Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Story of how I found my land and put a shepherd's hut on it

Behind the stone wall is my tiny piece of land on a Hebridean island just after I bought it -- the sign says SOLD.

I've wanted to live on a Scottish island since I was a young teenager and read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, and then THE SINGING SANDS by Josephine Tey, and THE CROFTER AND THE LAIRD by John McPhee.....I imagined a sunny, windswept island near the top of the world. Whenever I thought that, I told myself that if it was in Scotland, it wouldn't be sunny. But that's how I always pictured it -- and that's how it was (well, sometimes) when  in 2011 I saw my first Hebridean island, Barra.

The plane landed on the beach,  at low tide.The way to the hotel had the sea on one side, the machair -- a flower-filled meadow found only on the West coast of some hebridean islands-- on the other. It was so beautiful (or something) that I started to cry. I've been to every continent except Antarctica and nothing like that has ever happened to me. There was, is, just something about that light, landscape, silence, space -- I don't know what -- that felt like home.

About a week later, I spent a night on another island (chosen almost entirely by chance--there are 50 inhabited Scottish islands). There it was sunny, both days. On the first, I went for a three hour walk and didn't see anyone -- only wind and sea and sky; wildflowers and grass and sand, and, once, a large brown hare.

When my b and b hostess brought me to the ferry the next morning, she looked at me and said:
"This is going to sound really strange, but I feel like you're part of our family."
That's how I felt, too.

When I got back to America, I looked on the island's Web site to see about renting a  cottage and emailed the owner of one that seemed promising. She emailed back:
"...I think I have one of your books."

She did -- the IRELAND book I did for Scholastic; she'd bought it thinking it was a book about Connemara ponies. But still. How many published books are there in the world -- ten million? What are the chances of her having mine?

I spent five months in her cottage on the island, and while I was there, the land came up for sale -- incredibly cheaply. Many people said not to buy it: I wouldn't be able to get access to it, I wouldn't get planning permission.....but I took a chance and bought it anyway, then hired a builder in Wales to make a shepherd's hut for me and drive it to the island.  

Working out the details of the design and transport took MONTHS but it all turned out well in the end:

The land is across the street from the local school, and when the hut arrived on the island, the children cheered -- literally, cheered.

"It's the coolest thing EVER!" someone said.
"Libby, are you SO excited?"
I was. 

I loved it the day I arrived, and was just as happy as these children look -- maybe happier--to have my very own shepherd's hut on my very own land on a Scottish island.

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