Building our own Home: Where to start?

After starting a Pinterest board named ‘Mi Casa’, because ‘Interior Design’ sounded too pretentious and ‘My House’ in English was too basic, I promptly added 47 pictures of A-Frame cabins. After my third brushed bronze extending kitchen tap and sixth industrial-style hanging dining room light, I started to feel a little overwhelmed. Whilst the finishing touches are a lovely way to turn a house into a home, not only do we not have the foundations down but we don’t yet have the land to put the foundations on.

Trying to avoid a defeatist mindset I started googling. ‘How to build your own home’, ‘How much does it cost to build your own home’ ‘Can you get a mortgage on a self build project’ and quickly realised I was a long way out of my depth. It was going to be a while before my hardest decision was finding a balance between hygge and industrial furnishings.

Suddenly the dream of buying a beautiful patch of land in the mountains was slipping further and further away and an impending sense of office job monotony started creeping in again. At this point, my ingrained, millennial sense, of not being able to accept no as an answer kicked in and the start of 6 months research commenced. From mortgages, to business loans, to the return on Airbnbs, anything that had the remote chance of giving us a shot at freedom was fair game. We’ve still got a long way to go, but this is what I’ve learned so far.

You have to have money, before anyone will loan you money.

Getting a mortgage is hard. Getting a self-build mortgage is even harder. Don’t have a deposit? You’re screwed. After Christmas I started looking at our options and making enquires with a broker. The long and short of it was, with anything under a £10,000 deposit, unless you’re purchasing bricks and mortar, no one is interested in lending to you. Building your own home is risky and so much can go wrong compared to buying an existing property. Whilst it’s significantly cheaper overall and you can get exactly what you want, expect to put up at least a 30-40% deposit. If you don’t already own the land to build on, this could easily be in the region of £75-100K. Now, we don’t have that. Not even a 10th of that. So we had to go down a more creative route. If you can find something to secure it against, like property you or your family already own, investments or a car, then some lenders might start entertaining your application.

Having a few defaults on your credit report, isn’t the end of the world.

I’ve worked for a financial giant my entire adult life. A portion of which was spent in customer services, where I’ve had grown men and women scream, panic and cry over the fear of defaults on their credit reports. Until now, I’ve never tried to get anything more than finance on our car. I just assumed you would need a squeaky clean profile, earning a mint with a huge deposit or backing from the bank of mum and dad to ever be approved for a mortgage.

Turns out, even with a few misdemeanours it’s possible. After the financial crash, lenders definitely tightened their criteria and became far more risk averse than the early 2000s. However, these days there are companies willing to help those who have been shafted by the big banks, even if it does mean you’ll pay an extortionate amount in interest.

There is so. Much. Paperwork.

Proof of address. Certified copies of ID. 36 pages of terms and conditions, counter signatures, guarantees, statements, letters of consent – the list of supporting documents feels endless. Just when you think providing the video of your birth along with a blood sample is enough, they’ll ask for the midwife who delivered you, to voucher for the birthmark on you left shoulder.

Okay, so that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but don’t expect the process to be fast. It took 3 months of back and forth almost everyday for us to finally get approved for the money. Have patience young padiwan.

Everything has a cost.

Even transferring the funds to your bank account. There’s a £30 charge for that for some reason. Expect every man, woman and child who so much as glances at your application, to have some sort of cut of the profit. Usually all these fees just get added to your overall loan amount but they do add up and can quickly add a year or twos worth of extra payments to the length of the agreement.

It’s a long road to freedom.

This time last month we finally got approved for our loan. The sense of relief has been intense and meant we can actually go up to Scotland knowing we can buy our own piece of paradise. The first step is the hardest and the last three months have been long, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have no idea what’s in store for us next, but I’m confident it’s in equal parts exciting, challenging and filled with paperwork.

Living in the Wild: Will it be Lonely?

Megan standing on the side of a mountain, overlooking Loch Nevis in Scotland

“Won’t you get lonely?” Seems to be the one unifying sentence from city dwellers when it comes to discussing remote living. Usually followed swiftly by ‘I could never do that’. Good job no ones asking you too then. Admittedly, I have a romanticized view of what our future life in the Scottish Highlands will look like. From a hygge, self-built a-frame to wild camping with our puppies at the weekends, it’s hard to find something wrong with this picture.

With the intention of being able to perfectly argue my point (and a little out of nervousness), I started googling rural isolation and loneliness in the countryside. Between bickering telegraph journalists and images of the frail and elderly, this is what I learnt.

Loneliness and isolation are not linked.

The amount of times I’ve sat in my flat, surrounded by the 300,000 other inhabitants of Brighton and Hove, listening to my neighbours stomping and the music from an obscure festival in Brunswick Square, thinking ‘I feel so out of place’ is uncountable. In a city, I feel isolated and claustrophobic. In the mountains, in the Highlands, in the backcountry – I feel connected and content. Others find these very same open spaces intimidating and will find comfort in the hustle and bustle of a busy bar.

