One Whole Year #2: Another type of ‘changing’

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So my last post was about a year of living on Skye and watching the island alter with each month. When somewhere is so naturally beautiful of course you notice the changes. Life here is defined by the seasons.
Even those who don’t work out at sea or on crofts have to mould their plans to suit the shifting hours of daylight. We rush about to get things done in the short days of winter and then, in summer, it seems like the sun has forgot to set and all our hurry disappears.

When I arrived here I didn’t realise I’d gradually become more attuned to the seasons.
In fact, I didn’t realise how much moving to Skye would change me in general.
I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise considering I opted for an entirely new lifestyle…

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Do I fit in yet?

Here’s what’s changed…

Firstly, I am now cold-proof.

By that I don’t mean that I no longer get the sniffles (although living away from the crowds does mean that you catch bugs much less frequently) -it means that I’m now well-acclimatised to the Hebridean weather.
There are many wonderful things about living in a big old house but warmth is not one of them; even with a full fire and the heating on full blast it still doesn’t always warm up fully.
95% of my skin remains covered year-round and I’m no longer bothered that I can see my breath when making a cup of tea or that I can’t feel my toes when I get up in the morning.
Now I actually prefer being cold, it makes me feel hardy (though what my guests think might be another matter!)

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There’s no such thing as cold when you’re wearing the right socks

I no longer know what day it is.

This is a peculiar thing that affects most people I know on Skye. We run successful businesses and go about our daily lives with no issue at all but, when asked, we often can’t tell you if it’s a Tuesday or a Friday. Though it’s easy to tell when it’s a Sunday because everything’s closed.

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I care less about money.

Although I sometimes enjoy the high life, I’ve never really been fussed about money (I did choose to become an artist, after all!)

I’m sure this lack of interest might come back to bite me in the bum one day (hello pension!) but right now on Skye it just doesn’t seem to matter as much. Whilst it’s nice to have enough cash to travel or eat out, the best things here are free.

That said, I’m not living the life of a monk.
As the quote goes, ‘Beware of artists as they mix with all sections of society’…  So I might seem to do fancy things, but it really is all by association.
It’s lovely to be invited to swish events but at the end I always go back to the house where I put on an extra jumper on to save on bills and ball up my receipts so I don’t need firelighters. Although the cost of living here is significantly less than London it’s still nice to need less.

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A night staying in a mountain bothy costs nothing. It’s not fancy but good fun

*On the topic of money, I thought I’d mention one of my favourite things about Skye… there’s less of a class system here. Yes, there are differences in wealth but everyone is part of the same community and generally visits most of the same places. 
I always think of the jobs up here being like in a children’s story book or tv show; there’s the postman, the bus driver, the shopkeeper, the doctor… and they’re all respected in the same way. I think that this more level playing field is great.

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You don’t need much to enjoy the view


It’s not just money, I also need less ‘stuff’.

When you don’t have many shops around it forces you to buy less stuff. The thing is, once you’re used to it you realise it’s not really a hardship.
When I went home this Christmas we went into a huge shopping centre and found it kind of gross how people were rushing around with piled-high trolleys grabbing at gifts without thought. It just felt a bit excessive; not what Christmas should be about. I think living on Skye has made me more aware of that.
Of course, I still enjoy shopping (duh!) but I do it far less and I only buy things I really love.
Perhaps, too, it’s also a stronger link to the environment that has made me more aware of the impact of limitless consumerism and the effect that has on natural resources.

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When you do beach cleans it makes you realise how much stuff there is that we don’t need (this was from Duntulm beach last week -sad irony that this is the only turtle I’ve seen here)

I eat differently.
Living on a croft has made me look at dairy differently; when you see the connection between a mother and calf each day it becomes hard to justify drinking milk and supporting the process in which it’s made.
So I swapped to almond milk and now try to eat vegan food as much as possible, although I am happy to eat certain animal products like our neighbour’s eggs or local venison.
However, my views on food are now somewhat long and complicated so this is perhaps a whole other post for another day…

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A mummy cow on the croft

I don’t think an adult in a backwards cap is odd anymore.

