We moved up to Harris from Cornwall in winter 2015/6 in search of new opportunities. We had pooled our resources to buy a little piece of land, and, during the windy autumn of 2015, Daryll built a sturdy, well insulated shed, on the footprint of the old, broken down, rusty byre which had been the only building on our land.
Daryll lived in our unreliable old Mercedes surf wagon whilst battling the elements and building. Soon the neighbours started pitching in; and with their precious support the famous 'Eyrie Byre' was born!
When I moved up to join him in January 2016, there were still some errant roofing sheets to screw on, and a wood-burner to fit, before we could move in. Once in, we were snug, and smug! No mortgage! No bills! But also no electricity, no running water, no money left, and no jobs.
The plan was for at least one of us to find a job so that we could raise a mortgage to build a house.
That spring I did a lot of supply teaching in Tarbert, and Daryll was taken on as the ranger for www.north-harris.org, but his was only a year contract, so we still couldn’t apply for a mortgage. We needed the mortgage to raise the money to connect electricity and water. And so, we went into the second of three candle-lit winters in the Byre.
By the third winter we were both holding down decent jobs; having lived without electricity and running water for so long that we were entirely used to it. The mortgage money was in, and I was constantly pestering SSE and Scottish Water to come and connect us. Eventually, as winter turned to spring, we turned the lights on in the Byre for the first time.
Living without electricity and running water has been the norm for millennia. It is only in the last two or three generations that we have come to think of it as an absolute necessity; a human right in fact. Living without it, in a beautiful and remote place like this, opens your eyes to the outdoors.
Through the winters you notice the stars and the moonlight through your night time windows. You know the phase of the moon. Electric light makes this impossible from indoors. Wrapping up in coats, hats and wellies to collect water from the burn means you are out for a few minutes every evening, whatever the weather, gauging the wind direction and strength, tracking the state of the tide, checking out the sea state and watching the weather approaching from the SW. Can we see Luskentyre? Or is it hidden by a hailstorm approaching? Or is it a clear northern-lightsy type of night, with a strange luminous green sky?
In the summer, it just isn’t dark at all. I have often hung the washing out at eleven at night, thinking, ‘Its light, so why not? Accompanied by the peculiar sound of the snipe drumming, and the divers looning, it sometimes feels like a different planet altogether. A better one.
In February 2018 Daryll started building An Glowgie. We had designed it (by candle light) on a winter’s evening the year before. We designed a bigger version of the Byre, with windows positioned to passively heat the house, and show us our gorgeous mountain and sea views. In reality it was a bigger project than we intended, and very daunting indeed. Daryll took 6 weeks unpaid leave to give himself a head start, but weather and delays in ground work put paid to at least 2 of those. For the following 2 years we both poured all of our might and determination into building it, alongside our full time jobs. Surfing and friendships suffered. In the end, Daryll had to stop working as ranger to get it completed. It has been the best and worst thing we have ever done.
As I write, it is February 2020. We are finally in the position we have been dreaming of, and working towards. We are now ready to start our own business, Wild Harris. If you have read all the way through to here, you must come and stay!
Our life here on Harris has been a huge learning curve. I have learned to coach sea-kayaking and climbing, as part of my job managing the community owned outdoor centre www.scaladale-centre.co.uk. We are both now mountain bike guides and mountain leaders. Daryll has a kind of innate, inbuilt knowledge of birds and marine life which I find jaw dropping, but it is actually rubbing off on me a wee bit! We have both learned so much about the machair flowers and other amazing flora and fauna of the islands, through our work, and we love sharing and increasing this new knowledge. I get to share it with the young folk and tourists who stay at www.scaladale-centre.co.uk and Daryll is just a natural ranger; never happier than when he is showing people the wildlife and explaining its behaviour to visitors, who are always fascinated.
We now have a lot to offer. Our Byre is not the most luxurious self catering on Harris, but it is cosy, comfortable, and it has ELECTRICIY and RUNNING WATER! Even a hot shower and a real loo! If you are used to camping you will appreciate the luxury, as we do every single day! What Daryll really wants is to guide you to see wild life, tailoring a walk or hike to suit your ambitions. Wild Harris Adventures can also include sea kayaking, mountain biking, snorkelling, supported wild camping, and in conjunction with The Scaladale Centre we can arrange sea kayaking for larger groups and boat trips in Scaladale’s Pioneer, giving access to the remote shores of Loch Seaforth and a myriad of tiny islands and marilyns to bag.
During our leanest times we rely heavily on foraging for food, so, if you are interested, we can now share with you some of the secrets of lobster fishing, scallop diving, mackerel smoking etc. We can also source local venison and mutton with a little bit of notice.
This is our story so far. The next chapters include people like you, whether you are regular visitors to the Hebrides, or first timers. You are going to get hooked and love it as much as we do. Please get in touch.