We all have different journeys, fears and experiences that shape who we are and what we enjoy. I am naturally introverted and like to pick and choose the people I interact with. I also like to limit the number of bodies in my personal space, which isn’t always possible at rush hour on the Brighton mainline. Overall, human contact is important for all us. So if you need it to recharge your batteries and feel more like you, perhaps reconsider the move to the middle-of-nowhere.

Rural isolation is a thing and it really affects some people.

I’m not going to be one of those people that denies something exists because it doesn’t apply to me. Just because I’m a heterosexual white female and don’t experience homophobia or racism on a daily basis doesn’t mean it’s not happening to other people.

Whilst rural isolation can affect anyone – regardless of their identity – it tends to be the elderly and the vulnerable that suffer the most. Lack of health care, internet access, education and council funding can have a hugely detrimental impact on those struggling with either mental or physical health. Fortunately, at this point in my life, between Ben, my family and my friends, I have built up a strong support system. I’ve learnt the importance of talking about my mental health and am confident that if I was struggling, I would be able to talk about it with my nearest and dearest.

‘Sense of community’ vs ‘nosey neighbours’.

Relationships in the countryside are very different to those found in the city. It’s not uncommon when out hiking, to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the trail. This would be horribly impractical in central London, as you’d spend your entire morning greeting grumpy commuters.

There is a much stronger reliance on neighbours in rural communities. Need a 24-hour vet/plumber/off license? Good luck in the backcountry. Not even Amazon Prime guarantees next day delivery to the Highlands and Islands. Getting to know the locals could make things a lot more comfortable, especially if they know a trade.

The city isn’t all bad.

As much as I think my time in the South East of England is coming to an end, it’s important to remember the good things about living in a city. Inherently as human beings, we tend to fixate on all the things we don’t have and forget to be grateful for the things we do. I don’t have to think about planning meals as Coop is a 5-minute walk away and open until 11pm. My local gym has all my favourite classes, the bakery at the bottom of the road does the best almond croissants and there’s a hipster coffee shop every 100 meters. If I’ve forgotten something at the last minute for a camping trip, I can choose between Blacks, Cotswolds, Millets or one of the other 20-odd outdoors stores within a 5-mile radius of our flat.

I’ve weighed up what I’m happy to lose against what I think I’ll gain and I’m ready to make those sacrifices. One thing I’ll readily admit I’m going to miss is being able to Deliveroo vegan pizza on a lazy Sunday though. I hope the mountains are worth it. (They are).

In conclusion..

To draw some sort of vague conclusion, rural isolation does exist and it is prevalent within certain remote communities. However, living remotely does not directly cause rural isolation. Other factors including wealth, or lack thereof, age, health and family all play an important part in feeling lonely. The government are slowly making progress in making communities feel more connected. Whilst I feel confident that I won’t be one of the ones suffering, when we make our move to the Highlands, I want to help those who are. 

New Year, New Mountains: 4 Days Wild Camping in the Knoydart Peninsula

wild knoydart stag, staring at camera in front of mountains

It’s 4am and it’s the first time I’ve been woken up by an alarm in 12 days. My body and brain aren’t quite sure what’s happening as I accidentally hit Ben in the face trying to stop my phone from wailing. When the internal panic subsides and my conscious brain realises it’s not work I’m getting out of bed for, the excitement creeps in. Instead of spending the ‘no mans land’ time between Christmas and New Year festering in a Baileys soaked Netflix hole, we decided to get one last wild camp in for 2018. After a very strong coffee, we started our 600 mile journey to one of the most remote regions in Scotland. 

The drive was incredibly smooth and we made good time, getting to the top of Loch Lomond by sunset. Passing through this national park made me realise that it holds a really special place in my heart. When we first visited Scotland back in June last year, driving around the loch was the moment I fell in love with the Highlands. The mountains, the forest, the eerie calm of the water, it grabbed my heart and choked me, sending shivers down my arms and spine. I was slightly nervous that when we returned the feeling would be different or that I had exaggerated it and the pictures I reminisced fondly over were nothing more than a highlight reel. As we followed the A82 through Luss and the imposing figure of Beinn Dubh came into view, I relaxed. The familiar feeling of home settled in that I can only explain as my heart knowing what’s right for me before my brain is capable of processing it. 

Moody Loch Lomond, mountains reflecting in the water

Typically, as with every road trip we seem to take, the last 10 miles are always the hardest. Optimistically we ignored a sign advising the only single track road leading towards the Knoydart peninsula was closed, due to a landslip. 45 minutes later we found ourselves doing a U-turn and praying for signal to plan a new, last minute route. After dropping a pin on the Glen Dessary estate and taking a beautifully scenic detour around Loch Arkaig, we arrived at a small and free-to-use car park. 