In England a fully-grown, 30+ male wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round would be seen as ridiculous. Here it’s not an uncommon sight… Something to do with outdoor adventures, mountain biking and snowsports.
Maybe they’re just big kids or something.
Actually, I take all of that back, I still think it’s really weird.

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Dude, I’m not sure about your hat…

So, there are still some things that have stayed the same.

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the beauty of this place, each light and season shows something new. If I ever get jaded then maybe it’s time to move on.

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Still a delight to see cows on the road

Here’s what hasn’t changed…

Sheep.

I still love sheep… And cows… And buzzards… And all the other animals that we come across each day here.
If I have to brake to a halt in the middle of the road because of a load of sheep crossing then I’ll still get my camera out to take a picture. I’m also probably just as likely as ever to post it to Facebook with the tired old caption of ‘Skye traffic’.
I still find them charming and characterful and I’m pleased that that never faded away.

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I see ewe, baby!

I still enjoy dressing up.

Of course, a glitzy party dress isn’t going to see as much of Skye as a pair of waterproof trousers and a tatty old Barbour but it doesn’t mean there’s no reason to try.
Although it’s frivolous I always try and put on a sprinkling of glitter with my perfume each day and, whilst my high heels gather dust, wellies don’t really look so bad with a sequin skirt…
Or maybe they do, I don’t know, or care really. You can’t have a bad day if you’ve put a little sparkle into it….

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A rare chance to scrub up at the Polo Awards in May

I’m still the same shape.

Whilst I’m not fat I’ve never been particularly svelte or skinny either; I love food and I’m happily soft and a bit squidgy. But I figured when I came to Skye I’d spend all my days out roaming the hills or battling the sea. I’d be some kind of muscular, athletic superwoman.
I didn’t reckon on the cake factor…

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Afternoon tea at Kinloch Lodge

There’s so much good food on Skye, dammit!

If I look out of my window I can see the cafe that does the best brownies I’ve ever tasted (Single Track, by the way, it’s amazing, go there).
If I drive down the road I reach Skye Pie where Simon and Kirsty sell their little pastry-wrapped bundles of deliciousness.
Then there’s the freshly-baked artisan bread at the Skye Baking Co or the lovely afternoon tea at Kinloch Lodge…

On Skye there is no escape from good food!
With the rough weather it’s been less about burning calories and more about burning logs on the fire with a nice cup of tea. I’ve put on a whole stone in weight since I moved to Skye!
Though maybe that’s why the cold doesn’t bother me so much now…

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Festive treats at Skye Pies

I still love a party.

Of course, parties don’t come up very often here so when they do it’s a real treat.
My only problem is that now I get so excited that I tend to go too hard too soon and therefore render myself completely useless for the next few days!

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a fair few estate parties on the mainland since I arrived here. The new friends I meet think I’m a wild party girl from Skye; what they don’t know is that I’ve just been saving it up for months so I’m like some kind of human champagne cork.
There’s been some funny stories as a result, but I’ll save those for another day…

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Uh oh…

So there have been some changes and some not-quite-changes. But it’s amazing to learn what happens in a year.
I wonder what adventures there are to come in the next one…

Luck

Spot the orca

Spot the orca

I’ve just got home after an impromptu orca-spotting trip
(well, I say ‘orca-spotting’ but it was really just a few hours staring at the sea…)

There were a couple of reports on Facebook about a pod being spotted near Neist Point (the most Westerly point on Skye) and there was a possibility that they’d be heading North.

I’ve been working on a portrait in the studio this month so I washed my paintbrushes, made a Thermos of tea, then headed up the road to the ruins at Duntulm, a good vantage point.

The wind made the water choppy and my eyes were streaming. Not ideal for seeing the white mist of a blow or the dark surface of skin or fin.
Still, I sat and scanned the water as best I could.

I sipped the tea (instantly chilled by the wind) from my Thermos and nibbled on a Single Track brownie whilst tourists came and went around me wondering what this bundled-up human being was staring so intently at.

Can you tell it was chilly?

Can you tell it was chilly?

Eluded this time.
After about an hour and a half I got up and wandered back to the car, imagining the whole way that there was a pod of orcas jumping up in acrobatic cheekiness the moment I’d turned my back.

