Hi, this is Paul and I. We're the proud owners of the Longhouse and welcome you to our holiday home; no, not the opera house, the Longhouse.
I was born in Stornoway and spent many holidays on the island when I was younger. Paul was born in Sheffield but loved Lewis as much as I do, from our first trip to the island together, over 20 years ago.
The Longhouse is built on an old family croft, from dad's side (the MacLeods). Here is some of the story...
My great, great, great grandfather, Murdo MacIver (mac Alasdair Iain) born 1816 was probably the first occupant of the house and croft at 40 Coll. He married twice, had 14 children, two of whom died in infancy. Two of his daughters built houses on the croft, though nothing remains of them now.
Then my great, great grandfather Murdo MacIver, who was born in 1856, and his wife Catriona MacLeod (Catriona Murchaidh An Bhard) lived at 40 Coll with six children. One of these was my great grandfather, Alexander MacIver (mac Mhurchaidh Alasdair) who married and had nine children, two died in infancy.
As was usual at that time, his six daughters went in to service. His son Murdo, went to Aberdeen University where he achieved an MA degree during a time when it was very unusual for a crofter's son to go to University. The First World War was into its second year when Murdo was called up and tragically killed in 1916 at the Battle of Ypres on Hill 60. He is buried in a military cemetery near Ypres in Belgium. His father was heartbroken at the death of his son and wrote a song mourning his passing. He died the following year.
My grandfather, Neil MacLeod (Niall Tharmoidh Dhomhuill) served in the Cameron Highlanders from 1914 to 1918, having lied about his age to get in at the age of 15! He was a horseback messenger and saw action at the Battles of the Somme and Ypres.
In 1924, my grandfather married one of Alexander's daughters, Dolina. They lived initially in his family home in Gress, the next village north from Coll, in a house he built on returning from WW1, but moved to 40 Coll in 1934. They had 3 children - Alex Murdo, MaryAnn and my father, Neil MacLeod Junior.
On his return from the war, 'Grandpa Coll' was the miller at Gress Mill for a time - the remains of the waterwheel are still visible as you look right from the road, heading north through Gress.
He also worked at Stornoway Airport as a Maintenance Charge Hand and was in the home guard (as pictured here). But he would come home each evening after a day's work and work on the croft, tending two cows, a Clydesdale horse, sheep, various hens, ducks, cats and of course sheepdogs.
The family grew potatoes on the croft, where the Longhouse now sits, as well as corn and vegetables for themselves and hay for animal feed. They also cut peat from a bank on the moor for fuel for fires and for the cooking stove.
Dad's elder brother Alex Murdo was apprenticed to a plumber. When he was called up, aged 18, he was a Bevan Boy in the coal mines around Sheffield. As it turned out, this is the area where my husband Paul was born and brought up, and his family knows well the mines that Alex Murdo reminisced about. Alex Murdo was sacked from the Bevan Boys after going AWOL to play in a football game back in Lewis! He then served in the Royal Army Service Corp. Alex Murdo was an exceptional footballer and played for the British Army in Germany until he broke a hip. He was the last of the family to work the croft, together with a full-time job in one of the Harris Tweed mills, even stepping in to model for them at one point!
Mary Ann was also born in the previous family home in Gress. She worked in the Harris Tweed mills Stornoway much of her working life. My father Neil, the youngest of the three, was born at 40 Coll. All three spoke only Gaelic until starting school. As a young man, he also played for Back football team. He served his apprenticeship as a joiner before National Service which he served in the Royal Artillery in Oswestry.
Dad lived at 40 Coll until he married mum (Johanna Morrison) who was born in Stornoway. Mum's mother's family came from Tolsta, north again from Gress, and her father's family came from Uig, in the south-west corner of Lewis.
Their wedding group photo in 1963 shows the whole family then.
Mum and dad moved to Inverness shortly after I was born. He spent his working life in the Scottish Prison Service from which he retired after 32 years with a long-service award. Dad sadly passed away early in 2019.
The only one missing from these all photos from my side of our family is my sister Annette, so here she is with her husband, Russell!
Alex Murdo inherited 40 Coll and the croft when grandpa Coll died. Later, dad was gifted this 0.5 acre plot of the croft. He passed it on, late 2010, when Paul and I decided to build a house here. Originally there were three houses on the croft at 40 Coll. Two were thatched black houses - one at the end of the 'starran' (driveway), the other behind the 'big house' was a 'white house'. There are now four houses on this same croft. The original white house at the top of the croft is still owned by my cousin and here is the Longhouse at the other end of the croft. Other families built and live in the two new houses in between.
