Updated: Jun 2
It’s lunchtime on Friday 17th January, 2014.
The sun is low in the sky and it’s one of the coldest days of the year so far.
I’ve just exchanged contracts and, with my new house keys in my pocket, I’m driving out of Dunoon and over the hills to my new home.
I arrive in the rain.
The cottage has stood empty for the best part of two years and the air is cold and damp. Only one lightbulb works. There’s no central heating, and my fingertips are starting to tingle in the cold. I open the door of the Rayburn stove to light a fire; rust coloured water floods out and covers the kitchen floor.
Feeling a little defeated, I take a cup of tea to the sitting room and look around me, my breath forming clouds in the dim, watery light.
What have I done?
Built in the mid nineteenth century, Smithy Cottage has had many uses over the years. An annexe to the blacksmith’s forge next door. A storage shed for the coaching inn across the road. A gallery and teashop. A hair salon. Now, however, it’s home.
Whilst far from being a wreck when I bought it, the cottage was in need of a lot of care and attention. In the five years since, no aspect of it has been left untouched. Where I could, I’ve done this myself, bringing in the professionals only when I got out of my depth. Shelter and nourishment being fundamentals, I feel a responsibility to have at least a basic understanding of the principles behind both, learning new skills and getting immense pleasure out of seeing how things progress.
Now the hard work is done, it's become my hideaway. A place to stop. To cook. To read. To plan adventures. To enjoy the quiet.
And it really is quiet. And it really is dark.
On clear nights, the Milky Way spills across the sky above the cottage, filling the space between the hills to the east and west. There's something magical about turning out the lights, lying on my back, and looking up through the roof light, to a sky filled with countless stars, the crackling of the fire the only sound. When we're very lucky, the Northern Lights might make an appearance, dancing across the skyline.
Midsummer is the only time it doesn't truly get dark; at midnight the sky is a blueish grey, fading to the palest gold in the West.
Summer is also when the glen truly comes to life. It's not unusual to see red squirrels and pine martens in the garden, or eagles gliding on thermals overhead. The garden goes into overdrive, producing flowers to feed the insects, and herbs to feed me.
From there, the seasons move through the searing golds and reds of autumn, to the crispness of winter, muffled with snow and tinged with woodsmoke, and back to spring, which is where I find myself now, the air thick with potential for the months ahead.
And here we are. Smithy Cottage. My hideaway. My basecamp for all the adventures yet to come.