At home I checked my emails and posted a picture online to say that I’d gone for a look but that the shiny buggers were nowhere to be seen.
Often when I post a beautiful picture of Skye someone will tell me how lucky I am to live here. It’s just happened twice with my orca-spotting photo.

I don’t completely disagree with it but I always find it’s a funny thing to say…

I am incredibly lucky with so many aspects of my life.
I’ve probably had too much good luck… at least more than my fair share.
But coming here wasn’t luck. I didn’t just float up here on the breeze; I made a conscious decision to live here.

Moving to Skye was a choice. It meant making sacrifices…
In choosing Skye I’m far away from my the people who care about me most; my family and friends (even the stinky old dogs who I miss to bits).
There’s almost no getting dressed up and going out (something I used to love). There’s no pub. There’s incredibly limited dating prospects. There are less career opportunities (I’ll never become wealthy from my existence here).
I’ve even started to feel the odd pang of loneliness.

BUT…

…there’s nature, wildlife, landscape, light….
These things, for now, are what make me happy.

Brogaig Beach. Worth giving up a few things for

Brogaig Beach. Worth giving up a few things for

In a way, I suppose it’s a selfish existence, to leave loved ones behind for something that I want.

Of course, there is some element of luck; I’m lucky to have had the freedom to come here and I’m lucky that those loved ones have supported me in this decision.
A happy healthy family, no partner, a flexible career… all this meant that I didn’t have ties to keep me in one place. THAT is what was lucky.

But the bottom line is that I think we make our own choices.
I’m lucky in many ways but with Skye I wanted to move somewhere pretty so I did (I might get invited to a lot of fancy things by fancy friends but at the heart of it it’s really a simple life)

Life is short so we need to find what we love and…
…actually, ignore that, it’s a quote by Charles Bukowski: “Find what you love and let it kill you”. I don’t intend to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon, thank you.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is… just make your own luck.

Try to be near what makes you happy

Try to be near what makes you happy

As I write this someone’s just sent me a message saying that moving somewhere so remote is brave.
If ‘lucky’ is the adjective I hear most often, ‘brave’ is the second one.
Don’t even get me started on it…

*Also, lucky is when you go out to look for orcas and actually see them. 

Difficult decisions in Duntulm (and an amazing little cafe)

A couple of minutes drive from the first house I viewed in Duntulm I stumbled upon an intriguing little cafe. Wood cladded and grass roofed, it was strikingly modern and it sat as a little baby building next to a larger one which appeared to be a private home.
I swung in for a cup of tea and to calm down after catching a glimpse of what may have been my new life (eek!)

What I hadn’t expected to find was a warm little cafe with a hissing coffee machine, shelves stacked with artists materials and a counter piled high with baked goodies. Two smiling ladies stood behind the plates of cakes and as I sat down we got chatting.
One of the ladies, Indi, built the structures with her partner Bec, who wasn’t there but whose art hung on the walls (beautiful blue, misty, abstract paintings, I had to remind myself that I couldn’t afford any now but I made a mental shopping list for later). I later learned from another customer that this was a Grand Designs build. Not surprising when you see how stylish and sensitively done the buildings are.

The view over An Aird and Kilmaluag Bay from the Single Track cafe. Indi and Bec's Grand Designs house is the building to the left and the top white speck next to it in the distance is Aird House.

The view over Kilmaluag Bay from inside the Single Track cafe.

Here I experienced a little example of how much of a small world Skye can be…

There were a handful of customers that came into this tiny little cafe whilst I was there (note that this is in the remote North of the island, not busy Portree town). The first two were a couple who I’d sat next to the previous evening at the Edinbane Inn, about 45 mins Southwest. They joined in the chat and told us about their home-laid duck eggs. Then came a chap called Matt, I recognised him as one of the St Kilda to Skye rowers whose charity ball I was going to the next night. He also happened to be the co-founder of Skye Adventure, a fellow Surfers Against Sewage supporter who I’d been emailing for weeks about a beach clean but whom I’d not met yet. Lastly, as I asked Indi about her partner’s artwork I found that Bec had painted with my talented Skyeworks colleague, Marion.

