Build A New Life In The Country

Series 4 - Episode 6: Harris

Episode 6: Harris

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Hairdresser Harvey and his partner, John, sold their house in Leeds in order to buy a £133,000 plot of land on the beautiful Isle of Harris. With just 200 inhabitants, unspoilt beaches and an almost lunar landscape, the area is rapidly becoming a tourist hot spot. “Both John and I have been coming to the Hebrides for years,” Harvey says. “We wanted something else and we’re almost touching it now.”

The couple’s 13-acre croft encompasses two cattle byres, a croft house and a 160-year-old Hebridean black house. They plan to set up home in the croft house and turn the cattle byres into a sauna and shower building. The black house will be converted into a self-catering lodge, and the overgrown lands pruned back to make way for the campers. Charlie is full of enthusiasm for the black house. “For me this building’s got mystical quality,” he says. However, the couple do not yet own the title deeds for their own land. In order to borrow the money necessary to start work, they must first submit a ‘decrofting’ application – a request to the authorities to diversify the croft.

Four weeks after their application was submitted, Harvey and John have still not received approval. In the meantime they are relying on their savings and doing as much of the work as possible themselves. First they begin repointing the black house and installing electricity. Next they clear the 13-acre site and drive out a very stubborn sheep. But the major work will have to wait until they hear from the decrofting commission. “I keep waiting on the phone,” Harvey says, nervously. “I will keep going until things work out.”

However, after 15 weeks Harvey and John still do not have approval, and they are running out of money. “There are not savings in the bank presently,” says Harvey. Four weeks later, Harvey comes up with another plan. A local hairdressing salon becomes available, and he decides to rent it in order to generate some much-needed income. Harvey knuckles down at ‘Hairbridean’ and swiftly builds up a client base. “The salon is very popular since Harvey took over,” says one customer.

Six months from the Easter deadline, the boys should be halfway through the build – but everything still hinges on the paperwork. Disaster strikes when Harvey and John receive a letter from their solicitor informing them that the owner of the croft has died. Until a new owner is appointed, they will be unable to complete the decrofting process. “For both of us it’s been a huge disappointment,” John admits.

Unable to get their hands on a loan, Harvey and John are running out of options. To get the work moving, John decides to use local materials. He discovers it is possible to use heather to thatch the roofs of the cattle byres, but it is a laborious task. Some disused telegraph poles also come in handy. “You’ve just got to use what’s available here,” he says.

Harvey and John have a stroke of luck when they find a team of builders who are willing to begin work without being paid. After agreeing a price of £6,000, the builders start work on the interior of the shower block and sauna. “What pleases me most is seeing builders on site,” says a relieved Charlie. The major work has finally begun, and Harvey and Charlie’s clever use of local materials has saved them money. But with the spring tourist season fast approaching, have they done enough to open the campsite on time?

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