This was the plot at 40C Coll as it looked for many years ... not a house in sight when they were taken in 1998! Turn the page to see the same view in March 2012 or wander outside and see it today.
We started speaking to architects in the December 2010, appointed one locally in January 2011 and with him, secured planning permission in July 2011. The final house looks pretty much like the designs the architect created from our initial wish list, less like our initial 'budget'.
In December 2011, having received six returns on our tender, we agreed on a local builder, cut out a stack of costs and broke soil on the plot in January 2012, observed at the time by some very curious neighbours on the next croft!
Work begins! The green, grassy field of the earlier photo is transformed into a hilly landscape of soil heaps, fronted by a luxury site hut!
... and so the foundations are laid and we start to see the layout for the first time. This is when the internal space started to look as though it was contracting again, although we had increased the depth of the open plan space already to address this at the 'pegging-out'-the-ground stage, way back last year.
The steel portal frame is up, necessary in the structural design to stop the Lewis winds from huffing, puffing and blowing our house down!
The scaffolding goes up to allow the timber frame to go up ... and I continue some serious shopping and delivery logistics for elements we had chosen to supply e.g. wood flooring, tiles, doors, bathroom suites and 2 kitchens!
Already too we are finalising decisions on finish details such as socket, light fittings and switch locations. Made interesting when we had no walls to visualise them on!
A week later, and already we can see we have framed the views to Broadbay and to the moors that were so important to us in the layout and plan for the house.
Dad would be assured of his spot to sit and gaze out to sea, our own 'Ancient Mariner' reminiscing!
To blue skies and dry weather, and reports of the islands facing drought conditions for the first time in living memory, the internal walls are going up so rooms are taking shape, the base for the roof is on and a serious amount of insulation is packed into the walls.
Then as the steel roof panels went on and the windows were all in, the 'build' started to take shape and look like the house we had envisaged.
The pretty constant build theme of 'Blue Skies' will continue.... According to the Met Office, the Outer Hebrides has received only 14.5mm of rain from the first 24 days of June compared to the 78.4mm usually expected for the whole of the month.
One thing commented on by everyone was that there is veritable forest of timber in this house - the amount in the framework is amazing.
And then the timber cladding added to wall frames added to that even more!
We were itching by then just for the scaffolding to come down so we could see the house properly.
But that was still some way off!
Attention turned to the inside of the house whilst we celebrated the garage which had finally appeared. But, as big as some starter homes, we weren't sure the architect and builder had quite heard our brief to reduce the specification to be just fit for purpose! The architect's drawings always had a porsche in situ - very worrying if it reflected budget expectation!
Paul and I live in Hampshire, and it was very difficult, practically and emotionally, being so far away from the action! We visited every couple of months - thanks to some great Flybe connections between Southampton and Stornoway! Door to door in 5 hours.
The distance caused lots of frustrations. We learned a huge amount in this, our first major building project. We had to rely on email (around 2000 exchanges and still counting!) and phone calls to progress things with the architect, as we were clear we wanted a keen and active involvement in decision-making... and there was lots of that, of the '"We need to know now" nature! A weekly photo journal thanks to my uncle in Stornoway plugged the visual gap in between visits.
But we were here, midsummer, when the underfloor heating pipes went in, and followed spaghetti lines through to the main junction, with the miles and miles of cabling of all sorts and sizes.
Oh, and noting the date, Paul also experienced his first Summer Solstice in Lewis, the longest day of the year with light in the sky still around midnight! And, we watched the pipe-band that week in the first of their weekly summer parades through Stornoway.
Then the cladding was on, all windows and doors in place, scaffolding is coming down and we can see the house has really taken shape.
Later in the month, the last of the cladding is fitted and the wall structure for the render is in place.
Once the roof is on, the 16x PV panels which we have finally decided to invest in installing after lots of "should we? shouldn't we?" are fitted. Here's hoping we get some sun, or at least decent daylight this far north to generate some power and provide some payback!
Inside, with the plasterboard giving shape to the walls, we had a first "oops" at how low the 'slot' window was in the main bedroom, above the bed...not quite as high as we had envisaged but perfect as it turns out for watching the stars from bed at night!
Finally too, we get to explore upstairs and are again taken aback a bit by the space. This 'wee but n ben' holiday home had grown into something else, something special but something that felt just right.
And, we get to see our 'wow' windows, the roof balcony from which to soak up the views again from a different angle with a glass of something chilled.
That's what we get for going to all these 'Grand Design' shows!