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Inside the Single Track cafe with tea by Eteaket, Moleskine stationary and artworks by co-owner, Rebecca Waterstone

Everyone here seems to know everyone else. I was chatting to Liza, my boss at the gallery about it and she told me a story about her mother who is relatively new to the island. She said that her mother used to find it frustrating that she couldn’t pop to the shops without spending half an hour in conversation but she then came to realise that, unlike in other places, here you are somebody to people and not just another person on the street. It really resonated with me and I think that might be part of what makes this a special place to live. Of course there are people who keep themselves to themselves but the people who I have met so far are overwhelmingly friendly.

Another exceptionally warm and kind person is Lorraine, the other lady working at the Single Track cafe yesterday. Not only does she make the most delicious brownies (delivered by bus!) but she also happened to have a house available to rent in the area and it was so close that she could point it out through the cafe window.
Lorraine kindly lent me the keys and I pootled off to have a look at her property, the charmingly-named Willie Macleods house. It’s a nicely-sized crofters cottage and the first thing that hit me was the colour, that same Farrow & Ball green that most of our village doors seem to be painted in in Chiddingfold -I felt quite at home! The house was as lovely as it’s owner with nice decor and everything I might need.

I returned the keys to the cafe and left with my mind in a muddle. Not even a muddle, a big buzzy scribble. How on earth do I choose between the two completely different North End cottages? Lorraine and Indi had certainly sold the location to me, through their friendliness as much as their explanations of what the area has to offer. I had another viewing to do the next day. Hopefully this one will make up my mind but it’s going to have a hard job catching my heart as strongly as this place.

Duntulm Castle, Northern Skye by Heike Hameister

Duntulm Castle, Northern Skye by Heike Hameister

The Hunt for a Home…

Settled in a lovely B&B (thanks to Nat & Emma) it’s now time to start looking for a more permanent place to stay. With peace, quiet and proper wifi I can take my time and look for somewhere really special. I’ll be working from home for most of the week so it’s important to me to find somewhere just right, however long it takes.

I have three requirements for my new home:
1. It must have a real fire (for those long winter nights).
2. It must be relatively secluded.
3. It must have a view over water.

Okay, the third one might seem pretty hopeful but on Skye a view over the sea or a loch is the norm, not an expensive luxury.

I had a bundle of offers to work through after putting an ad out in the West Highland Free Press. One that stuck out most was one offered by a lady called Patsy who was so friendly on the phone that I wanted to live in her house just to have her as my neighbour!
Her house in the remote North End area house ticked all my boxes so today I agreed to drive over for a viewing.

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The drive into Duntulm, the Northernmost point on Skye

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Coming into Duntulm

The drive up the left hand side of Skye along the Trotternish Peninsula was spectacular. It’s the kind of scenery that you couldn’t even imagine exists in the UK. With landslipped cliffs on one side and a vast expanse of ocean on the other it was almost impossible to keep my eyes on the wiggly, winding tarmac.

As I neared the far North the coastal side of the landscape flattened and the trees started to peter out (an indicator of very high winds!) Next came the inevitable sheep, dotted on precipitous rock faces, sitting hidden in bushes and trotting down the middle of the road. Very Skye.

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An Aird/Duntulm

Patsy met me at the house and she was even more lovely in person than I’d imagined (she even put out a tea set for me to have a cuppa whilst I looked around!).
The house was old fashioned but had lots of little rooms where I could close the doors and get cosy. There’s no phone or internet. The carpets were thick and fuzzy, the main one being a dark brown shaggy number. But, you know what, that didn’t matter. There was something about this place, a charm.
I have no doubt that a lot of that charm was to do with the view from almost every window. It may often be grey and drizzly on Skye but when the sun comes out can you imagine waking up to this every day….

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A sea view

When I left I was buzzing, literally shaking. At some point during the viewing it had hit me. I’ve left everything at home and come up to a wild, remote place that’s completely new. But it wasn’t, isn’t scary. It’s adrenaline and excitement and… adventure.
With being busy with accommodation and gallery work in Portree I hadn’t had a chance to feel the enormity of my move. So it arrived, and it’s still kind of here this evening. I’m just so EXCITED!

This wasn’t the end of my house viewings today but this’ll do for now. Just down the road from Patsy’s house I stumbled upon the Single Track cafe and gallery and a couple of wonderful women, Lorraine and Indi. But that’s a story for tomorrow….