies, seemed less bothered. They were pliant in the onslaught, supple limbs bowing until their tips touched the ground. Bits of plastic – a dustbin lid and a couple of plants pots – clattered up the lane, hurtling along like they were heading into town for the night.

And the sea. I’ve never seen it so furious. Giant waves, row upon row, pushed onshore, relentless, crashing over the pier and smashing onto the rocks.  Birch Isle was being sucked under. A low mist whirled and danced over the surf. As the sky darkened and the sun set, this mad, boiling loch turned a menacing pink.

View of the cottage

The cottage is small and squat – perfect for the wild and windy west coast.

Later that evening the electricity went off, so I went to bed. I lay in the dark as the hurricane raged on and thought of the people who’d lived here over the years. They too must have listened to the winds howling outside, safe and protected by these four walls. Then, as suddenly as it came, the hurricane went. But it left behind (along with a smashed back fence and two bemused chickens) a sense of how enduring the cottage is; just what it’s stood up to over time. This squat little home (close to the ground like all proper Highland things are) with its thick walls, is so perfectly formed for this weather-beaten place, this wind-battered land.

In the silence after the storm all I could hear was the creak of a floorboard and the sigh of a beam – the cottage settling, relaxing its flexed muscles. I almost caught it mutter under its breath ‘another one taken care of’. Hurricane Bawbag was, after all, just an awful lot of wind, and there’s nothing new about that around here.


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