But the space also meant we had a comfortable office area - perfect for those who need a bolt hole to write that book in them!
A local stonemason starts on the feature stone walling. The days he spent selecting stone from a small quarry in Ness has reaped its reward in the colours and warm tones in his walls. The same quarry apparently provided stone for the road in Ness towards Dun Eistein, the ancient stronghold of the Lewis Clan Morrison!
It's now the week after the house was due to be finished ... hahahaha!! My birthday target came and went. So, let's aim for completion for Paul's birthday in November then...
I have now been managing months of deliveries to site, after lots of shopping research, online and close to home, hunting around for the best deals, whilst understanding umpteen technical nuances, getting correct measurements from a distance and trying to visual in a space that was yet to be built. 44 boxes of wooden flooring and 6 rolls of 15m underlay turned into a laid floor throughout. We did buy some goods locally - the bathrooms for example, and the wood for the stair and the island unit top which came from trees in the Castle Grounds - but we generally bought wherever we could get what we wanted at the best price. Some finish elements even came back with me from various overseas trips during the two years of planning/building.
Finally too we were able to order the glass balustrade for the stair ... but that's another story.
Some backtracking had to be done in the ensuite as builders 'forgot' to allow space for the underfloor wetroom shower tray and had to dig up part of the floor ... just another 'deep breaths'' moment for Paul and I!
As the building schedule overran, and the finish detail is revealed more and more, we also see one or two changes in our original design expectations. One of the issues with being so far away from the action and catching up when we can get there to see it all. But generally, the young build team did a great job!
The internal glass panels are being fitted but the stairs are slow in coming together.
The weather is starting to turn, just as the guys move outside again to start building the deck and, at long last, I get my curve!
Well. Missed my birthday completion target but maybe ready for Paul's birthday today???? Nope! Christmas then? Mmm, watch this space ... The stair seems to be a jigsaw where the pieces are not moving. The glass balustrade for the stair is not appearing- I have a feeling ... then a bit of internet research shows me the company has gone bust! The handrail arrives from them just in time. So, we spend this month scrambling to find another supplier and end up being able to contract a local company on the island to provide it.
Meantime, the treads and risers are finally fitted. The wood has come from ash trees from the Castle Grounds ... not enough beech trees we find out just beforehand.
Finally, we have a drive and things are coming to an end. Site clearance and 'Deep Clean' begins, well in builder terms anyway! That particular activity continues for us well into the following year, in practical terms.
Until all that is left is a digger and the portaloo!
So, were we finished?
Looks fab! Strange, that stove looks very far from the wall, and isn't that the heatshield leaning on said wall? Major upheaval just before Christmas to relocate the stove to the correct position - look up when you are in the living room; the remaining evidence is our kinky flue!
Okay, so we are ready, pretty much, for Christmas and blue skies remained a signature of most of our trips up during the build and since ... who needs the Caribbean?
December 2012 and the house is complete ... well, except for ... and ... and ... and all those things that new-build owners continue to have on the 'to do' list!
We head up on our first road trip from Ringwood in Hampshire to Coll on Lewis, one end of the British Isles to the other! 700miles in 2 days, first time (less now!). Our plan? To start cleaning and painting, aiming to get it in some sort of shape for us to have our own first Christmas there and for the family to be with us over New Year.
Local painters came in during February and March 2013 to finish what we started and we are still 'snagging'...
Paul has the road trip honed to timed perfection too after having done it a few times already in the first 6 months.
We achieved a double 'A' rating for the house's environmental performance, the first home in the Outer Hebrides to do so.
We also achieved our Visit Scotland 5-star self-catering rating after their first inspection of the house in April 2013.
The name of the house became 'The Longhouse' - it had been a working title with Paul and I from the outset ... and stuck, despite many alternatives offered by mum! The alternative 'Taigh Fada' is the Gaelic translation and reflects the culture in which the house sits, a contemporary take on tradition.
Despite all trials and tribulations and budget panics - Kevin McLoud is so very right there! - it has been worth it, we love the house and it hasn't put us off thinking we will do it all again for our own 'forever home'.
So, with dad, Mary Ann, mum, Annette and Russell, we - Paul and Linda - welcome all family and friends old and new, and those friends we are yet to meet as our guests to the Longhouse to stay for a while and enjoy this home from home.
The Longhouse, on the Isle of Lewis, is set low on the hillside 50m walk from the beach with wide, uninterrupted views east, south and west. Soak up the views and watch the skies change through floor-to-ceiling windows, south over the bay and reeds beds, east to stunning sunrises over that bay or west to a sunset over the moors.