By the time we were ready to hoist our backpacks on and hit the trail, it was 9pm. Never mind, we’ll easily find a camp spot, right? As a handy tip, I’d avoid fording a fast flowing river after a 12 hour drive and 4 hours sleep if you can. Also perhaps scrambling at midnight by dying head torch light in heavy rain, but, in fairness, it does make for a good story. It’s 1am. We found a flat-ish pitch that didn’t appear to have any streams flowing through it and I’d never felt more relieved to get the tent up. I don’t think my head even hit my sea to summit inflatable pillow before I was asleep. 

Our first day was not an early start. Whilst finding a camp spot in the dark can be quite stressful, waking up to a completely unknown view is always exciting. When the sound of rain gently died away and the heat of unexpected mid-morning sun encouraged me out of my sleeping bag, the mountain range we found ourselves on the edge of, was breath-taking. Terra Nova Southern Cross 2 tent on the side of a mountain

We packed up lazily, after the previous nights escapades we were in no hurry to get moving. Our late start meant we crossed paths with the only other humans we would see over our 4 day expedition. After sharing a mutual love for the great outdoors, they pointed us in the direction of a bothy that was unmarked on our map, sitting near the base of Sgurr na Ciche. Armed with the knowledge that there was a fireplace waiting for us, we set our sights on Sourlies and made it our mission to get their before nightfall. 

Originally, our aim was still to concur Ladhar Bheinn. However, we were painfully aware that we would need to cover some serious ground if we were going to get anywhere close on this trip. Due to the reroute of our starting point, we had a whole new set of mountains in the way and a fair few extra miles to cover. By the time we reached the edge of Loch Nevis, the last blue light of the day was fading and we were still at least a day away from Ladhar Bheinn. We decided it was best to leave this remote giant for another trip. Refusing to give up on summiting our first Munro, we figured Sgurr na Ciche was a good alternative. Megan looking out over the Scottish Highlands

Whilst I love wild camping and am especially fond of our Terra Nova Southern Cross 2, I was excited to spend a night in a bothy. It was a first for both of us and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by how well maintained and clean it was. Other travellers had left coal, tea lights and whiskey and a doe was calmly grazing outside the front door. Sourlies felt like a vestige of times gone-by, where community meant everything and our connections were human to human not human to device. We made ourselves comfy and bedded down for the night. 

I woke to the sound of rain and wind pelting against the corrugated metal roofing. It was hard to tell what time it was, as the days are short and the weather gloomy. With no real idea on the best route to Sgurr na Ciche, we settled on just going straight up. Suitably caffeinated and armed with an almond bounce ball, it was full steam ahead along the deer track running behind the bothy. 

After about 15 minutes of steep ascent I was knackered. The intense rain and unseasonably warm weather meant the ground was completely saturated and getting any purchase was a challenge. With very few hours of daylight, we didn’t have the luxury of slow lunch breaks or multiple coffee stops either. A hand full (or two) of trail mix would have to do. As is usually the way with mountains, they seem to have a climate entirely of their own. Whilst we could see the sun shining through onto Loch Nevis below us, we were marching firmly into the clouds. At 750m above sea level and just after 4pm, visibility was nonexistent. If the weather remained like this in the morning, getting to the summit of Sgurr na Ciche would be impossible with only one full day left in the mountains. Megan crouched down on top of a mountain looking out over Loch Nevis

Our trail mix sacrifice to the weather gods didn’t bring us much luck. We woke in the same heavy cloud we fell asleep in. Everything past arms length was grey, wet and shrouded in fog. With no idea on route, no view of the ascent and very little time, we had to abandon bagging our first Munro. Disappointing as it was, the extreme remoteness, rugged nature of the backcountry and intensity of the weather was still providing us with an epic adventure. 

Now the only way was off of the mountain. This was a slow process. One foot tentatively after the other, testing patches of loose scree and rocks with our walking poles. Scrambling on our knees to grappling at sheer rock faces, we tried to avoid looking down too much. 4 hours and 600 meters of decent later, we rejoined the river we followed on our first day out in the Knoydart peninsula. Inspired by a new found appreciation for bothies, we set A’Chuil on the edge of the Glen Dessary estate as our way point.  A’Chuil bothy tucked against the Glen on Glen Dessary estate

Tucked sombrely on the edge of the glen, the sweet, ashy scent of firewood drifted up to meet us as we drew closer to our home for the night. Previous tenants had left all sorts of outback luxuries from kindling to binoculars and even a spare sleeping mat. We busied ourselves about camp for a good few hours, filtering water, drying gear and getting a good fire going. I let my mind drift away, watching the flames dance hypnotically. The usual combination of melancholy and serenity sets in as our final night and trip all draw to a close. 

I walked out of Knoydart on New Years Eve with a renewed sense of purpose and a feeling of clarity that I had been missing for a long time. I’m not usually one for making resolutions, but I know that 2019 is going to be the beginning of a refreshing chapter for us. Thank you for having us Scotland, we’ll be back very soon.